Search the term “omnichannel” and you’ll get multiple search results for “omnichannel marketing” with “omnichannel retail” being a strong contender for search results. However, this tells only a small part of the story. The Wikipedia entry for omnichannel is worth reading because it goes beyond the narrower world of marketing and sales to a wider definition of “seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between contact channels”. (Wikipedia, Omnichannel)
Outside of the marketing area – or perhaps more appropriately, the wider content area, including marketing but far greater reaching – is where practitioners such as Noz Urbina ply their craft. Noz, founder of the OmnichannelX conference, defines omnichannel as the “unification of engagement and communication strategies so that they complement each other – rather than run in parallel – to give the audience what they really need.” In other words, the end goal is to deliver relevant content to end users no matter where they are in the user journey.
Producing content for omnichannel delivery
Achieving the goal of a great user experience through omnichannel techniques depends on automation. To use a rather clumsy metaphor, it’s a bit like having a servant who, upon hearing your demand, runs to a well-stocked room and fetches it for you. It doesn’t matter what you ask for or where you expect to have delivered, it’s just there. In a digital world, that means having a rich bank of content that is tagged up and ready to call, just waiting for the demand of the end user.
Recently, while booking travel, I thought about the omnichannel implications on my customer journey. The general stages were searching, booking, managing, and checking in. Airlines have come to understand which pieces of information are needed at what point in the customer journey. After I had booked my flight, I was particularly interested in knowing details of my luggage allowance. There was no point in presenting that to me at the pre-booking stage of the customer journey. However, in the post-booking stage of managing my journey, the airline offered me a link where I could consult the luggage allowance for my particular fare.
Omnichannel vs multichannel
Compare the delivery of luggage allowance content – omnichannel – to delivery of the boarding pass – multichannel. At check-in time, I can choose to get my boarding pass as a PDF attachment to an email, which I could print, as a QR code on my phone, at an airport kiosk, printed on thermal paper, or at the check-in desk, where the boarding pass is issued on cardboard stock. The information is exactly the same – personal information and a scannable barcode – but served up looking a bit different, with responsive design and adaptive content, according to the device being used to display or print the information.
How content operations contributes to omnichannel
If content operations is about working with efficiency, much of it is about automating the process as well as the outcome. It stands to reason that a key way to keep pace with the demands of an omnichannel strategy is to pair it with a content strategy. An omnichannel strategy plans for the details of delivery; a content strategy plans for the production of content to fill those needs. In other words, the content strategy needs to account for which stage of the user journey a person is at, what content they’ll likely need at that stage, and how to make the content relevant to a particular user segment or even down to an individual.
The strategy consists of user research, persona development, user journeys, domain models, taxonomy development, and content typing, which leads to an overall content model. The strategy is operationalised by breaking up the content into reconfigurable units, making them semantically rich in both structure and descriptive metadata, and ensuring that they can be combined and recombined in ways that meet the needs of content consumers, no matter which stage of their journey, which type of device they are using, or where they might be located.
Figuring out omnichannel is complex but does not need to be complicated. It’s a matter of looking for information in the right places. If you’re in omnichannel for retail or marketing, a simple search will turn up dozens of search results for you. Outside of the marketing arena, you’ll want to look at resources such as these:
- The OmnichannelX conference, which covers a range of topics about omnichannel delivery
- The Intelligent Content Primer, from Ann Rockley, Charles Cooper, and Scott Abel
The ContentTECH conference, a little more geared to marketing but still valuable to practitioners outside of marketing