The Omni-Channel Paradox

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mayurguptaupdated"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.

Today's column is written by Mayur Gupta, global head of marketing, technology and operations at Kimberly-Clark.

Brands have as much of a chance of driving frictionless omnichannel consumer experiences as a Formula One race car driver trying to win a race on flat tires.

Impossible.

The very model and capabilities used to make the experience omnichannel and seamless is its biggest roadblock. We are trying to create connected experiences using a massively fragmented ecosystem spanning data and technology, agencies and media management, and organizational and operating models.

With all the disruption within the digital landscape putting the consumer at the center and in full control, the consumer has effortlessly become omnichannel while brands still struggle with being multichannel, at best.

Yes, there have been instances of brands enabling connected seamless experiences, but they are far and few, limited to specific campaigns or programs that may have lasted just a few weeks or months, but nothing that is “always on.”

What is preventing this from happening? Fragmentation. It exists in these core areas:

Fragmentation in the data and marketing technology ecosystem

The simplest way to explain this is by looking at one of the many marketing technology infographics, such as the Transit Map from Gartner. This is a great depiction of the innovation that has happened, including the speed at which new startups and capabilities have come to the market.

Yet it also highlights a fragmented and isolated set of technology capabilities that rarely integrate and talk to each other. The data being captured by these technologies is naturally isolated as well. Consumer data is increasingly distributed across paid, owned and earned media, making it impossible for brands to leverage a “universal consumer” perspective that is agnostic of channels, media and data sources.

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Fragmentation in agency operations

Brands hire specialized agency partners to manage isolated experiences across media channels. A breakdown of this service offering is a result of a silo approach to handle media and channels. Search management, for example, may be broken down across individual agencies, such as paid, organic and etailer. The media may be managed and optimized separately across paid, owned and earned. Ecommerce is handled outside of the digital scope, while shopper marketing and sales are cut off from digital.

If brands do engage a single agency across channels, the service model within the agencies will enforce a fragmented operating structure. They lack a horizontal cross channel model and perspective that is consumer-focused, as opposed to being channel-focused.

Fragmentation in organizational and operating models

Operating with isolated organizational models across marketing, technology, sales, ecommerce, media and other areas is the most foundational challenge in driving omnichannel experiences. These experiences in many ways are a reflection of how brands are organized. The inability for different units to collaborate and converge is a detriment to seamlessly engaging the consumer across different touch points, especially with the pace at which she jumps from one touch point and channel to the other.

How do you overcome this fragmentation? There may not be a simple answer that works for everyone. At their core, however, organizations need to drive convergence across the entire operating model. That includes all organizational models, data, technology, people skills and capabilities.

In many ways it is adopting a startup mindset where a lack of resources leads to an organizational convergence using three key principles:

1. A consumer-obsessed view 

Converge towards the consumer, making her equally important to all parts of the organization, regardless of their core capability. Driving consumer experiences and owning consumer engagement is no longer just a marketing prerogative. 

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2. From isolation to collaboration

These circles can or should no longer live in isolation. This is true whether it is sales and marketing, marketing and technology, or marketing and finance. Either way, the objectives, drivers and imperatives for all these organizational units are overlapping more than ever before.

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3. Move from T-shaped to Pi-shaped mindsets

The notion of “marketing technologists” is the perfect example to illustrate what I mean: Brands and organizations can no longer win the race with people who have one-track minds. While specialization and deep expertise is key, that knowledge and understanding cannot be compartmentalized in just one area.

Some may argue that this is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no denying that as the consumer landscape matures, the need for convergence will no longer be an option, but a necessity to survive.

For brands it will be a choice: a fast-paced convergence or gradual loss of market share.

Follow Mayur Gupta (@inspiremartech) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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