Young woman sitting on the floor of her living room and working

As we know modern customers live their lives, whether it’s work or play, across a range of digital and physical locations. Online includes social media (take your pick of networks), news websites and shopping sites and offline involves shops, walking down streets and watching TV.

Modern marketers have to understand this and do what they can to accompany their audience as they move across these channels. Offering the customer journey, experience, and support they expect and demand.

This ability to function in a cross-channel manner is critical to modern marketing. We’re all consumers and when we interact with a brand we don’t see the individual channel we’re interacting with – we consider the whole brand. So when communicating with a brand on Twitter, for example, you could be excused for expecting them to know what’s going on in their store.

Our recent survey of 1,000 global marketers revealed that the three biggest barriers to achieving a fully integrated cross-channel marketing approach were:

Cross-channel retailThese are the challenges the vast majority of marketers currently face – but for those of us operating in the retail sector, there’s another complicating factor – the customer journey gap between physical stores and online browsing.

This is something that I’ve spoken about before (checkout this article on mobile browsing in retail) and it’s not going anywhere soon.  Online retailers with no physical stores have to join up their customers’ experiences across channels. However, retailers with stores need a joined-up approach that does this and functions across online and offline.

The solution to these three issues relies on knowing how to attract and connect with your customers and doing so requires a deep knowledge of how they behave and a company structure that enables you to act on the insights you gain.

Cross channel

Cross-channel marketing is an in-depth process. It takes the entire company working together and synchronising data efforts to understand their best customers and plan an engagement strategy that will resonate uniquely with each customer at every point of interaction. There are a lot of moving parts and many opportunities for road blocks to turn up in the process.

The first step is establishing a Single Customer View (SCV) which is a clear picture of your customer – regardless of channel. A robust SCV powers your CRM and enables you to apply an identifier to a customer so that you can communicate with them consistently across channels. The quality of your data and data gathering processes are critical here.

A SCV is a requisite for any organisation, regardless of whether it’s B2C or B2B – in the end we are all marketing to people.

Where the differences are more apparent, and where the challenges for retail and non-retail differ slightly, is the second of the biggest barriers to cross-channel as revealed in our survey – the company’s technology.

The next step is to have the technology to automate and orchestrate those interactions and measure their effectiveness to successfully optimise every touch point.

Interacting across channels consistently requires a comprehensive CRM system built around the brand’s SCV capability. For an online retailer this is complicated enough but when you throw physical stores in the mix as well it becomes even more complicated.

Marketing team structure

Physical customer interactions such as purchases need to be tied somehow to a customer profile in order to have a complete picture of that customer. Whether this is done through loyalty schemes, in store tablets or mobile apps is up for debate, with different brands currently tackling it in different ways (read this article I wrote on how mobile is the key to bridging the gap).

The third greatest challenge to cross-channel is team structure and once again this is one that is complicated by the addition of physical stores. Every channel needs to speak with the same voice whether that’s physical or digital, social media or bill board advertising.

From an operations process it often seems easier to split teams and team members by channel. From a responsibility perspective this makes sense, however, this does make it difficult to ensure a seamless experience with the different teams operating their channels with different targets and objectives.

The solution to this is to do all that you can to encourage a cohesive approach. While in the long term this may be breaking down those barriers and sharing responsibility out in the short term those teams should be working together on campaigns and sitting near each other. When it comes to physical stores it’s important that the online and offline sides are integrated and each is involved with the other’s activity.

Likewise, KPIs have to be aligned. As these co-ordinated campaigns have to be run with objectives that can be achieved across channels – whether that’s physical stores getting recognition for social shares or email marketers being able to attribute physical purchases.

Cross-channel marketing in retail

Cross-channel marketing is the present and future of marketing, retail or otherwise. However, it’s a complicated process that won’t happen on its own or overnight and the barriers discussed in this article will need to be tackled in order to get there. However, don’t feel intimidated by the apparent scale of the task, it’s possible to tackle in smaller more manageable steps and remember – everyone is facing similar challenges

The goal is being able to truly understand a customer and brand’s having the capability to translate that knowledge into relevant interactions – whether that’s the company structure or technology available.

To see how Experian Marketing Services can help your retail business click here.

To read the full 2015 Digital Marketer Report for free down load it from here.

Experian Marketing Services is the leading global provider of consumer insights, targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. We help organisations intelligently interact with today’s empowered and hyper-connected consumers.

By helping marketers identify best customers, find more, and then coordinate seamless and intelligent interactions across the most appropriate channels, Experian Marketing Services can deepen customer loyalty, strengthen brand advocacy and maximise profits.