January 18, 2016

Is blog part of your omnichannel strategy?

The terms 'omnichannel' is in vogue in marketing circles these days. But don't be unnerved by the jargon; it just refers to multi-channel retailing of products with emphasis on integration among the channels. The channels could be offline (e.g. store) as well as online (e.g. website).

Omnichannel and blogging??

We'd try to answer two questions that might arise about omnichannel in the context of blogging: 
  • Why and how does omnichannel matter to bloggers?
  • How does a blog fit in retail omnichannel concept?

Omnichannel matters immensely if you are using the blog to sell something - a product or service. That would also include a book blog, a review blog, a photography blog that also offers photos on payment.

If you are not into marketing, it matters less but improves your understanding about growing the influence of your personal brand, and helps you grow your reputation and influence on the web. This in turn will surely result in better professional networking, opening of new avenues, and popularity and reputation of your content, to name just a few.

For non-commercial and purely personal blogs, thinking omnichannel would mean integrating all social media properties and making social media (including blog) as part of one's offline presence too.

In the medley of social accounts, blog surfaces as the most stable (after website) and yet regularly updated (unlike website) web property, and these qualities make it the most important web property. Due to these properties, we strongly recommend that you make the blog the fulcrum of all your social media activities. It goes without saying that in that case, the blog must have very high quality content.

Now come to blogging for businesses. As retailing has grown from brick-and-mortar to multi-channel, integration is the next logical phase in its development. Companies are trying to give the customer a seamless experience in making his choice, buying, paying, giving feedback and even returning goods. Only good customer service and branding do not help; the technology plays an important role in today's connected world. We'll explain it further a bit later.

The blog is just one of the many web-properties that a brand has, but it is a high value property if maintained well over a long term. When the purchaser wants to analyze the product or service more deeply than just making a routine re-purchase decision about grocery or toiletries, blog comes handy.

You must have visited websites of big tech companies such as Apple and Samsung. They showcase the top-selling and latest products before everything else, sometimes annoying the visitor who is NOT interested in that expensive product. He might be interested in trouble-shooting an old product or a comparison between different products or an accessory. These sites do have many segments on customer service, etc but these give matter of fact information - these do not discuss industry trends, new technological developments, why a new technological offer (e.g. an app or a curved design or...) is good or bad. Blog fulfills this gap beautifully and increases the credibility of the website by a good margin, if it is maintained well and discusses matters without prejudice to competitors.

What really is omnichannel in the context of retail marketing?


Omnichannel vision works something like this (and more): Imagine yourself inside a multi-brand departmental store where you've gone to buy some  products. Before taking the buying decision, won't you like to know each product's details and instantly compare them with other brands and also other offers from the same brand? You may want to know whether something completely new has come to market that is better than what you have been purchasing. You'd want to instantly know hundreds of why-how-when-where questions that come to your mind. You'd also like to see what users say about these products. You'd even want to try a sample then and there. Once you selected your merchandise, you'd want to instantly make payment (without standing in queue) and the product delivered either there itself or at home at your convenience. You might like the delivery boy to take back anything that you don't find suitable and instantly make refund. You might want to give feedback and the company instantly responding to it in a positive way. All this must be recorded somewhere and should come handy when you later make a purchase from this or some other departmental store. To top it, how about getging your loyalty reward right away and a loyalty discount offer the next time you search for a product or visit a store relating to that brand / product? Won't you also expect a better product based upon your feedback? 

How does the company provide all that experience to you, and seamlessly? That is where thinking omnichannel comes.

Omnichannel has to be all-pervasive but that should not make the company burn the candle from both ends. It should prioritize and customize channels. It should evolve over time by thinking ahead.

Use of available technologies and investment in future tech is important especially for growing retailers and sellers. All the channels work together based on available data (which can bulge too soon), its processing almost real time and its use through different platforms. Without that, omnichannel is not likely to work when the client base grows and sales are made over large geographies.

Offline and online both are important. Whether for selling products or networking, not being available offline is like ignoring a huge potential market / audience. In developed countries, a trend is emerging of online-only retailers venturing into offline. In fast-growing economies such as China and India, the offline-online synergy is happening too, though in a different direction: old-time retailers lapping up online in a big way.

Mobile and app use is growing in making purchase decisions and payments, as well as socialization. Apps, if made properly, help in integrating many or all online activities. They also help by directing traffic towards offline stores. Same goes for new devices, including wearable tech.

We must remember that the customer lives in a universe of his own, which often is very small - revolving round his family, office, local market, gym, park and picnic spots. So, unless the retailer approaches him through local presence, much of his experience may not be 'seamless', something that omnichannel vision demands. Localization is and has always been important for sellers. Online-only retailers are learning it the hard way and turning local, sometimes hyper-local.

Integration has to be front-end as well as back-end. Processes need to be integrated back-end while the front-end must make it easy to move from one platform to another if need be. The transition (e.g. website to store; app to website to payment gateway to reward-disbursal) must be smooth and painless for the customer. When the flow is disrupted, it must be easy to pick up from where one left (e.g. from website, the customer wants to compare products: he must be given that choice there itself and he should not go away but come back to where he'd left.)

We leave you here, hoping that you apply the principles on your blog and other social media properties. If nothing more, just linking all social accounts for better visibility. Happy blogging!