So What Exactly is OmniChannel?

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An angry man with a delivery van redefined my understanding of omni-channel customer experience.

Traditionally when I’ve referred to omni-channel delivery I’ve tended to think primarily in terms of content; it’s all about making sure that we deliver the right content or messaging across multiple digital platforms such as a website, tablet, or phone. Is it a consistent experience suitably tailored for each different device? Add in physical contact points through printed media, store-front, or call center interaction and then we might be talking about delivering an omni-channel customer experience.

Does it go further than that? What do we actually mean by omni-channel?

Let’s take a look at some of the formal definitions.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines omni-channel as denoting or relating to a type of retail that integrates the different methods of shopping available to consumers (e.g., online, in a physical store, or by phone).”

While Wikipedia broadens the scope as “a cross-channel business model that companies use to increase customer experience.” Which seems to fit in with what I’ve been discussing above.

But, let’s take a deeper look at the entomology, “omni” comes from the word omnis which can mean all or universal. If we say we are delivering an omni-channel experience are we really managing and delivering a good customer experience across EVERY channel that a customer can possibly interact with us? What about those channels outside our direct control that still add to the overall experience with our product, especially when it is sold, implemented, or supported through resellers, dealers, retail stores, third-parties, etc.

And it’s a two way process. We might be using every conceivable channel we can think of to deliver our message or communicate with our customers; but are we aware of every single channel that they are using to communicate with us? Over the years I’ve written letters to companies, phoned them up, sent emails, and these days I’m more than likely to post something on Twitter when I want to communicate both good and bad experiences. Many companies monitor these obvious channels of communication, but are they catching everything?

Which brings me back to the angry man with the van. What if one of your customers bought your product and was so unhappy with it that they painted their complaints on the side of it and used it as a mobile billboard to advertise their dissatisfaction and tell people not to buy your products? The man with the van did just that.

He made his van into part of the omni-channel by using it as a literal vehicle of communication back to the manufacturer concerned.

There is no way that we can anticipate this sort of outlier behavior, but such actions are usually a culmination of other interactions through monitored channels that have failed. Is it feasible to deliver a literal omni-channel experience? Probably not. But we can all strive to deliver the best continual connected customer experience across every channel, both outbound and inbound, that we manage.

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You Are Now A Media Company (If you’re not – you should be!)

I love podcasts. In fact I’d say I’m something of a podcast junkie. Each time I get in the car I listen to one, be it on my commute to the office, or a business trip. I listen to them on plane rides. And when I go for my evening walks in the park. Podcasts are easily the most updated audio app on my phone, as I download several new episodes of my favorite ones. As I write this I have twenty-two different podcast channels lined up each with new content waiting for me to listen to on a variety of subjects such as history, motor sports, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, movie reviews, creative writing, industry news, and Content Marketing.

My two favorite Content Marketing podcasts both come from my friends at the Content Marketing Institute; “Content Inc”. from Joe Pulizzi gives short (about 5 minutes) tips and ideas – just enough to spark some thought for the day; while “PNR: This Old Marketing” is a weekly hour long discussion between Joe and his CMI cohort, Robert Rose on the latest trends in Content Marketing. Both are highly recommended.

The fine folks at CMI also popped up on my Amazon Prime streaming feed at home with their just release documentary “The Story of Content.” The latest issue of their magazine CCO sits on my desk, and I follow CMI on Twitter each day. – In fact I’m something of a CMI brand advocate. They are one of the best models of how to build a business through content.

What makes CMI stand out is that while they are selling consulting, training, and events they don’t act like a traditional consulting house, instead they act like a media company. They use content to position themselves as industry thought leaders, and they tailor that content to the different channels they use to engage with their audience. (Note I said audience, not customers.)

For many years I’ve being delivering the message that all companies should think and act like publishers. Well that is no longer enough – You need to act like a media company.

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It isn’t enough to continue to just produce print-based collateral such as brochures and press releases and try and slice it and dice it to fit onto different digital platforms.

So how do you approach being a media company?

Take a look at this business plan by arguably the most successful media company on the planet.

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This was Disney in 1957 – almost 60 years ago – yet every channel was designed to use content to build the business.

Think about the following and apply it to your business.

  1. What’s the core activity that you want to build an audience for?
  2. What channels can drive that engagement?
  3. What value can each channel add?
  4. Who is the audience for that channel?
  5. What content type works best on that channel?
  6. How can we create the right content for that channel with connections that engages the audience enough to be drawn back to the core activity?
  7. How do we connect that content to present an overall brand experience and consistent story no matter which channel the audience engages with first?

Collaboration is the Pits – And it can drive success.

“Hot Pit Pass” – Those words on the ticket hanging around my neck on a fancy lanyard were magic to me. The coveted prize of any motor-racing fan, to be granted access to epicenter of the action in any major motor-race. A few years ago my wife and I had been lucky enough to be invited to attend the Texas NASCAR race as a guest of Richard Childress Racing, and part of the package was a guided tour of their pit operations and the coveted pass that allowed us to stay in the pit and garage area the whole race. NASCAR is un-matched in the access it gives fans and visitors, and with that magic piece of paper we got to wander anywhere; including sitting on the pit wall watching the cars come in and being serviced.

It was a magic moment witnessing the well-rehearsed choreography of a top-flight pit crew. Six men flowed over the wall to service the car, filling it with fuel and changing four wheels and tires in less than 15 seconds. (In Formula One where the pit crew can number as high as fourteen people each with a dedicated task they can accomplish a four wheel and tire change in less than three seconds!)

A good pit-stop can mean the difference between success and failure in a race; and a good pit crew can be just as effective as the driver when it comes to positioning a car to win. Despite there only being one person on track, motor racing is definitely a team sport. This was bought home to me again recently during a business trip while watching the 2015 NASCAR race from Atlanta on the hotel room TV. Not surprisingly I’ve stayed a fan of the RCR teams and always follow them closely, and the Caterpillar sponsored #31 team in particular. During the Atlanta race the #31 pit crew were exceptional, as it soon became apparent that with every single pit stop the car emerged from the pits several positions ahead of where it had entered. In some cases the fast efficient work of the team gaining four or five places.

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It also struck me that the pit-crew model is a perfect analogy for the content creation and delivery process.

Customers are looking to your content to provide answers to questions, and as the content creator you may feel like the lone driver out on track fighting for space and hoping to get out front and be noticed first.

But the truth is that most customer answers need input and information from across your organization. Customers don’t think in terms of your operational silos, so they don’t look for information in neatly packaged chunks. To meet your customer’s needs you need to collaborate with subject matter experts, do research, and them pull it all together in a language that your customer will understand.

You need to pull together your own “pit crew” around a particular subject, value their individual inputs and pull them together to develop a process, to deliver the result that will help you, and your customer move forward at an accelerated pace.

Collaboration of this type also results in a premium consistent brand experience; ensuring that your customer gets the same answer, the same information, no matter through which channel they ask their question.

Working together results in success for both you and your customers.

A Gift of Ten Content Tips from Anon.

When I returned to my office after the holiday break I was surprised to discover one of those inter-office routing envelopes sitting waiting for me on my desk. You know, the type that used to be for delivering paper memos and documents (remember those) but whose primary use these days seems to be for the circulation of various greetings cards and office collections.

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I didn’t know of any impending birthdays births, or retirements so was a little confused as to why it would be there. There was no note clipped to the front, and not signature on the envelope to indicate where it had come from.

Intrigued I opened the seal and tipped the envelope up and a single piece of white card fluttered slowly down to rest on my desk. The card had a note attached which simply read “For Alan.” – No signature.

What had anonymous sent to me? I flipped it over and read the following:

Top 10 Tips For Creating Compelling Content

  1. Less about you
  2. Be authentic
  3. Focus on pain points
  4. Participate in conversations
  5. Bring best of your brand to the table with a differentiated POV
  6. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
  7. Think “human-to-human” (not B2B or B2C)
  8. Match content to the channel
  9. Go out on a limb
  10. Loosen the grip

I’ve read a lot of these sort of Top 10 lists over the years, even created a few similar ones myself, but there was something about this one that resonated with me. I’ve kept this card sitting on my desk at the side of my laptop in the intervening three weeks since its arrival, and found myself referencing it several times in conversations, and not always in relation to content creation. – I believe there as some very valid ideas that relate to the way we do business in the digital age in that list.

So over the next few weeks I’m planning on taking a deeper look at these Top Ten items and examine what they mean to me.

The true meaning of content?

An excellent post from  on why creating and managing content is both important and rewarding. Couldn’t have said it better myself…

… content is the genesis of action, education, and change. Content informs. People come away from good content with more understanding and perspective about issues that affect them. Content enables them to consider a situation, question, or decision based on clear information and then act with purpose and clarity.

So, content is core to teaching. And there is joy in helping someone understand. There is an amazing feeling when someone finds something they were looking for and finds a clarity they were missing. That’s a gift…

Content Delivery – Porsche Style

What’s the quickest way to deliver your content to a multinational audience? – This maybe one of the most efficient ways I’ve seen.

While monitoring the Twitter stream this morning from various motor-sports journalists covering the build up to this weekend’s Formula One Spanish Grand Prix there were several enthusiastic posts about a little piece of plastic.

This piece of plastic, distributed by Porsche.

Porsche QR Press KitJournalist Jon Noble immediately tweeted,

“I remember the era of 100-page media guides. Look at this slick modern version from Porsche.”

While NBC Sports’s Will Buxton added a few more details.

“Very cool media kit from Porsche Supercup. A simple plastic card featuring a BeeTag. Open the document in 5 languages on phone/tablet. Ace.”

Globalized, smart, slick, and in keeping with the brand. Delivering content to a well-defined community in the way that works best for them. – Brilliant piece of content marketing.

From a marketing perspective it’s also interesting to note that Porsche aren’t even competing in the main GP event. They don’t have an F1 team, nor do they supply engines anymore. They do however have supply all the cars for one of the, normally ignored, supporting events – yet they got a sizable share of the journalists’ attention and social media buzz this morning.

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And I found out that the British refer to QR Codes as BeeTags – apparently named after a popular QR Code generation software.  – This plays to a conversation I had at the STC Conference in Atlanta last week discussing the fact that just because something is written in English, it doesn’t mean it is equally understood in all English speaking markets. – Maybe that’s a subject for another blog post.

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