What is Omnichannel?
There are different definitions for omnichannel strategy, depending on your source. The common concept is channels should work together to help your company connect the online and offline dots. Omnichannel is the way you know what consumers want and how they make a purchase decision.
Consider the modern customer. She starts her internet search on a laptop. Then she uses voice search on her phone to find the closest location. She needs the item right now, otherwise she may be shopping online. When she gets to the physical store, she uses a well-timed, relevant coupon available exclusively in the store’s app for mobile devices.
True omnichannel strategy is what makes this seamless experience possible across all channels, personalized to her specific needs and desires.
Omnichannel Isn’t New
Businesses and contributors have been discussing omnichannel strategy for at least five years now. When you search “omnichannel” on Google, first page results are either focused on retail or whether the term is just semantics. One Forbes contributor argues that in the rush to go omnichannel, businesses neglected its true meaning. “Retailers have been chasing ubiquity when they need to be chasing relevance and differentiation.” He even wrote it may be better for the term to die off completely.
Should we really erase the drawing board and stop attempting omnichannel strategy?
The Forbes article makes valid points about retail’s overall failure to create value, but the results of successful omnichannel execution are impossible to ignore. CMS Wire reports omnichannel customers spend 208% more than store-only customers. Omnichannel strategy results in an average customer retention rate of 89%.
Given these compelling metrics, should you focus on omnichannel strategy? If so, what are the best ways to implement it? This post provides two examples of how to do omnichannel and do it right. These mini case studies examine:
- a customer-focused innovation that makes omnichannel possible and
- a customer experience tool built by a global leader in omnichannel strategy.
CASE STUDY ONE: THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
Or in this case, the father. Back in the early 1960s, Lawrence Herbert was mulling over a problem on his drive to work. The Pantone founder wasn’t stressing about P&L reports or the stock market. He wasn’t down about some competitor’s success. There was no employee strike. He was focused on in-store customers buying pantyhose.
Pantone sold display cards to retailers. Retailers used the cards to help customers choose a pantyhose color. All the ink sellers at the time had different definitions of color names. And we still do today. Everyone sees color differently. What would happen if there were no objective system for identifying colors? One project on one channel would be a challenge. Omnichannel campaigns and products would be nearly impossible.
In the early 1960s, ordering ink by name meant you could never know what color you were going to get. Herbert found himself mixing inks by hand to get the exact shades he wanted for the pantyhose cards. A graduate of Hofstra University, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry before joining his company. Given his background in science, it’s easy to see how he came up with a solution. Numbers are the true universal language. He decided he would use numbers to communicate colors. In 1963 the Pantone Color Matching System was born.
Today the need is obvious. Color integrity is intrinsic to everything in branding, marketing, merchandising, franchising and beyond. The customer experience involves achieving flawless design down to the details. However, try to think about this without the hindsight we have five decades later.
No one knows the future. Herbert could not have predicted how ubiquitous his system has become. In a 2013 New York Times interview, Herbert said, “I have matched color charts for anemia blood samples and for walnuts and strawberries and goldfish.” But a quick glance at his story shows that by the time he decided to create the system, he was already successful.
The ink and print division he led performed beyond expectations for six years. He then created the Pantone Company. “My dream was that someone should be able to call a supplier in California from their home in Acapulco and say, ‘I’d like to buy rose pink paint,’ or whatever. And that when it arrived it was exactly right.”
He could have settled for what was possible at the time. He could have trained all his employees to be the best color mixers in the world. Instead, he decided to innovate. He chose to change not only his operations, but those of other companies in other industries.
Relentless Solution Focus
It may not be that Herbert felt the system was a necessity. Maybe he just had a one-track mind.
Dr. Jason Selk created the Relentless Solution Focus method. He coaches business leaders across industries and winning athletes. He was the St. Louis Cardinals’ Director of Mental Training when they won the World Series in 2006. Before him, their last win was in 1982.
A regular contributor to Inc., Forbes and Success Magazines, Dr. Selk writes: “One question helps create the relentless solution focused (RSF) mindset. ‘What is one thing I can do differently that could make this better?’”
Lawrence Herbert’s one thing was the Pantone Color Matching System. That one thing changed everything. Fifty years later, it is still the main business of the Pantone company and has not changed fundamentally. Food and beverages, apparel, automobiles, real estate, healthcare, finance—even federal governments use the color matching system.
It also crosses all types of media. With the advent of the personal computer and digital design, Pantone began translating their codes. The system has evolved to include RGB and HTML equivalents of each color.
We can now execute omnichannel strategy with the highest accuracy. For example, Coca Cola Red (Pantone 185) is the same no matter where you see it. The logo on a bottle cap, baseball cap, t-shirt, movie screen, bus stop ad, etc. all match perfectly. Coca Cola would not have a solid brand identity otherwise.
Key takeaway—the genesis of the Pantone system (and the limitless value it created) was a keen focus on the customer experience.
CASE STUDY TWO: OMNICHANNEL PIONEERS
“Consumers move seamlessly across the physical and digital worlds—and expect businesses to do the same.” —Matt Lawson, Director of Performance Marketing, Google
The Walt Disney Company’s LinkedIn page has “entertainment company” as its business category. On the Wikipedia page for The Walt Disney Company, the author described it as a “diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate.” The longer description is more accurate than picking one category. But it also gives the reason why Disney is so successful at omnichannel experiences—they’re an omnichannel company.
The market share they garnered in the film entertainment industry enabled the diversification. From the debut of Mickey Mouse in 1928 to the release of Snow White in 1937, the success led to opening Walt Disney World in 1971. The move from film into amusement parks naturally led to the hotel and restaurant industries. Their global franchising and merchandising operation deserves its own blog post. Fast forward to today: Disney has already been executing omnichannel strategy for a long time.
Core Investment: Customer Experience
How does a global conglomerate consistently get it right with individual customers across countries, cultures and languages? Chief Marketer points out the genius of the My Disney Experience tool. The way they merge the digital and physical worlds is aspirational for any company. It provides maximum value for customers through a single omnichannel touchpoint.
Customers can use My Disney Experience via browsers or the mobile app, managing every part of their Disney trip on any device. The header navigation on My Disney Experience crosses all industries by order of importance: parks, hospitality, dining and finally merchandise. In one place, customers can:
- buy park tickets
- book hotels
- make restaurant reservations
- schedule activities or events (like meeting Cinderella)
- coordinate details with family or friends, and
- even keep track of photos taken at the parks, stored in their user account.
Once customers arrive in Florida, they can use the app’s GPS integration to find all the locations on their itinerary, down to specific rides in a particular park.
Of course, successful omnichannel execution ensures all touchpoints, interfaces, apps, etc. match up perfectly. The movie on TV, the doll purchased at the store, meeting Cinderella in person—a little girl will view them all as one in the same. Each movie is its own mini-brand and Disney’s top-of-the line customer experience reinforces it continually. From the home to the hotel to the park, at every moment Disney immerses their customers in the world they create.
They would not be able to achieve such quality experiences without a laser sharp customer focus. Undoubtedly that focus was the genesis of the tool. Consider the massive investments Disney must make for the tool to be effective: a fleet of employees dedicated to data analysis and personalization; entire budgets funding research, strategy and execution.
Curious how this translates to dollars and cents?
Over $55 billion in revenue for 2017.
YES, OMNICHANNEL IS A NECESSITY
After taking a closer look at Pantone and Disney, we see that for any business to be successful, it must be completely customer-oriented. Omnichannel will fail when businesses lose sight of the customer by pursuing ubiquity. Being hyper-focused on your customer will naturally lead to omnichannel strategy, which is more than worth the investment.
Those who made the move to obtain and engage customers through multi-channel strategy need to follow through with the next logical step. When discussing customer engagement, Qubit CMO Leah Anathan comments: “It’s a given that if you are on multiple channels, customers will want to interact with your brand across those channels [seamlessly].” If they can’t, your efforts will backfire and cause customer dissatisfaction.
The Time is Now
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” —Victor Hugo
If you are wavering about what your “one thing” for next year should be, omnichannel customer experience may be it. The story of the Pantone Color Matching System reads like a fairytale, but it’s key to remember the end customer was the genesis of the idea. Investing in and executing effective omnichannel strategy will require you to innovate. It could be the best thing you do for your company because it’s the best thing you can do for your customers.