Brands know the importance of delivering a consistent customer experience across every channel. Few, however, have yet to determine just how to realise that strategy. Critically, companies are failing to join the on- and offline worlds. While many are attempting to create a consistent online experience, when the consumer interacts with the brand in a shop, via customer service or even on social media, it is clear the company has no understanding of needs or motivations, according to Russell Loarridge, managing director for Janrain, and David Giannetto, author of 'Big Social Mobile', who here explain the dangers of failing to deliver a truly consistent and relevant omni-channel experience. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

With the new generation of social consumers led by hearts and minds before wallets, this brand split-personality is off-putting. These individuals are highly informed about brand activity and more than willing to share information in return for a great experience. Yet today, far too many companies are still prioritising data collection over relationship building.

Hearts and Minds
The new generation of social consumers follows a hearts/minds/wallet approach. These individuals assess brands on more than just price and quality - even for basic goods; and they are collecting as much data on the brand, via social and traditional media, as the brand is collecting about the consumer. Indeed, it could be argued that social consumers have a better handle on brands than vice versa. Whist marketers continue to demand the collection of ever more customer information, few are using that data to deliver any value to either business or consumer.

Today, most companies are doing little more than tracking a consumer's online wanderings - akin to using GPS tracking to follow someone down the high street. When an individual goes into WH Smith and then to the bike shop, does that mean he is interested in books, or an outdoors person? Was he only in WH Smith to ask directions to the bike shop? Such useless information is the basis of much of today's customer data and provides a company with no way to start the conversation that will underpin a better, more relevant engagement, especially with the social consumer generation.

Knowing more about the customer is clearly important; but what does a brand need to know in order to grab the hearts and minds - and then the wallets?

Email addresses and a history of online activity are not enough; such information provides no context. Instead, organisations need a way to encourage consumers to share truly personal information - the information shared on social media, such as music and film preferences and travel history, as well as personal data such as shoe size or the number/age of children.

However, savvy, socially engaged consumers have a very clear understanding of the value of personal data; they recognise implicitly that sharing data with a brand is about moving away from a transactional engagement toward building a relationship. So how can a brand persuade the consumer that sharing information will result in a more personalised and relevant experience?

Omni-Channel
The value exchange is key. A brand needs to put a plan in place to encourage the consumer to share that information and provide insight into social engagement, media preferences and values by giving back a more engaging experience, such as a film recommendation or reminder of a forthcoming event. Those companies looking to deliver an omni-channel experience need also to consider how to build that relationship off- as well as online and via an app - otherwise the fragmented experience will immediately disengage the social consumer.

In a shop environment, a company has an advantage - assistants can immediately determine essential pieces of customer insight, from age and gender to affluence and interests. Yet while some retailers have provided tablets to shop assistants to improve the overall level of customer service by demonstrating the full range online and ordering goods for in store or home delivery, few are using these devices to capture customer information and build or reinforce a strong profile.

This is a massively lost opportunity. Just consider where the market is today: a retailer can track a consumer on a web site; ask him to identify himself and create a profile; even add more information such as hobbies or shoe size. That profile can be enhanced in store both by enabling the assistants to capture information and encouraging the consumer to go online while in store.

That information can be stored in a data warehouse and given more depth with demographic information such as house value and credit score.

Companies can then use a recommendations engine and entice the customer through emails and content management systems with relevant offers to create that engaging, relevant experience - and ensure that information is available to in store staff to deliver complete omni-channel consistency.

Failing to Engage
From a technical perspective this is all possible. From social login to data mining, recommendations engines to content management systems, all of these technologies not only exist but are proven. Many companies are using individual components of this model - but few, if any, have hooked all of these systems together to create a great consumer experience. None are combining the off-line and online activity and customer identity to generate a truly consistent, relevant and engaging experience across every touch point.

This is a massive failing on the behalf of both marketing and the IT industry. The result is that brands are not enabling the social consumer to share information in order to add value to the overall experience, despite the consumer's clear willingness to do so.

Those well-known brands that have great consumer perception are getting a lot of this right, although not necessarily in an offline environment. Far, far too many are not. While social consumers are happy to share this information if they can see the value, marketing persists in following this 'data, data, data' policy, attempting to find out everything possible about the customer - without giving anything back.

"Companies following this approach are on a hiding to nothing. The truth is that all brands will have to behave like lifestyle brands in the future - and brands that are not taking the first step along this route will fall further and further behind," concluded Loarridge. "Ultimately, by failing to engage with the social consumers who make up an increasing percentage of the purchasing community, these companies are risking their very existence. How many who fail to deliver a true omni-channel experience will actually still exist in five to ten years?"