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Omnichannel Marketing: Lessons from the Commercial Sector

Corinne Balicki

Communications Strategist, Forum One

On any given day, you interact with a number of marketing touchpoints from a variety of companies. Maybe you notice when they are good, maybe you only notice when the experience is bad. Either way, as a consumer, you probably know more about omnichannel marketing in the commercial sector than you realize. So take this knowledge and apply it to your own mission-driven omnichannel marketing strategy.

Not to be confused with multichannel marketing, omnichannel marketing creates an integrated and cohesive user-led experience. It is defined by high levels of integration across communications channels. From social media to an online store, an omnichannel experience is seamless, with all channels working together. While omnichannel marketing isn’t a new concept for nonprofits, there are still many lessons you can learn from the commercial sector.

Aside from the differences in goals, an omnichannel approach for a nonprofit is similar to one for a business. While companies use it to attract new customers or make a sale, nonprofits use omnichannel marketing to attract new audiences to engage them in their mission.

4 commercial omnichannel marketing lessons for the nonprofit sector

Automate for efficiency and scale

One of the best ways to get the most out of your omnichannel marketing efforts is to leverage the right tools. Use the tools at your disposal to create a fully-integrated technology stack that correctly shares data across all your platforms and teams. Marketing automation is a key part of omnichannel marketing, and the commercial sector in particular does a great job of utilizing them. 

Timing is critical and marketing automation can increase your capacity to reach more users with consistent, quality, and impactful content. It can boost your response time across a variety of platforms and lessen the burden on your own organization. Automation tools allow you to set up complex campaigns and let them do the work. 

Start small, scale up 

Implementing a new omnichannel marketing strategy or improving your current one requires an investment of time and resources. One way to approach the complex process of omnichannel marketing is to start small and then scale up your efforts as you go. This helps you test new ideas without committing your entire marketing effort to them. In the commercial sector, businesses and retailers use a combination of quality assurance and usability testing. 

For example, in early 2018 Old Navy did a small-scale (in their world, 300 stores) test of a new omnichannel marketing strategy. It was a major new touchpoint that bridged the physical and digital divide: the ability to check store availability of items online, and select a “Buy Online. Pickup In-Store” option for an easier and quicker shopping experience. Signage in stores directed shoppers to a designated online order counter for effortless pick-up. 

By summer, the new service was a proven success and their new integrated approach became the blueprint for all stores and other Gap Inc brands nationwide. Nowadays this is a service many consumers now expect from retailers with physical locations.

Not all strategies will be a good fit for your organization, and that’s okay. Small-scale testing is what allows you to evaluate your ideas and choose the ones that benefit your users the most. Want to learn more? Here is a great example of how a commercial marketer created real change for a new nonprofit. 

Closing the physical and digital marketing divide

The Starbucks rewards program is an often referenced example of omnichannel marketing and for good reason. It excels at providing a seamless user experience across all channels and in-person, straddling the physical and digital divide. The easy-to-navigate app ties into a seamless store experience. Users can check their app balance in the app, at the store, online, or by phone. Through app notifications, in-store signage, and interactions with workers, stores integrate the mobile app at every stage to treat users as a friend during every step of their journey.

How are you welcoming your users to your site, your email lists, your events? How are you talking to your users on the phone, through text, in your chatbot, on social media? Is the experience similar? Take a page out of Starbucks’ book and create a welcoming experience for your audiences that feels like a continuation of your interactions on other channels.

Using data to engage in conversations with your users

In an omnichannel marketing approach, the aim is to make all the pieces of your communication personal, while also building upon previous touchpoints. Users should experience it like a two-way conversation. Consider Amazon and how they engage with customers; their marketing efforts are personalized, cross channel, consistent, and seamless to embody the “conversational marketing” feel. 

Emails from Amazon are fully personalized to the individual user. Whether it’s filled with books on submarines and rock painting kits for you and your kids or luxury jewelry and standing desks, Amazon builds its emails around your needs. A user’s homepage is filled with product categories like “New For You,” “More Items to Consider,” and “Related to the items you’ve viewed.” Their systems are intentional and make it feel like they really ”know” you. 

They also excel at integrating cross-channel information to ensure they are building up from their user’s previous experiences with their company. Emails from Kindle don’t just include more book recommendations, but a range of product recommendations based on all your Amazon purchases. If you add something to your Amazon cart via a browser on your phone, it will be there when you log into your account on your desktop. Amazon does not let any interaction you’ve had with them drop off, they continue the conversation.  

So while you may not have the tracking capabilities that Amazon does, there is inspiration to take and practical information you can apply from Amazon’s marketing strategies. Work to make your audiences feel included in a mutually-beneficial conversation with you to engage them more deeply and increase support.

From inspiration to action

 A successful omnichannel marketing strategy creates a personalized experience that makes your target audiences feel engaged and part of your nonprofit’s mission. Examining the tactics of the commercial sector can help you find new ways to improve your current strategy or help you launch a new one.

Written By

Corinne Balicki

Communications Strategist, Forum One

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