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Omni Channel is the only way forward for brand engagement says Max Eaglen, Director of brand strategy agency, Platform.

But the last few years, months and even days have seen the consumer change beyond recognition from someone who we used to market our goods and services to, to someone whose point of references for those products and services are all around them, who has opinion, review, commentary and recommendations to cut through before purchase.

In 2010 we had 5.3 sources of information on average for a product or service. By 2011, these buying triggers had doubled to 10.4 different sources[1]. Why? Have we suddenly become a nation needing information to make a decision? No. Our norm has become to seek information before we make a decision and we are fed with blogs, podcasts, reviews, and opinions on social media and beyond to help us make these decisions. Data will help us buy the right thing, at the right price from the right place.

Survival of the Fittest

The exponential growth of the power of digital services has created an environment that 20 years ago didn’t exist, and even today, we are still finding our way around it.

The youth have grown up in this digital environment and are unafraid to use it. What is clear is that if we want to survive and prosper in this new digital tidal wave, we need to look at not only what it can do for our brands, but also what it can’t do.

And the one thing that online can’t reproduce is the physical interaction between your consumer and the product. Offline gives us the opportunity to fulfill other senses that are involved in making a purchase.  As well as giving us a physical place to take a product back to if there is a problem, to have a conversation with someone face-to-face, to know that there will be a result from the issue immediately, whether the customer likes it or not, and to give the consumer a reassurance (within reason) that the shop isn’t going to disappear.  Online customer service has a lot to live up to.

Everything to everyone, everywhere

60% of respondents to a recent survey[2] said that they expect converged retail channels to be the norm by 2014. But more than half of shoppers said that most retailers lack consistency in the way that they present themselves across channels.

Your customers will trust someone who is reliable, consistent in what they say, how they say it and what they promise.  But more importantly, they expect to have the same brand experience wherever, and whenever they interact with your brand. Not want it, not need it, but expect it.

 The Future is Omni Channel

By 2014 nearly everyone in Western Europe and the US will have access to a smart phone connected to the Internet[3].  The world is already populated by brand savvy consumers who are now in control. They say where and when they want to shop, and in some cases, what they are prepared to pay for a product.  Retailers can’t afford to let any moment on their customer brand experience to be less than rewarding, responsive and reliable.

The future is omni channel - a mix of all the different ways people like to shop, blended together but all saying the same things.  This means face-to-face in store, on the web, through mobile, TV and social media.

As global research experts, Forrester has speculated the future consumer will want not just responsive interactions but adaptive with content delivered in a way that best suits them as individuals and to a particular device. Digital experiences will need to be more contextual, possibly including location, purchase history, and recommendations. Devices will sync together and with other products allowing people to order from one device and check progress of delivery from another.  And information visualisation – or infovis – will need to be mainstream.

Those brands taking the lead

Although still in its infancy, there are already some brands beginning to start this digital integration, including Burberry, Top Shop, Hollister and M&S.  Top Shop recently launched a campaign where shoppers received a free styling and make up session and were invited to create a digital ‘Wish you were at Top Shop’ postcard using Instagram. Once the photo had been taken, they were given a copy of the postcard to take home as well as being able to upload it onto Facebook and the Top shop Gallery.  To date it has generated 640 blogs, a reach of 1.4 million and an extra 5.3 million views on Facebook together with 2,000 comments. That’s a years worth of average Facebook activity in just four days. And as a result it has become the number one fashion retailer on Instagram.

Or take M&S, the stalwart of the high street, yet embracing the online and offline integration with wi-fi in store and investing in mobile web and app presence that is connected to the in-store experience. M&S sales assistants will carry tablet devices, and interactive, touch screen kiosks are placed throughout stores to engage shoppers and make customer service easier.

All channels are connected, enabling customers to start their journey on any channel and complete it on another, creating seamless experiences that increase convenience and engagement, and with consistent brand experience.

So what about the potential customer sitting on the sofa?

Ultimately, we need to think about the consumer sitting on the sofa, or at their office desk.  For them it is about creating a brand strategy for getting a product to market across all channels and giving them the maximum opportunity to see, to engage and to generate a positive experience that translates into a purchase.

It’s about creating consistency across those messages, filtering and gathering good data, using that data to adapt the messaging and responding in real time and at the same time, making it fun and simple.

Max Eaglen is a founding partner and director of Platform, a brand strategy agency. Visit www.platformgroup.co.uk

[1] Google research

[2] CapGemini

[3] Aldata EYC