CoreMedia CEO Offers an Omnichannel Playbook
If omnichannel confuses you, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, it is decidedly worth figuring out. Few other strategies are as intricate in execution, and equally as valuable to a brand’s bottom line. Need proof? On average, brands that employ a strong omnichannel strategy retain 89% of their customers compared to 33% of those with weak omnichannel engagement. Why do you want to maintain these omnichannel shoppers? They represent a 30% higher lifetime value.
The good news is, while brands have watched the number of customer touchpoints increase, those behind the technology enabling omnichannel engagement have been hard at work making it accessible for brands of all sizes. The first step? Better understanding the entire omnichannel strategy and how it can be brought to life within your organization. Below, I get some time with Sören Stamer, CEO, and Co-Founder of CoreMedia, the ‘strategic content management and experience orchestration engine’ based in Hamburg, Germany with clients across the globe. We discuss the confusion surrounding the various channel marketing strategies, where headless comes into play, how to simultaneously craft iconic experiences from a micro to a macro level, and finally, how popping the hood to examine your internal degree of digital maturity could be your best foothold to step-up to that next level.
Multi-Channel vs. Omnichannel
In my opinion, one of the main obstacles that stand in the way of companies executing an effective omnichannel strategy is the confusion around what it means. The multi-channel strategy has been expounded over the years, and there is an inaccurately established notion that multi-channel and omnichannel are one and the same. Teams that recognize the two are different and understand what their differences are is when the actual business benefit is born. I asked Sören how he would define a true omnichannel experience, and what are the essential ways he felt it differed from the prior idea of just a multi-channel approach?
"Absolutely, there is an important distinction between multi-channel and omnichannel. They sound very similar, but the difference is fundamental: only one of them is customer-centric and able to deliver delightful customer experiences.
Multi-channel strategies emerged when brands or retailers felt the need to compete online. They decided to add an online channel that was independent of existing channels. Usually, the teams managing these new channels were kept separate, and so were the software platforms. Teams, goals, technologies, and processes weren’t aligned at all. As a result, online stores operated like internal competitors to their own retail stores.
These competing channels produced customer experiences that were highly fragmented, frustrating customers. They didn’t care about the artificial distinction between their mobile device and the store around them. I call this 'customer experience by org chart' because the experience is driven by a company’s internal structure rather than customer expectation. It indicates the lowest digital maturity a brand can have. When innovative brands and retailers started to focus on customer experience, the perspective switched from inside-out to outside-in.
Omnichannel strategies optimize the overall brand experience for customers by removing all of the artificial limitations of multi-channel strategies. The separation between different channels should be vanishing for customers. At every step in the customer journey, customers should be free to interact in any way: in the store, via an app, calling in, through chat, or even social media.
Fragmented teams need to be combined, goals must be aligned, and technology must be integrated. In summary: omnichannel strategies deliver seamless brand experiences, and multi-channel strategies don’t."
Headless vs. Omnichannel
Another prominent misconception clouding the omnichannel conversation is the idea that 'headless = omnichannel' when, in reality, there is far more to it than that. This kind of thinking can be detrimental for how it minimizes the need for the careful attention omnichannel requires, and result in more difficulty for marketers and merchandisers, etc. being able to execute the optimal customer experience. I asked Sören to weigh in on this and let us know how CoreMedia addresses this?
"Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. At the core of every successful omnichannel strategy lies the ability to create, orchestrate, and deliver delightful, fresh and iconic personalized customer experiences at a global scale across all touchpoints and all stages of the customer journey. That’s a big challenge for developers, marketers, merchandisers, designers, and brand managers.
Headless technology is critical for developers. That’s why CoreMedia Content Cloud empowers developers with headless Content-as-a-Service and powerful frameworks to integrate with headless commerce platforms.
But at the same time, omnichannel is a massive challenge for marketers because they need to create iconic content that shines across all touchpoints. Instead of managing each channel separately, they now need to orchestrate a seamless experience that spans all touchpoints maintaining consistency and relevance. These challenges are compounded by the rising number of digital touchpoints, languages, and countries they have to update in shorter and shorter timespans.
To empower marketers to meet all requirements and truly master omnichannel, we developed CoreMedia Studio. This gives marketers an intuitive, but powerful interface to create omnichannel content, manage translations into dozens of languages, integrate content and commerce, preview omnichannel experiences across all touchpoints, languages, markets, devices, contexts, etc., and orchestrate their rollout globally. The impact on marketers is game-changing. The time to create and launch a global drop went from weeks to hours. One marketer said he can now do things in half-an-hour that once took him an entire week. That’s less than 1% of the time and only 1/80th of the work.
Experience orchestration also gives marketers the power to review and change their global customer experience at their fingertips as the separation between the digital and physical world disappears. We’ve reached the point with CoreMedia Content Cloud where we can use the same shoppable video to create an inspiring digital experience that works on various mobile devices, while also augmenting physical stores around the world. We’ll soon see personalized physical stores leveraging the same iconic content we see in digital stores. Without leaving their office in New York City, marketers can preview and orchestrate tomorrow's drop of fresh content in their flagship store in Sydney directly inside CoreMedia Studio. They can even explore the whole experience using a VR headset and see any changes on the fly.
Merchandisers also play an important role in an omnichannel strategy. Their responsibility is to ensure they promote the right inventory at the right price to the right audience. Omnichannel makes these tasks more complex, but CoreMedia Content Cloud empowers merchandisers through automation. Inventory-aware banners are a good example. Instead of frustrating customers with banners that lead to out of stock products, CoreMedia enables merchandisers to set up smart banners that automatically disappear when the related product inventory is low. Image maps can automatically drop links to products that are out of stock or banners can display inventory data for nearby stores and offer a reservation functionality instead. Ideally, merchandisers are able to use digital touchpoints to continuously generate fresh insights into changing customer behavior and hot trends—and apply them to all other channels as well.
In an omnichannel world, designers need to create customer experiences that are consistent and attractive across all touchpoints. CoreMedia empowers designers to work in parallel with marketers, merchandisers, and developers. Designs that are used across various touchpoints can be changed after the fact without bothering the other teams. They can test new designs with existing content without interference and can roll out new designs globally in a controlled way."
Taking Omnichannel from Micro to Macro
Another demand laid at the feet of marketers, merchandisers, designers, and developers is the challenge of taking the omnichannel experience to a macro (i.e., more global scale), while not losing sight of what is needed in the micro (i.e., the in-store experience). It’s also important to remember that one cannot be sacrificed for the other. They both need equal attention. Sounds formidable, right? It turns out; it’s not as daunting as it seems. I asked Sören what his advice was on how to make sure these teams are working together to deliver a holistic omnichannel experience no matter the touchpoint?
"You’re making an important point: iconic omnichannel experiences need to stand out at the micro and at the macro level simultaneously. Getting this wrong can be damaging for a brand. For a global brand, consistency across all touchpoints, regions, and languages is increasingly important to drive brand value, but at the same time, global brands need to be able to leverage local insights to make their experience more relevant. In the extreme, brands need to be able to adjust their experience to a single unique customer.
With CoreMedia Content Cloud, all content is created for omnichannel use. All content objects are semantically rich and ready to be reused in infinite ways. Instead of copying objects to create versions for each country, language, or touchpoint, CoreMedia uses live references and inheritance.
When a marketer prepares a global drop of new merchandise and sets up a visual campaign with various products, she might have to prepare the campaign for as many as 100 countries and 20+ languages simultaneously. With CoreMedia Content Cloud, she uploads the videos and photos once, adds the links to products and creates the campaign messaging. She can preview the experience for all touchpoints instantly. With just a few clicks, she can trigger the translation into all of the languages needed. Without any manual work, the whole campaign can now be delivered in any language and on any touchpoint.
CoreMedia Content Cloud automatically handles links to local product catalogs, displaying the right currency and using fallback languages where translations are missing.
But, translating the text into multiple languages is often not enough. Global marketing specialists and local marketing teams must be able to optimize the campaign for local needs or individual touchpoints - without breaking the global campaign. CoreMedia empowers marketers to create a variant for their local market using different imagery, or they can use different videos for in-store displays. To do this, marketers don’t have to copy the entire campaign. Instead, they can automatically create a variant that inherits all global content and settings - then change the parts they want to optimize.
While various teams can work with the campaign and adjust it to their specific needs, it remains a single campaign. CoreMedia Content Cloud tracks all changes and displays all language variants that need to be updated when the master product description has been changed.
When a store manager wants to use the same campaign to create an immersive in-store experience, she can activate the campaign with one click and will benefit from all the optimizations and changes that have been performed globally. So, for example, the store manager could switch the in-store displays to Chinese for Chinese customers. Any changes that happen to the campaign after activating it will also be inherited and automatically updated. CoreMedia Content Cloud takes away the pain of managing all of these variants simultaneously.
One important benefit for brands is the ability to act and learn much faster. The ability to instantaneously drop campaigns and test various optimizations on a local level makes brands smarter. They can quickly identify what resonates with customers and then take advantage of that knowledge globally without delay. Specialized or local teams are massively empowered to optimize on the micro level while also empowering the global team to collaborate more effectively at the macro level."
Omnichannel Requires an Audit of Digital Maturity
While technology can seem like a life-saver when it comes to advancing business, it’s not always the answer. It can sometimes create more problems if the solution is not well-matched with a company’s level of digital maturity, or organizational changes are not inspired or managed well. This notion of digital maturity, in addition to technology choice, plays a huge role in whether an omnichannel strategy will be useful. It is so much more than a change in software, and often the mindset of an entire organization needs to adapt as well. I knew Sören had a passionate take on this, so I asked him to elaborate on how he felt brands could understand their level of digital maturity and position themselves to level-up where needed.
"Indeed, developing an omnichannel mindset is key. We see technology as an enabler for that or—when done wrong—an inhibitor.
I believe that creating and maintaining superior customer experiences is a process, not a one-time project. You can’t just do it once and be done. It’s a task that never ends. Superior customer experiences are most easily delivered by a company that has achieved a high level of digital maturity.
To enable brand executives to analyze their digital maturity, we developed the CoreMedia Digital Experience Maturity Model. The model covers five distinct maturity levels: 0) fragmented, 1) integrated, 2) instant, 3) dynamic, and 4) immersive.
The evolution from one level to another requires at least two things: new software capabilities and new organizational capabilities. No software alone will do the trick. There is always an element of change management needed.
Brands on level 0 (Fragmented) still provide a fragmented experience. The experience is shaped by the org-chart and not by the desires of the customer. The frustration of customers is virtually guaranteed.
Brands on level 1 (Integrated) master the integration of content and commerce to create experiential commerce experiences. Marketers and merchandisers are working closely together using integrated tools.
Brands on level 2 (Instant) master the orchestration of instant product drops across multiple touchpoints, countries, and languages. Global and local teams collaborate effectively, different digital touchpoints are coordinated to provide a seamless experience.
Brands on level 3 (Dynamic) master the fully dynamic experiences. They are able to contextualize and personalize every step of the customer journey on the fly. Customers experience high levels of relevance in every interaction.
Brands on level 4 (Immersive) master the seamless integration of physical spaces with digital experiences. Digital capabilities like instant personalization, A/B testing, endless aisle, dynamic pricing, seamless payments and the like will become part of physical stores.
Reaching level 4 is game-changing for brands. Their brand managers are empowered through incredible new capabilities. They can access and manage each and every touchpoint of their iconic brand instantly. Instead of writing memos on how to bring the brand to life in a store in Argentina or Thailand, they can preview, test and change the experience in real-time from their desk.
Sophisticated omnichannel technology empowers brands to delight customers in every moment. It also empowers brand managers to protect the value of their brand at all times. And that’s strategic as well because a company’s brand is the most precious thing on the balance sheet."