It’s a brand new world for retail—online sales, mobile payments—but not in Canada. We’ve lagged in adopting online commerce, though we’ve ramped up lately and should hit $34 billion by 2018. As for mobile payments, 90% of Canadians won’t use them.

This is particularly evident during the holiday season. According the SAS Holiday Shopping Trends report, 85% of Canadians plan to do their holiday shopping at bricks and mortar retailers, compared to 59% in the U.K. and 70% in the U.S. The report is based on an October survey of 4,000 adults in the three countries.

We collect data from a number of different touchpoints—point-of-sale, loyalty cards, web searches, email inquiries, call centres—and our customers know this. All they ask in return is to know them.

Know me

A majority of Canadians (66%) want more personalized email offers; 48% say they want promotional offers relevant to their lifestyle and interests. Personalized doesn’t mean simply inserting “first name” or “for you” in the subject line. It’s using that data to create a specific message for a specific customer—a segment of one. And it’s not just about email. It’s about personalizing the customer experience across touchpoints.

Take, for example, suggestions and recommendations. Thirty-two per cent of Canadians said they rarely make a purchase based on recommendations, while another 29% called them “slightly accurate.”

How many of us wake up in the morning, pick up our smartphones, check our email, and—swipe, swipe, swipe—delete all the email from brands we do business with? We consume data. Data consumes attention.

A poverty of attention

As economist Herbert Simon puts it: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention… The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.”

As marketers, we set out to create compelling campaigns and elicit certain behaviours—turning a want into a need. Unfortunately, the average Canadian feels bombarded by email offers, retargeting and recommendation tools. As marketers, we’ve trained the consumer that few of these messages are relevant to them. We’ve inadvertently created a field of noise and a culture of apathetic consumers.

Signals in the noise

So how do marketers get a signal through the noise? We have to focus on the moments when we have the customer’s captive attention—in front of you at point-of-sale, dialed into your call centre, engaged in your app or visiting your online property. As marketers, we have to seize those moments.

Seventy-three per cent of survey respondents said they were neutral or unlikely to purchase based on an advertising click-through. That broad-brush approach that leads us to macro-segments is adding to the noise. We have to use that lake of data to get from a segment of many to a segment of one.

This is where analytics can play a starring role: acquiring, integrating and interpreting data in an agile way across the enterprise—not just by the IT department but by marketers testing hypotheses that inform solid strategy.

What if we don’t have the data? We need to earn it through solid test-and-learn strategies and behavioral analysis.

Omnipresent, not omnichannel

There’s been an evolution in retail strategy, from multichannel to omnichannel. And retail is not alone in that evolution. But omnichannel has gone the way of big data. It’s a term that’s overused and misused. As marketers, we must strive for an omnipresent customer experience.

What does omnipresent mean? It means creating an environment in which customers can traverse all the touchpoints of our brands—online, in-store, mobile, call centre—seamlessly in a manner that’s transparent to the customer. For industries where that is not always possible—for example, securing a mortgage—we use those moments of captive attention to guide them to the appropriate channel and to support and nurture the customer journey.

This demands that customer data, customer analytics and customer decisions be shared across all touchpoints—and all supporting operational functions. Culturally, we’re changing; organizationally, we’re changing; and moreover, marketers are becoming the orchestrators of customer experience. According to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2016-2017, 30% of chief marketing officers are becoming responsible for functions within information technology, sales and customer experience.

Omnipresence isn’t just about channel co-ordination, it goes to the heart of your customer strategy—a strategy that should define the conditions under which we market to a customer, we service or advise a customer, we educate or inform a customer or when we take our gloves off to retain a customer.

Bringing together these core strategic pillars sets a foundation for omnipresence. Stakeholders can understand the trade-offs, risks and impact of decisions. An organization can become unified around the customer. And it sets us on a path to recondition the customer from assuming irrelevance to full engagement with the brand. In other words, becoming the signal in the noise.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Monique Duquette

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