Altimeter Chief: Brands ‘Aren’t Even Close’ To Mastering Existing Channels

omnii2Charlene Li, CEO of Altimeter Group, will appear at AdExchanger’s Omni.Digital conference on Sept. 10, an event designed to educate marketers on advanced solutions for building seamless cross-channel brand experiences.

For digital advertisers, emerging channels present new inroads to consumers, but new challenges accompany those budding opportunities.

“Clients have limited time, they have limited budgets and they’re trying to decide which channels matter,” said Charlene Li, founder and CEO of research and advisory firm Altimeter Group, a Prophet company. “They know they have to experiment, but experimenting too early might be a bad thing.”

Earlier this month, Altimeter was acquired by Prophet, a consulting firm focused on marketing, design and brand strategy.

“Social strategies can’t be siloed,” Li said. “And yet, in many organizations, there’s one area that looks at social media channels and the content that goes into it, without thinking more holistically about where all that social data goes.”

AdExchanger spoke to Li.

AdExchanger: How should brands approach emerging channels?

CHARLENE LI: You can see a critical mass when customer bases move into emerging channels, so you have to constantly monitor it. Think of it as being on a “watch” list vs. a “do” list. The vast majority of brands should keep emerging channels on the “watch” list and let others figure it out.

Instead, brands should focus on mastering platforms they’re currently on. Frankly, most of them haven’t done a good job of mastering what they do today. I find it fascinating when clients ask about new things when they haven’t mastered the old things. Their customers are banging on the door to get them to show up in the places they already are, and they’re not even close to figuring out how to show up.

What’s an example of mastering an established channel?

I worked with Southwest Airlines and one of the best things they did was to connect their flight attendants and the ground crew operations with their social media team. They have Internet in the air, so if someone tweets while they’re on a flight, the social media team can reach out to the flight attendants or the ground crew of that flight and make sure the person’s taken care of in the air or when they land.

You’d think, “Wow,” right? But that’s low-hanging fruit. If I’m an important customer to you, you should be listening to what I say, you should know who I am and you should give me the service I deserve. The things we still have to get right are so obvious and so basic. If companies can recognize you as an important customer no matter where you are, that’s how they’ll make a difference in the omnichannel. And that’s really hard to do.

Which of the emerging platforms are your clients most interested in?

Instagram and Pinterest are two major ones, because of the visual aspect. Many clients are also trying to figure out video on YouTube. They’re trying to make the most of YouTube, but it seems like a high investment to create that content.

The true challenge is figuring out how to create content in a fast moving world that’s specific to each channel. If you do a tweet, you shouldn’t just take that tweet and put it on Facebook with all the hashtags. Content needs to have its own life on Facebook, vs. on Twitter or Pinterest. Having a coherent content strategy is going to be a major thing in omnichannel.

What’s the opportunity for messaging platforms?

It’s huge. It’s a little crazy how people are using Snapchat as a discovery tool. Snapchat is a content channel now. And some of the most popular Snapchat channels are local. Being able to feed content about something that’s happening in a physical store into a local Snapchat channel could be huge.

What’s so cool is that you can put an infinite amount of content into Snapchat, it’s quick, it’s sharable and you don’t have to worry about getting rid of it because it disappears. But as a brand, the question is whether or not you’re going to be a channel that consumers listen to on Snapchat.

Brands are still trying to figure out what content works, or what content goes viral. And the hardest part is understanding who the consumer is that shares all this content. Consumers can amplify brand content and modify it with text. Talk about lack of brand control! Consumers could be amplifying content because they think it’s cool or because they think it’s stupid. You just never know, because you don’t see what they’re saying.

What’s the tipping point for brands to experiment with emerging channels?

It’s very specific to each company depending on their goals. If they can identify a particular goal they think a new channel can actually help them with, then it makes a difference.

Here’s my favorite example of a non-intuitive one. Maersk, the shipping line, has a huge Instagram page. You think, “What? Why would a shipping company have an Instagram page?” They have people who take pictures of their ships, like trainspotting. Consumers take these beautiful photos of ships coming in to dock and post them on Instagram. And Maersk uses Instagram to talk to those fans.

It’s not necessarily something that’s strategic to their business of shipping, but they think of it as strategic to their brand.

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