Omni-Personal Makes Omni-Channel Retail Creatively Disruptive

By Roberto Ramos, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications at the Doneger Group
October 26, 2015

Much has been said about Omni-Channel being retail's most recent disruptive boost. The approach, which leverages the power of technology and data to deliver consumers products and services across channels, has made retailers smarter and more nimble. Today more products and services are expeditiously delivered in a myriad of ways and settings to consumers eager to embrace them. This continuous, always-on, sort of approach has also made retailers think of their businesses beyond their brick and mortar locations, increasing opportunities for engagement and revenue.

With Omni-Channel's hyper-servicing comes the risk of a commoditized experience as more retailers provide it and consumers learn to take it for granted as a basic service. What has gotten somewhat lost in the unbridled enthusiasm about Omni-Channel is that its true power is only unpackaged when informed by consumer insights. This forces retailers who wish to truly differentiate themselves and their Omni-Channel approach to drastically evolve and expand their consumer expertise, or to become Omni-Personal in their focus.

Consumer is in Charge Today's consumers have adroitly managed to edit the dizzying pace and volume of information they receive. They expect content and experiences that are relevant to their needs and lifestyles. Brands must speak the language of hyper-relevancy, through an unrelenting focus on personalization and customization. This must be the strategic initiative of highest priority.

Consumer as Chief Strategic Officer An Omni-Personal approach begins by putting the customer at the core of your business thinking, before you even start mapping out channels. This means making the unrelenting pursuit of consumer insights paramount to the organization. The exercise begins at the very top, with CEOs and other C-level executives pushing for and demanding stronger consumer findings at all points in the consumer journey. This insights gathering initiative should be lead by research and innovation but should be truly cross-functional, with all different teams asking the important question: what does the consumer want and need?

Change the Conversation from Channels to Consumers Part of the appeal of an Omni-Channel approach is how it maps out the different touch points through which to interact with the consumer. This checklist of sorts, which can include store, mobile, website and more, can become a slightly automated fulfillment process that can lead to the commoditization effect mentioned earlier. The focus on channels should first be which channels the consumer prefers along with an understanding of why to be able to serve the right experience per channel.

Structuring Consumer-Centric Innovations While quantitative and qualitative studies can help unearth key elements that make consumer tick, you should develop more comprehensive and innovative means of getting to consumer cores. Think of different ways of bringing the consumer into your business planning process. Are there innovation meetings they can attend? Is the target audience represented within your existing employee base, and if so, give the proper weight to their inherently relevant perspective. Can they play a role in product development as well as marketing communications?

Map out Your Consumer's Needs and Journeys There's no excuse for not knowing the nuances of your consumers' lives and preferences. Make sure all your research initiatives result in actionable profiles with key information, such as what life stage they're at, what they value in life, what they want in terms of fashion and lifestyle, the role your brand can play, etc. Make sure you're also charting their digital footprint with your offerings. Is there content that is more appealing, what digital platforms do they prefer? The goal is being able to identify both points of pressure and joy to address or amplify. A fully fulfilled customer should be something you plan for and deliver through ongoing iterations and exchanges.

Make Big Data Human A lot of the conversation regarding Omni-Channel has been about the technology and data. You should definitely harness the power of data but make sure it's framed and interpreted through the human lens. Don't rely on data exclusively; look for ways to interpret contradictions or points of tension in findings through the human touch in the form of interviews, consumer journey explorations, etc. Facilitate conversations between your data teams and other teams such as consumer insights, product development, marketing and communications, in order to build truly integrated consumer-centric strategies.

Personalization Explore the power of personalization to enrich the customer experience. Tap into possibilities around product customization. Leverage the targeted power of digital technologies to serve hyper-relevant content and products. Create nuanced advertising that is in context whether it is in native editorial settings or as a result of relevant search terms. Think of cool utilities to bring more high touch to your user experience, including personalized shoppers, geo-targeted tips and promotions. Craft and bring to life marketing campaigns around passion points expressed through engaging feedback loops. And finally, whenever possible and relevant, connect like-minded consumers to create a vibrant community that will help your brand and business.

Keep it Human A channels approach should not reinvent the wheel of human interaction; it should instead provide tools to deliver a timeless human need: to be listened to and catered to? A bit of personalized high touch can go very far in making your retail strategies more breakthrough.