Omni-Channel Experiences, Still Far from Reality!!!

Fragmentation to ConvergenceCan you complete let alone win a Formula One race with flat tires?

Don’t think I need to answer that question but am sure you’re thinking, what in the world is this guy writing about and what has this got to do with omni-channel experiences. Well, it does because I feel the same way every time I think about driving omni-channel frictionless consumer experiences.

Why? – Because we are trying to create a world of connected experiences on top of a massively “fragmented” foundation. Take a read:

Pretty much anyone who has been directly or indirectly involved with marketing, eCommerce, consumer experiences, brand strategies or figuring out unique ways to engage consumers across various online & offline touch points,  would have experienced or expressed a strong vision & desire to move from being multi-channel to cross-channel and now omni-channel. And it hasn’t just been a change of phrases we all so dearly love but a reflection on how the consumer engagement and the entire ecosystem has evolved with all strategies driven by a single most desirable outcome – enabling seamless, frictionless omni-channel consumer experiences.

But have brands truly been able to drive “omni-channel” consumer experiences consistently?

The answer is a big NO despite strategies, agency partnerships, availability of data and technology and of course most importantly a well defined vision. There have been instances of brands driving these connected seamless experiences but these have been rather far and few, limited to specific campaigns or programs that may have lasted a few weeks or months at best but nothing which is “always on”. So what is preventing this to happen? It’s FRAGMENTATION that exists in three core areas :

 1. Fragmentation in Marketing Technology Ecosystem

A foundational challenge often acknowledged globally however still unresolved primarily because it requires a fundamental shift in the technology ecosystem. The types of marketing solutions and solution providers would need to evolve from solving problems in compartments like data, analytics, CRM, customer experience, eCommerce and others to thinking about “experiences” that span across channel & media spectrum. Refer to Gartners’s marketing technology

Marketing Technology Landscape
Marketing Technology Landscape

transit map or Scott Brinker’s famous marketing technology landscape, driving a connected seamless experience requires stitching these different pieces leveraging both data & technology at its core. This does not only involve a complex and challenging data integration process but also a reasonably expensive initiative that involves multiple technology vendors and a world class System Integrator who knows what he is doing and is able to converge creative, media, brand strategy and technology together. So either brands need to continue to stitch these pieces with millions of dollars OR we finally have a Marketing Operating System (a concept I am passionate about) that does that for marketers out of the gate. With all the technology acquisitions by Adobe, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce of the world, this may be a reality soon. Sitecore’s recent acquisition of the commerceServer is another step in this direction. Slide1

 2.   Fragmentation in Data

As brands and agencies scramble to adopt multiple technology platforms to drive consumer engagement across channels, the natural outcome is a world of fragmented data sets. While technology innovation is leading to the capture, extraction and storage of a lot of more data or if I may dare to say “big data”, it is still isolated by channel which then requires a herculean effort to connect this data into an “Enterprise Data Management Platform”. Historically the concept of a DMP has focused more on 1st party and 3rd party audience data to drive targeting and personalization for display advertising but it now needs to expand that reach across channels and be the sole “data management layer” that connects with “any” media or content publishing technology in your ecosystem, across paid, owned & earned channels. Of course easier said or written than done but possible at least once a more consolidated technology system sits on top that eventually drives a more unified data collection – a true 360 view of the consumer.

3. Fragmentation in Agency & Operating Model

While the technology & data fragmentation is more obviously noticeable, the fragmentation in the underlying agency operating model goes unnoticed. What does that mean? Two very simple facts:

  • Even with the Digital AORs how many brands use multiple specialized agencies to manage Search, CRM, eCommerce and so on while the digital AOR drives the broader brand strategy. This isn’t the root cause but a symptom of agencies that are yet to become omni-channel in their own capabilities
  • Secondly, if brands do happen to engage a single agency across channels, the service model within the agencies will enforce a fragmented team structure. On one hand that’s great because it provides subject matter experts and specialists across channels but more often than not, it leads to a very myopic & isolated view of the consumer. It lacks a horizontal cross channel perspective from anyone on the agency side.

While I am sure there may be enough fallacies to my hypothesis but I am also sure that for every single brand that is enabling an omni channel seamless consumer experience, you will find another 99 that are struggling because of the fragmented ecosystem. There is no single solution however a gradual shift towards a holistic and connected technology ecosystem will play a fundamental role in getting us there.