Today, consumers don't think about engaging with brands through different channels; they simply engage. They move effortlessly between channels, devices, and platforms, blurring the lines of engagement and changing the way brands connect with their audiences. Essentially consumers pick the best channel for what they want to do now - choosing the easiest way to get the best product, at the best price, at a time and place that best suits them, according to Nick Dickson, Head of Agency (EMEA) at Kenshoo. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

A report by PwC noted that the majority of consumers bought goods and services online through their PC at least once a month, with 24% also purchasing via mobile. This shows the growing importance of digital channels - and it doesn't even include the impact of research that consumers carry out online prior to visiting a physical shop.

To survive, marketers needs to create a singular experience regardless of the medium consumers happen to be using at any given moment, while also ensuring consistency and agility within their programmes.

So how can they meet this challenge? Well, it isn't easy, given the complexity and competition that every business faces. However, there are four best practice areas to focus on:

  1. Be 'consumer-first' not just 'mobile-first'
    Many consumers now spend more time on their smartphones and tablets than their PCs, whether through apps or directly online. Consequently, marketers understand that they need to cater for the increasing use of mobile devices, and incorporate this into their overall marketing strategy. The danger is that they focus on the device, rather than how it is being used. As Steve Jobs said, "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around."

    A consumer-first strategy starts by looking at your target audiences and how they interact with your brand. You can then create programmes that leverage the advantages of mobile, such as location, speed of access and closeness to the consumer, to develop the right mobile experience focusing on the customer's needs.

    One area that is proven to deliver benefits is mobile and native advertising. These can help both find potential new customers and ensure you retain your existing ones. New Real-time Bidding (RTB) exchanges and networks provide fast access to inventory, allowing marketers to focus on the audience they want, and reach them in real-time. Coupled with the engaging and integrated experience created by native channels, this creates a powerful combination for your audience strategy.

    Mobile apps continue to be a key part of many strategies. Investment is still growing rapidly - a recent Kenshoo research report found that paid social spend for mobile app advertisers on Facebook grew steadily over the second half of 2014, peaking in November and ending the year 234% higher than it started in January.

    Obviously getting people to know about, and install your app, is just the starting point. You need to continue to invest in order to ensure consumers use it, re-engaging with them regularly in order to build a long term relationship that maximises the value mobile brings to your business. According to Compuware, only 16% of consumers will try an app more than twice before deleting it, highlighting the importance of maintaining engagement.

  2. Ensure a multichannel consistency
    In an omnichannel world, customers experience your brand in multiple places. They could see adverts in their Facebook newsfeed, through Google searches, via Twitter, on your website or even in the physical world.

    Having consistency across all of these channels is therefore crucial. 90% of shoppers in a global survey by SDL said they expected the customer experience to be consistent across channels and devices. Other reports show that consumers who see a difference between offline and online pricing are likely to give up on buying from your company and look elsewhere.

    Achieving this consistency can be difficult, but it all comes back to ensuring you are meeting customer demands and delivering the same, high quality experience, whatever channel they use. Better integrating and communicating your pricing strategy, stock levels, and messaging can help. You can improve this by automatically turning your top performing products in search into Facebook ads by leveraging trend signals from inventory systems, identifying performance triggers from search and product ad campaigns, and creating dynamic ad copy and audience targeting.

  3. Use attribution to balance your budgets
    Today's customer journey is immensely complex, with different interactions across multiple channels all contributing to a final purchase. Marketers therefore need to understand the relative impact of each interaction and channel in order to fine tune their strategy and ensure credit is given to channels that assist the conversion.

    Attribution plays a big role here - if done accurately it can help inform you of the true customer path to conversion and will help determine how important each channel was in the purchase decision. As well as forecasting future scenarios, marketers can use this information to make investment decisions - such as, where should spend increase and where can it be cut?

    However with multiple touchpoints, understanding the relative weight of each is complex. While the majority of marketers understand that assigning the credit to the last click is overly-simplistic, many are not yet embracing more advanced methods. According to a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Kenshoo, Cross-Channel Attribution Must Convert Insight Into Action, only one in nine marketers use advanced attribution methods. In fact, nearly a quarter (23%) still rely on single-click models, crediting either the first or last click with the sale.

    The good news is that marketers now have access to more and more data about customer behaviour - and the technology tools to analyse it, often in real-time. This makes it simple to create truly holistic, cross-channel attribution programmes that give credit where it is due, across channels and screens. Consumers do not interact with your brand in single channel silos - to be successful you need to break down barriers and build a deeper cross-channel understanding of their journey.

  4. Use your data to help targeting
    One thing that digital channels bring is an enormous amount of data, and marketers need to use their analytical skills to turn it into meaningful information that can be used to understand and refine the multichannel customer journey.

    However, despite there being an abundance of data, many marketers find it difficult to action. A solution is to focus on the impact that intent shown in one channel will have on activity on a second channel. For example, you can engage customers with Facebook ads based on their search intent. This can be done by automatically creating ads in Facebook and Facebook's Audience Network (which allows advertisers to extend their campaigns beyond Facebook into other mobile apps), using the intent consumers have shown through their search engine activity.

    This search intent data is also extremely powerful when used across other advertising channels, such as mobile and desktop display. Many brands have already seen this approach boost their return in investment - re-engaging customers based on their interests and increasing customer acquisition by using the expressed search intent to find similar 'lookalike' customers.

    The customer journey is immeasurably more complex than it used to be, covering more touchpoints and channels than ever before. On the positive side marketers now have access to much more data on customer behaviour. They therefore need to use this to deepen their understanding of the journey and plan strategy and investment accordingly if they are to become truly agile marketers, especially with the increasingly blurred lines between individual channels.