The future is exciting, with new technologies opening up ways to understand your customer better than ever before. The ability to stretch the picture of your customer from how they transact to how they interact with you through hundreds of touch-points; the complete journey of seeing, thinking and doing that leads to that final purchase - and repurchase - and where they might abandon is critical to understand, according to a white paper from loyalty specialist Ikano Insight. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

In this context the paper, entitled 'The future: Omni-channel or overwhelming?', defines 'omni-channel' as a focus on a seamless approach to the customer experience, using all available customer-facing channels, and argues that how a customer engages with a brand is equally as important as the channel interactions they make - and this is the challenge that omni-channel presents for marketers.

New technology creates new ways of serving targeted offers to specific points in the customer journey; in-store micro-location offers, and HTML5 dynamic banners serving personalised messages across all devices and browsers mean that the Place and Promotion elements of your marketing mix are more advanced and exciting than ever before.

But with excitement and rapid progression comes the potential for meltdown; where either the mass of data created cannot be processed or becomes expensive to understand, and the resulting offers served are no more relevant or targeted than before.

At worst marketers excited by new data sources and technology communicate to the customer through multiple channels, only to leave the customer tired and desperate to get away from the noise created by multiple brands bombarding them with irrelevant messages. This can result in disengagement not only from communications, but also from the brand altogether.

The key to a win-win scenario for both marketers and consumers is the ability to intelligently target the right messages top customers; Millennials in particular are happy to provide data to brands, but this comes with the expectation they won't be served irrelevant messages. You must deliver on that expectation or risk losing the customers who would have given you the most insight. This includes the placement of the message as well as the content.

Customer focused technology
It's easy to get carried away by the sales messages of a technology firm and an ever-increasing wish-list for investment. Step back and think about which new technology is the best match for your customers. Some transactional technology, such as Near Field Communications (NFC), has been successful in some cultures and not others. Ultimately, technology has to fit with your business proposition - what engages one business's customer might have the opposite effect on others.

Location technology dominates the loyalty press at the moment. Start by thinking about your ultimate objective and what you already know about your customers:

  1. Are you trying to measure on-site activity in order to answer strategic questions (passive detection from wifi will be suitable)? Or, are you trying to specifically understand each customer's on-site behaviour in which case they need to be identifiable?
  2. Are they strong users of apps? In which case low-energy-bluetooth technology (e.g. Apple's iBeacon) could drive significant sales and enhance the customer experience.
  3. Bear in mind that 'Cards in Wallet' prioritisation is quickly being replaced with 'apps on phone'. Do you have a compelling enough proposition for customers to download your app and keep it there (even apps in the top 1,000 of Apple's App Store have an average life of 26 days.
  4. An alternative method of enriching the physical retail experience via mobile channels is through the use of reactive websites. Reactive websites adapt to optimise the user experience depending on the device used, resizing without losing any content. A good example of this is click here where key navigation features are optimised irrespective of the channel. Unless your app proposition is particularly compelling, utilising smartphone specific features such as the camera, a better future-proofed investment might be to look at ways to incorporate content in a reactive website.
  5. Will your customers want to identify themselves to you? This is a key challenge with social integration technology - users may want their social channels to remain anonymous from brands and there is likely to be a selection effect in those that do opt in. The same is true with asking customers to interact with your in-store technology.
  6. Practically, how will your customers respond to being targeted in store - either on their mobile or by a member of sales staff, who recognise that they purchased a coat last week and want to show them the co-ordinating shoes? This will be a perfect match for some brand propositions but perhaps not for others.
  7. What is your biggest loyalty opportunity - is it to stretch spend or drive footfall? Micro-location is usually focused on the former, relying on email, direct mail and SMS to drive the latter. If your business is all about driving web sales then technology combining real time loyalty data with dynamic personalised banner ads might be where investment should be made.

Remember that the fundamentals of marketing haven't changed, the options open to you have increased. Getting a personalised offer on-site is nothing new - the UK's Boots Advantage Card kiosks have been with us for over 15 years. Whether you ask people to visit a kiosk, download an app, tap an NFC tag or scan a QR code, each channel needs to be enabled to provide a consistent customer experience. Ultimately, it's about where in the transactional process you have the best chance to influence purchasing in an easy and attractive way for your customer while creating a seamless experience.

The full white paper has been made available for free download from Ikano's web site - click here (free registration required).