In episode 124 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Sarah O’Keefe and Kevin Nichols of AvenueCX discuss omnichannel publishing.
“Omnichannel involves looking at whatever channels are necessary within the context of your customer’s experience, how your customers engage with your brand, and then figuring out how to deliver a seamless interaction.”
– Kevin Nichols
Sarah O’Keefe: Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way.
SO: In this episode, we talk about omnichannel publishing with special guest, Kevin Nichols of AvenueCX.
SO: Hi, I’m Sarah O’Keefe. Today I have Kevin Nichols joining me. Hey, Kevin.
Kevin Nichols: Hey, everybody.
SO: How are you doing over there?
KN: I’m doing well. I am hailing from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so it’s nice and sunny here today.
SO: Excellent. Before we jump into omnichannel, tell us a little about who you are and who AvenueCX is and what you all do.
KN: I’m Kevin P. Nichols. I have been doing digital and content strategy now for, God, almost probably 25 years or in digital and user experience content strategy, that type of work.
KN: I started this company with my business partner, Rebecca Schneider. We co-founded it in 2015, actually 2016. We specialize in enterprise content strategy solutions. Those can then dovetail into omnichannel content strategy personalization.
KN: We do a lot of taxonomy work. We do solutions like federated search or cross-channel customer journey content solutions, or integrated customer experience content solutions.
KN: We work with large scale global brands, in standing up their content solutions across the enterprise. All of our clients are global. They’re all large brands. They all have for the most part, very complex content issues that we are working to help them solve.
SO: What is this omnichannel thing? You hear about omnichannel and also multichannel and single channel. Are those all flavors of the same thing or is omnichannel something different?
KN: It’s completely different. Let’s start with omnichannel. The way that I define omnichannel in 2022 is from the customer experience, because it needs to start with the customer experience.
KN: I would define it as seamless interaction from one customer touchpoint to the next, throughout a brand’s customer experience.
KN: That means the customer has seamless interaction, whether he, she or they are engaging with one touchpoint or another, throughout that brand’s customer experience.
KN: It comes from the Latin root omni, meaning all. So, think omnivore, omnipotent, omniscient. It can also mean every, and then with channels.
KN: Channels here are not just digital channels. It’s not just a website or a mobile app or a mobile device. It’s also analog.
KN: We have, for example, in-store is a channel. Television is a channel. Radio, believe it or not, is a channel. Print is a very important channel.
KN: There’s a lot of research, for example, on the importance of print, because print is permanent. There’s a permanence to print. There’s all this research that has been going on now for a while.
KN: Sappi, if you can get your hands on it, has an incredible book or research report they put out, called The Neuroscience of Print, or The Neuroscience of Touch, rather, but print is another. Direct mail, for example, is a channel.
KN: So omnichannel looks at whatever channels are necessary within the context of your customer’s experience and how your customers engage with your brand and figuring out how to deliver them a seamless interaction, as they go from one channel to the next.
KN: Now, when did this concept start. The term originates around, well, actually in 2010. If you really want a good reading of the history of omnichannel, Savannah Louie in 2015, at NectarOM, publishes a brief history of omnichannel and positions its beginning at 2010.
KN: What happened in 2010, is you really get the proliferation of smartphones and the necessity of people to be able to pull up. You also have the technology to support smartphone functionality.
KN: So, people want to be able to engage with brands on their smartphones, as much as they are their desktop experiences, particularly in the west.
KN: This means that they expect similar functionality to that, as they do their websites.
KN: If you go back though, even further, we see in the early 2000s, actually, Best Buy kind of pioneered this concept of developing a website that could also… When the customer’s in store, they had a website that would offer functionality, that would recognize what the customer did in store and then tie that into their customer support. They wanted to rival Walmart and compete with Walmart.
KN: We called this assembled commerce. This is kind of where it has its origins.
KN: I’m even going to go back further. I’m going to go back to Martha Stewart, Omnimedia. She named her company Omnimedia. From a storytelling narrative structure and product placement perspective, I call Martha Stewart the mother of omnichannel.
KN: She did cross-referential advertising, where she took a cookbook and referred to it in her magazine, and then did the same on her television show. Created hooks and then created cliffhangers to tie it all together, from the narrative and storytelling perspective. Did it in this omni experience, before anybody else did, and then built a whole platform around that. And then tied that into the website, once web started getting big.
KN: So, I really credit hers creating this branded customer experience around omni, way back when. This is where the foundations of omnichannel begin.
KN: Now there’s key concepts that comprise omnichannel. One of them is called single view of the customer.
KN: Single view of the customer means that no matter where the customer is, the brand or the organization or business has data points. They’re going to be able to know what that customer’s doing and how they’re engaging with the brand.
KN: So from a data perspective, you know what they’ve purchased, or you know what is in their shopping cart. So, if they’re in store and they add something to their shopping cart and then they decide to check out online, you’re able to track that.
KN: If they purchase something, you’re able to make recommendations for what you might be able to cross-sell or upsell. You can offer support, based on their previous purchases. If they have done one piece of support, you’re able to offer them support, based on what you previously supported, et cetera.
KN: There’s also integrated product inventory. They add something to shopping cart at home, they’re able to pick it up in store.
KN: Unified customer journey is another concept. So, regardless of where they are within their customer journey, you’re able to give them what they need, and then push them from one stage of the customer journey to the next. Those are key concepts in omnichannel.
KN: Capabilities that we’re able to deliver upon in omnichannel, self-service checkout in-store. So, self-service checkout in-store, curbside pickup, which became huge during COVID.
KN: So note, everybody during COVID, put their supply chain management in the cloud, which necessitated the need for content in the cloud, which necessitated the need for things like self-service, contactless types of engagement with the customer. This all sort of proliferated omnichannel capabilities, obviously.
KN: The notion of BOPIS, Buy Online, Purchase in Store, contactless payment options, these are all things that existed in the omnichannel realm, that have all kind of been fast tracked because of COVID-19.
KN: Show store inventory online in real time, for example, that’s all omnichannel capabilities and functionality. You see this getting more and more sophisticated, but I think COVID-19 definitely brought it much more into fruition.
KN: I’m going to go back to the definition. It’s a seamless interaction, from one customer touchpoint to the next, throughout a brand’s customer experience.
KN: Now, multichannel just means you’re able to deliver content to more than one channel. I can deliver content to a website. I can deliver content to a radio. It doesn’t mean I’ve integrated that customer experience to where they’re all interconnected. I forget what else you asked about.
SO: I mean, that’s really the interesting point here, is that when you talk about multichannel whatever, what we’re talking about is a publisher or an author-centric view of the universe. I made this content, and I can publish it to multiple channels.
SO: What you’re talking about is a holistic view of everything. Not just content, but customer interactions and eCommerce and all the rest of it and what that looks like across all these different potential platforms.
KN: Yes. The omnichannel lens takes it from the customer experience and works backwards from that. In order to execute omnichannel correctly, you need to understand the customer journey and then from that, specific customer tasks and what they’re going to need. And then you’re going to have to build a content operations model, to be able to deliver against that.
KN: So, you need things and it’s complicated, because it’s not just from a content perspective, but you need omnichannel order fulfillment, for example. You need warehouse management systems. You need supply chain management optimization. But there’s a lot that goes into it, and so these systems are complex.
KN: One thing I tell people when I’m speaking on omnichannel… I’ve been speaking about this before anybody in content strategy was talking about it. We go way back. Sapient, where I worked before I started this, was kind of delivering some of the first omnichannel experiences out there.
KN: I think in 2012, we did one for… Well, we were doing this for clients, but big box and big retailers.
KN: One of the things I say to folks is, you may not be able to do this. A lot of people that are smaller or smaller companies cannot do this, but there’s lessons that can be learned from it.
KN: You can all understand your customers and try to build more customer-centric experiences. But it certainly isn’t for everyone, because it does require a level of technology sophistication that not everybody’s going to be able to execute.
SO: Yeah. I think most of the people listening to this podcast are in the content world. So, what does that look like?
SO: I mean, I kind of envision a scenario where we’re talking about people that are like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve done multichannel. I get that. But I’m being asked to take that next step and become more customer-experienced focus and start thinking about these omnichannel issues.”
SO: So what does it look like to establish or to plan content strategy for an omnichannel client or an omnichannel world?
KN: So let’s go back to… and I forget when they pioneered the concept, but it mid-2000s. So APR pioneering the concept of create once, publish everywhere. It’s kind of being able to actualize that, but take it a step further. So, not just create once, publish everywhere, but create once, publish everywhere, so that it’s optimized for the customer and his, her, or their needs.
KN: For example, you’re able to anticipate what the customer needs in that particular channel. You don’t have to boil the ocean. You can say, okay, let’s start small. Let’s look at the customer journey, and let’s do some customer journey modeling.
KN: Let’s figure out what that customer needs, if she comes into the store, from a content perspective. Let’s deliver upon that. Let’s create content specifically, that’s optimized for the channel. Let’s create a publishing model that can support that.
KN: So let’s go beyond the small, medium, large messaging that needs to support the channels. Let’s develop some channel-specific messaging, that’s optimized for that customer need. So that’s what that looks like, if that gives you a little bit more of a flavor.
KN: Maybe using personalization and advancing that and being channel-specific, based on the customer. And then doing some audiencing and figuring out how to layer persona or customer targets and customer target messaging onto it.
KN: Personalization can be a powerful tool to help you advance your omnichannel strategy as well. And if you have any type of personalization engine or personalization tool built into your content management system, whether that’s a headless CMS or whether it’s more of a si-core Adobe Experience Manager. You can really execute some of this quite well.
SO: Right. I think that leads quite nicely into the next topic, which is, what about content operations? I mean, what does it look like to be worried about content ops in an omnichannel context?
KN: You really have to understand your customer. This is where insights becomes important, so it’s not just a… And data, so getting your data cleaned up.
KN: I’m hearing more and more from data folks about, it’s not just data. It’s structured data. It’s the right data, and it’s understanding how to leverage that data.
KN: So it’s like having a data strategy similar to a content strategy, and then understanding those insights, qualitatively and quantitatively, in order to be able to make informed decisions around who your customers are and what they need. And then being able to figure out how to model a content operations around that, to support that and stand that up.
KN: From a content operations perspective it’s, how do we publish in a way that’s going to be able to give our customers the content they need?
KN: This is what I talk about, customer-centric content operations, to be able to publish in a way… Rahel Ballie has noted before, you’re not going to ever…
KN: I mean, she’s not the only one that does this, obviously. You can’t eradicate silos, but you can ventilate them. It’s really important to think about…
KN: This is really, really tough. I just talked to Tony Byrne or was in a meeting with Tony Byrne. He talks a lot about this because. He’s Real Story Group. They evaluate CMSs and cross-CDPs and other types of technology solutions.
KN: But just the difficulty in doing that and getting all the different folks in the room and having them play nicely together, to rally around the customer experience, it is a challenge.
KN: But in order to do this correctly, you’ve got to get those people in place across the different organizational units, to figure out how to build an operations model that’s going to be able to support that unified customer experience.
SO: So who typically leads this? I know the answer’s you, but if you’re going into an organization, you have a client and let’s say it’s a… It sounds as though retail certainly has been on the leading edge of some of this, but you go in there. Who’s the executive that has the span of control to manage all of this?
KN: That’s why I laughed. I wasn’t laughing because we go in and help businesses do this. It’s kind of like, hmm, a good question. Here’s the reason why.
KN: This gets into who owns the budget. Who owns the budget, interestingly enough, a lot of the budgets for all of these types of engagement, shifted out of marketing. They’ve moved to customer experience.
KN: We’re seeing them co-owned by CIOs, CX and CTOs. It’s really interesting how this is going to play out.
KN: So, you get into personalization. You get into CDPs. You get cross-data platform. You get into all these types of things that are facilitating the necessity of all these different groups to be brought together.
KN: The jury’s still out. I mean, I think it’s going to be a hybrid between customer experience and technology.
KN: I mean, obviously, technology shouldn’t own it, and data. I mean, it’s interesting. The jury is still out. CIOs are making a play for this as well.
KN: Forrester and a lot of the analysts… McKinsey did a report on the advancement of CX. There was a lot of reporting that came out a couple years ago, that budgets were shifting to customer experience from marketing, as the emphasis was placed on the importance of customer experience.
KN: This elevated, by the way, the role of technical content, technical documentation, self-service content, help content, all this kind of stuff. Which was great for us, but it also meant that the waters got really blurred.
KN: When you start laddering in all of this cross-functional technology, cross-functional business requirements and needs for things like omnichannel, it becomes difficult to say, who does own these budgets?
KN: We do a lot of enterprise engagements. We are being asked to do more and more. So, when you get into something like governance, who owns governance across the enterprise for content? It’s a really good question.
SO: I mean, that sounds like one of them. But what are some of the biggest obstacles that you run into, other than apparently, let’s see, a problematic diffusion of responsibilities across executives and some questions about ownership? That sounds plenty challenging on its own.
KN: I was going to caveat this. In traditional retail, most of these larger… Some of them have a Chief Omni Officer.
KN: Okay. The ones that have been doing it for a while, like Macy’s, Nordstroms, they actually have departments that do this. They’re situated, and they stand it up well.
KN: But in newer ones, that have had the traditional organizational matrices, they don’t have a chief digital…
KN: It’s not just digital, by the way, because there is that other element, like I said. But the ones that are coming from a brick and mortar structure, that adopted omnichannel early on, they’ve kind of set it up so that it can be successful and they’re doing it well.
KN: It’s the ones that are the later adopters that are seeking real challenges with us, I think.
KN: A lot of marketing does have omnichannel departments, in a lot of bigger companies, but it is definitely a challenge.
KN: I think the biggest challenges are silos. Data is another huge, huge challenge. A lot of companies are moving away from data warehouses, data lakes. They’re trying to do these more integrated data solutions.
KN: But being able to harness data from all these different systems, report out on it, have clean data, have structured data, have a good data strategy that integrates across the platforms and then execute that, that’s a huge challenge for a lot of companies. That’s another really key challenge.
KN: Integrated content strategy across the platforms is a huge challenge. Personalization remains a huge challenge. To do this successfully, you need to be able to adopt strong personalization capabilities, if you want to take it to the next level, because you got to personalize content and offer that within your customer experience. So, I would say those are key challenges.
KN: And then there’s an infrastructure challenge, if you’re going to be really mature about it and it’s expensive.
SO: What do you see as the biggest opportunities? I mean, what things are you seeing that are new and different and interesting, that you’re excited about, that you’re looking forward to working on over the next bit?
KN: I think the biggest opportunities, I think the emphasis on customer experience. I think the emphasis on loyalty, customer retention, a shift from just customer acquisition, to one on really helping stand customers up so they’re successful.
KN: Havas does Meaningful Brand index. They’re the ones that came up with the concept. I’ve been following them for over a decade. I talk about them all the time. I think they’re up to, 73% of consumers could care of brands were to go away tomorrow.
KN: They’re important because one of the things that they also do is they talk about, well, what makes brands meaningful? The buzzword of 2022 is help content, self-service content and content that’s going to help people benefit or improve their lives, but also, anything out there that helps them.
KN: Whether that’s self-servicing their needs or whether that’s improving, something they need to improve, help content is really important.
KN: So, I think this emphasis on the customer and their growing their relationship with the organization, has made organizations realize they’ve got to do more investment in how they think about their customers and their customer experience.
KN: This is exciting, because they are doing more of an emphasis on customer journey and more of an emphasis on content, that’s going to be situated around positioning the customer to be successful.
KN: Omnichannel is getting bigger. You’re hearing it more and more. It has definitely gotten traction after the pandemic. So, businesses are taking seriously, even ones that can’t execute all…
KN: I gave you sort of the ideal omnichannel model. If you look at Nordstrom, if you look at Walmart, Nordstrom, Best Buy, I mean, some of these… Sephora always ranks in the top 10 for doing this really well.
KN: These are brands that have infrastructures in place, that are set up to do this remarkably well, but smaller companies are taking lessons learned from it and learning how to adopt that.
KN: Even B2B’s are taking lessons learned and developing mechanisms, to develop a more long tail strategy from a business perspective, to develop a more singular view of the customer.
KN: I’m excited about all that. I’m excited about the emphasis placed on the customer journey and understanding how they can use that to develop more optimized content solutions, to develop that.
KN: I’m also really excited about the emphasis placed on content operations. When supply chain management got moved into the cloud, for a lot of businesses and contactless became an imperative, it elevated the role of necessitating a content operations that was going to support that.
KN: So, businesses started investing more and more in on that. I’m sure you saw an uptick of that as well.
KN: This all means that we’re taking content more seriously, throughout the content life cycle and value chain for businesses.
SO: Well, on that optimistic note, I think I’m going to close us out. Kevin, thank you for being here. That was really, really fun. Thank you to our audience, for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.