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The marketing world is at war.

Tech giants like Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce are battling it out to create THE premiere marketing cloud that provides complete measurement, attribution, and automation. Essentially, one marketing cloud to do it all in an omnichannel world.

Marketers are investing billions in technology in the pursuit of true omnichannel marketing, which we all know is important — I’m just not sure we all know what omnichannel means or what it looks like in practice. Let’s take a step back and explore the real definition of omnichannel marketing, and how you can take advantage of it in 2016.

What is omnichannel marketing, really?

I’ll be the first to admit that omnichannel sounds like a marketing buzzword we’d like stricken from our vocabulary. But the truth is, we need a term that can aptly describe the increasingly complex, multi-device, multi-channel customer journey.

Today’s consumers move between TV, display, search, email, and social media, whether it’s on their laptop, smartphone, or tablet. In fact, 90% of consumers move between multiple devices to accomplish their goals. And they expect a consistent and relevant experience throughout their purchase journey.

According to John Bowden, SVP of Customer Care at Time Warner Cable, “Omnichannel is viewing the experience through the eyes of your customer, orchestrating the experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent.” I think that is the most fitting definition you’ll find, and what we should all be moving toward.

Mobile is the new omnichannel hub

Mobile is at the heart of the omnichannel journey. It’s what has made it possible for consumers to move so easily between channels and engage in so many new ways. It isn’t simply another channel like display or email. Instead, we need to recognize mobile as the hub for many of the interactions a customer has with a brand — whether it’s through social media, search, display, email, or video.

Understanding how customers interact with brands on their mobile phones will be key for marketers building a seamless and personalized customer experience.

The challenge of omnichannel

Omnichannel marketing isn’t simple. One of the biggest challenges is getting all the tools you need, and the really hard part is getting them working together. In fact, 85% of marketers struggle to implement an omnichannel strategy because of a lack of access to the tools they need to make a personalized one-to-one experience possible.

Between marketing automation, retargeting platforms, predictive analytics, real-time personalization platforms, CRMs (and the list goes on), marketers are struggling to keep up. With so many tools and so much disparate data, it is definitely a matter of more software, more problems.

The lack of a cohesive omnichannel strategy and the right tools and integrations lead to serious consequences, such as a(n):

  • Incomplete view of the customer journey
  • Fragmented/inconsistent customer experience
  • Inability to measure cross-channel marketing performance
  • Internal silos between marketing teams

For example, you send your customer an email with an offer for a new product, the customer visits your website and makes a call for more information with the intent to purchase. Your SEM team sees that the customer is interested in the product based on their activity on the website, and starts showing the customer display ads for the same product with a discounted price.

Each part of your team is working as it should, but they’re not working together and it’s creating a poor experience for your customer.

Offline is the missing piece

There are an infinite number of tools available to marketers to track, measure, and automate every step of the digital customer journey, but if you’re not accounting for offline interactions, your omnichannel strategy is incomplete.

eMarketer’s top marketing prediction for 2016 was that the rise of mobile would once again elevate inbound calls to the top of the list of priorities for smart digital marketers. According to BIA/Kelsey, mobile is set to drive over 100 billion calls to businesses in the next couple of years.

The point is this: if you’re not taking calls seriously as an integral part of your omnichannel strategy, you’re missing a key component of the customer journey, and that’s not very omnichannel of you.

In 2016, developing a true omnichannel strategy will be the top priority for every marketing team. As the customer journey continues to evolve, the tools and strategies marketers use to track, measure, and automate the entire customer journey will have to become more sophisticated.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The vision of an omnichannel experience is becoming clearer, and marketers are getting closer to achieving that vision all the time. So while omnichannel sounds like a dirty buzzword that has no real meaning, it’s actually pretty important, and if you ask me, pretty exciting.