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Blog Omni-channel is Dead - Why do Marketers still cling on to Omni-channels?

Sonakshi Deb Roy

Omni-channel marketing, once considered the best way to connect with customers, is now being questioned. Some people even say it's no longer useful. This assertion sparks a crucial discussion: if omni-channel is indeed "dead," why do many marketers still adamantly hold on to it? Exploring this situation involves delving into the introduction of omni-channel marketing, understanding the challenges it faces today, and examining the reasons why it continues to be an important aspect in many marketing strategies. This exploration is not just about evaluating a marketing technique, but about understanding the changing tides of consumer behaviour and the adaptability of businesses in the face of these changes.

In an era where innovation leaps at the speed of light, this dinosaur still lumbers through the marketing space. Omni-channel marketing now seems long lost and dead in a world being constantly redefined by digital innovations. So why do marketers still cling to this strategy? Join us as we understand the reasons behind the stubborn survival of omni-channel strategies in a world that's already moved on.

Introduction to Omni-Channel Marketing

Omni-channel marketing is a comprehensive approach to marketing that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they're shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store. The strategy blends all the channels available to a business – physical locations, e-commerce, mobile apps, and social media – into a single, cohesive experience for the customer. So essentially omni-channel marketing refers to the process of creating a wholesome user experience for customers across all channels and platforms. This includes traditional outlets like physical stores and print ads, as well as digital channels like websites, social media, email, and mobile apps. The key here is integration – each channel works in harmony with the others, providing a consistent and unified message and experience to the customer.

Highlighting Challenges with Omni-channel Marketing 

  • Data Integration - Integrating data from various channels can be challenging, especially for businesses that use legacy systems. Many businesses still rely on legacy systems that are not designed for the seamless integration of data across multiple channels. Updating these systems can be costly and time-consuming
  • Channel Management - One of the major disadvantages is the complexity involved in managing these diverse channels. Each platform has its unique set of rules, audience expectations, and interaction styles. Aligning these effectively while maintaining a consistent brand voice and message can be a daunting task. This complexity multiplies with the number of channels used, requiring significant resources in terms of time, personnel, and budget. Moreover, achieving consistency across channels is a critical challenge. It's not just about ensuring that the promotional materials look similar or the sales promotions are the same. The true test is in delivering a uniform customer experience, where a customer receives the same level of service and information quality whether they interact with the brand through an online chatbot, a social media page, or in a physical store. This requires extensive training for staff across different departments and locations, along with constant monitoring and adjustments to strategies.
  • Technology and Infrastructure - Omni-channel marketing demands a sophisticated technological infrastructure. Many businesses find themselves hindered by legacy systems that are not equipped to handle the integrations and real-time processing required for omni-channel initiatives. Investing in modern, scalable technology solutions is crucial for successful implementation.
  • Organisational Structures - Often, internal organisational structures can impede omni-channel strategies. Departments working in like independent groups, with little cross-functional collaboration, can lead to inconsistent customer experiences. Businesses need to foster a culture of collaboration and break down silos to ensure a unified approach to customer engagement.
  • Customer Privacy and Data Security - With the increase in data touchpoints, safeguarding customer privacy and data security becomes more challenging. Businesses must navigate the complex landscape of data privacy regulations while ensuring they maintain customer trust by implementing stringent data security measures.
  • Training and Culture - Ensuring that all team members are on board with the omni-channel approach and trained accordingly is essential and time consuming.
  • Shift to Customer-Centric Approaches - There's a growing belief that marketing should be more about customer journeys than channels, focusing on creating value for the customer at every touchpoint.

With so many disadvantages, how has the omni-channel marketing approach survived for so long?

Let’s find out!

Why do marketers still cling on to omni channels?

Despite the rise of targeted platforms like WhatsApp, marketers are still clinging to omni-channel strategies. And you know what? There's a method to this madness.

The concept of omni-channel marketing, despite claims of its obsolescence, remains a cornerstone in the strategies of many marketers. This persistence can be attributed to several key factors:

  • Customer Expectations\ Customers expect a unified brand experience across all touchpoints, be it online, offline, or in-store. They don't care about the jargon – they want convenience, personalisation, and consistency. Marketers recognise this and strive to fulfil these expectations. In this context, the essence of omni-channel marketing remains relevant, even if the terminology has evolved.
  • Increased Sales\ An effective omni-channel strategy can lead to increased sales, as it makes it easier for customers to make purchases through their preferred channels. By employing multiple channels, businesses can reach a wider audience. Each channel offers unique ways to engage with customers, and omni-channel marketing leverages these variations to maintain a persistent and coherent brand presence.
  • Customer Insights\ The integration of various channels provides businesses with a wealth of data on customer behaviour and preferences, enabling more informed decision-making. Omni-channel strategies enable the integration of data across different touchpoints. This holistic view of the customer journey allows marketers to gain deeper insights into consumer behaviour, preferences, and trends. These insights are crucial for effective targeting and personalisation.
  • Enhanced Competitive Advantage\ Businesses that effectively implement omni-channel marketing can differentiate themselves from competitors who may not offer such a cohesive experience. In a crowded market, differentiating your brand can be challenging. An effective omni-channel approach can provide a competitive edge by offering a superior customer experience.
  • Inertia and Investment\ Companies have invested significantly in developing omni-channel capabilities. This investment, both in terms of financial resources and organisational structure, can make it challenging to pivot to a completely new strategy quickly. There's also a certain inertia in sticking to what is known and has been historically successful.\ \ However, despite having numerous benefits and being a mainstay in the marketing world for an extended period, omni-channel marketing is gradually losing its effectiveness. This shift is largely attributable to the dynamic nature of consumer behaviour. As buyers' purchasing patterns evolve, their expectations for engagement and their preferred styles of interaction are also transforming. This change necessitates a reevaluation of omni-channel strategies to better align with the contemporary consumer expectations and trends, characterised by rapidly changing preferences and heightened expectations for personalised and seamless experiences. The marketing world is constantly evolving with new technologies and platforms emerging. And marketing is not about being present on all platforms but about selecting the right channels that resonate with the target audience and adapting as those preferences shift.

The Shift in Consumer Communication Preferences

The shift from "omni-channel" to WhatsApp as the preferred channel represents a significant advancement. Nowadays, consumers are constantly on the move, relying on apps for taxi services as they leave work and ordering meals during their commute. They demand immediate, accessible, and round-the-clock services. For brand interactions, this means no more time-consuming calls to customer service numbers and enduring long holds or slow email responses that take a few days to resolve any query.

Previously, "omni-channel" was a popular term, but it often failed to resonate with consumers. The process of researching online, engaging on social media, and then calling for customer service was disjointed and frustrating. This approach complicated what should be a simple, direct process via a widely used conversational app which turned out to be WhatsApp..

The reality is that "omni-channel" often resulted in a fragmented and frustrating consumer experience. Presently, 80% of consumers use their smartphones for various needs, expecting their favourite brands to be readily available. Platforms like WhatsApp provide a more personal connection and quicker access to human assistance. Overtime WhatsApp has emerged as the channel of choice, a development that is highly celebrated.

Understanding the Advantages of WhatsApp

WhatsApp’s presence in more than 180 countries makes it a suitable platform for businesses to scale their marketing efforts. 80% of small and medium businesses (SMBs) in India believe WhatsApp to be a marketing channel will help them scale their business.

Here’s why!

  1. Direct and Personalised Communication: WhatsApp allows businesses to communicate directly with their customers in a personal and informal way. This direct line of communication helps in building stronger relationships with customers. Personalised messages can be tailored to individual preferences or past purchase history, making each interaction more relevant and engaging.
  2. Exceptionally High Open Rates: Compared to traditional email marketing, which often sees lower open rates, messages sent through WhatsApp are opened and read at a much higher rate. This increased visibility means that marketing efforts are more likely to be noticed and not lost among other promotional content. Post message optimization, personalisation, and timely reach-outs, WhatsApp messages from companies see an open rate of 70%.
  3. Cost-Effectiveness: WhatsApp is a cost-effective marketing tool, especially for small to medium-sized businesses. It does not require a significant investment in ad space, print, or broadcasting. This platform can be particularly beneficial for startups and small businesses that have limited marketing budgets but need to reach a wide audience.
  4. Extensive Global Reach: WhatsApp's global popularity provides businesses with the opportunity to reach a vast and diverse audience. It breaks down geographical barriers, allowing companies to expand their reach to international markets without the need for a physical presence or localised marketing strategies.
  5. Diverse Multimedia Support: The platform supports a variety of media formats including text, images, videos, and voice messages. This versatility allows businesses to get creative with their marketing content. For example, they can send engaging video demos of products or voice messages to add a personal touch.
  6. Immediate Customer Feedback: WhatsApp enables instantaneous two-way communication, which allows businesses to gather immediate feedback from customers. This can be incredibly valuable for improving products or services, addressing customer concerns promptly, and making customers feel heard and valued.
  7. Optimised for Mobile Users: With the increasing prevalence of mobile usage, WhatsApp’s mobile-first approach aligns perfectly with current consumer behavior. This ensures that marketing messages are accessible to consumers on their most used devices, enhancing the likelihood of engagement.
  8. Less Intrusive Marketing: Unlike pop-up ads or unsolicited emails, messages on WhatsApp are less likely to be perceived as intrusive. This is because they are received in a personal messaging environment, which is generally more accepted by users.
  9. Authentic User Engagement: The requirement for phone number verification on WhatsApp adds an element of authenticity and trust to interactions between businesses and customers. This verified communication channel can increase customer trust in the business and its marketing messages.
  10. Use of Group Features for Targeted Marketing: WhatsApp allows the creation of specific groups, which can be utilised for targeted marketing efforts. For instance, businesses can create groups for loyal customers, offering them exclusive deals or early access to new products, which can enhance customer loyalty and encourage repeat business.
  11. Automated Responses and Chatbots: The platform supports automated responses and chatbots, which can handle basic customer interactions efficiently, saving time and resources.

Apart from the points discussed above, WhatsApp Business offers several features for  quality and spam control that make it an advantageous channel for marketing

  1. User Consent for Communication\ WhatsApp requires businesses to obtain consent from users before they can send them messages. This consent-based approach ensures that customers receive communications only from businesses they are genuinely interested in, leading to higher engagement and lower chances of messages being perceived as spam.
  2. Message Templates Approval\ For certain types of messages, especially promotional ones, WhatsApp requires businesses to use pre-approved templates. These templates are reviewed by WhatsApp to ensure they meet quality standards and are not spammy. This helps maintain a high standard for the messages that users receive.
  3. Two-Way Conversations Encouraged\ WhatsApp's platform is designed for interaction and engagement. Unlike traditional marketing channels that often push one-way communication, WhatsApp encourages two-way conversations. This interaction often leads to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  4. Reporting and Blocking Features\ Users have the ability to easily report and block any number, including businesses, if they find the communication spammy or irrelevant. This user control mechanism forces businesses to maintain high-quality communications and avoid spam-like behaviour.
  5. Limitations on Message Frequency\ WhatsApp imposes limits on how many messages a business can send to users who have not replied. This prevents businesses from bombarding users with unsolicited messages, thereby reducing spam and enhancing the overall quality of communication.
  6. Quality Rating\ WhatsApp assigns a quality rating to business accounts based on how users interact with their messages (e.g., if messages are often blocked or reported). A low-quality rating can lead to restrictions on the account, incentivising businesses to maintain high-quality and relevant communication.
  7. End-to-End Encryption\ While not a direct spam control feature, WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ensures that communication between businesses and customers is secure and private. This security aspect enhances user trust in using WhatsApp as a communication platform.
  8. Restricted Broadcast Lists\ Unlike other platforms where businesses can send bulk messages to a large list of users, WhatsApp's broadcast lists are restricted to contacts who have the business number saved in their phones, again ensuring that communication is consensual and targeted.

Email vs. WhatsApp 

Open Rate

Higher Open Rates for WhatsApp: WhatsApp messages typically have an open rate of over 90%. This is remarkably higher compared to the average open rate for emails, which is around 20-30% according to various marketing studies. The instant nature of WhatsApp messages, combined with the widespread use of the app for personal communication, contributes to this high open rate.

Push Notifications: Unlike emails that can sit unread in an inbox, WhatsApp messages are more intrusive due to push notifications. Most users check their WhatsApp messages regularly throughout the day, leading to quicker and more frequent opens.

Less Clutter: Users generally receive fewer promotional messages on WhatsApp compared to their email inboxes, which are often cluttered with a multitude of marketing emails. This reduced clutter in WhatsApp enhances the visibility of each message sent.

Conversion Rate

Potentially Higher Conversion Rates: While specific conversion rates can vary widely depending on the industry and nature of the campaign, WhatsApp marketing often sees higher conversion rates compared to email. This is due to the personal and direct nature of messaging, which can be more persuasive and engaging.

Engagement and Personalisation: WhatsApp allows for more personalised and interactive conversations. Businesses can respond to individual queries, provide tailored recommendations, and engage in real-time dialogue, which can significantly improve the chances of conversion.

Ease of Response: The ease with which customers can respond to WhatsApp messages (such as making an inquiry or completing a purchase) also contributes to higher conversion rates. The platform supports various call-to-action options like quick reply buttons, making it simpler for users to take the desired action.

Trust Factor: Since WhatsApp communications often require prior consent, and given the app’s widespread personal use, messages on WhatsApp may be perceived as more trustworthy than unsolicited emails. This trust can translate into higher conversion rates.

The journey through the evolving landscape of marketing strategies, particularly the transition from omni-channel to platforms like WhatsApp, reveals a fundamental shift in how businesses interact with customers. The narrative of omni-channel marketing's decline is not just about the fading relevance of a once-celebrated strategy. It's a reflection of the dynamic nature of consumer behaviour and the relentless pace of technological advancement.

The survival of omni-channel marketing, despite its challenges, emphasises its foundational role in shaping customer experiences. However, the pivot towards platforms like WhatsApp signifies a deeper understanding of contemporary consumer needs - immediacy, personalisation, and convenience. This shift is not just a change in tools or platforms; it's a paradigm shift in the philosophy of customer engagement.