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Marketing technology vendors love to preach the value of sending consumers personalized offers on the device they're using at just the right moment.

Though we're only emerging from the developmental infancy of omnichannel marketing, several companies offer software and services that promise to do just that. Chief marketing officers at major retailers are spending more of their budgets on collecting data, analyzing actions and monitoring social media -- all with an eye toward increasing sales in their hyper-competitive sector.

Costs vs. Value

If a holiday shopper browses for gifts on a desktop computer, today's technology can see if they are more interested in the lowest price, best reviews, immediate availability or another factor and compare that with other customer data.

Cloud-based analytics platforms can tap all available data sources and translate all that information into special offers. Advanced content management systems can push carefully tailored content to shoppers across smartphones, tablets, store kiosks, laptops and other devices. Geolocation systems can even deliver the message to phones as shoppers drive onto a mall's parking lot.

Of course, this isn't cheap. And even when the technology works perfectly, there are questions about training staff to use it correctly, fending off consumer privacy concerns and weighing the benefits against the costs.

 In a retail industry that struggles to eke out profits from single-digit margins, there has to be a very clear return to justify the investment. Many retailers will watch this holiday season closely for signs of whether data-driven marketing can improve their financial performance in a measurable way.

Will the answer come this year or is it too early? Will technologically advanced retailers exceed sales expectations or will the added costs drag their profits down? With Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday sales coming up fast, we turned to four experts for their opinions.

The Question

Will omnichannel marketing prove its worth for retailers in the 2014 holiday shopping season?

The Answers

Jim Lundy, CEO and Lead Analyst, Aragon Research

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Lundy has worked in technology and management for 29 years as user, vendor and analyst. He specializes now in social business strategies, mobile, content management and related fields. Before founding Aragon, he spent 12 years with Gartner, where he formed and led its collaboration team. He has also worked with Saba Software and Xerox, where he held several sales and marketing positions. Tweet to Jim Lundy.

Many people we have talked to are very comfortable shopping with their PC or their iPad. I hear more people talking about doing all of their holiday shopping online. 

Many of the mobile apps and e-commerce enabled websites are making it much easier. Many retailers have made the online buying experience much more user friendly. Apple, for example, has made their Apple store app easy enough that you can buy Apple products from a phone -- no PC required. We see more stores shifting to offer a mobile store app versus just buying via a browser.

Online buying can be addictive and it can cause people that are not careful to spend more. They also want to ensure that their purchases get delivered before the holidays, so many want to be sure they can track their purchases.

Mark Floisand, Vice President for Product Marketing, Sitecore

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Floisand has two decades of experience in managing teams in software and hardware. He has previously worked with large companies like Adobe, Apple, Business Objects and SAP, as well as smaller firms that included eVox TV, Internet Strategies, ScaleXtreme, Total Defense, Untangle and WeVideo. He is also the founder of Interim VPs, which provides consulting in marketing, sales, business development and product management for startups. Tweet to Mark Floisand.

Yes. Analyst firms are predicting that US retail sales during November and December will be higher than ever with more wallet share moving online and more mobile shopping.

Shoppers used to receive weekly flyers through the mail, advertising the specials and the coupon clippings from competing supermarkets and stores ahead of the weekend. Now brands target shoppers with online advertising and emailed coupons that attempt to change where they buy, whether it be online or in person. So I expect people to switch-shop this season based on the digital offers that are best targeted at them. Shoppers will reward brands that serve them the most relevant offer at the right time.

Marketing technology is increasingly empowering brands to target the right cross-sell to the right person at the right time. While people’s propensity to spend is still governed by their budgets, I do think we see average order values increase when the offers are relevant and proportional to the product being ordered. 

Retailers with a large customer base, like those with a national reach, have clear opportunities to touch their customers across a variety of mainstream cross-marketing channels. However, smaller local retailers can also take advantage of hyper-local options that may only be available in small markets or retail pockets that perfectly suit them.

As a rule, ads that are well targeted and offer people products that meet their specific needs are better received than those that don’t. And ads that offer you something that you’ve already bought are just annoying. I think we’re already seeing consumers respond better to relevant, well-timed advertising than to the “spray-and-pray” approach they have endured to date. 

Think With Google’s recently released Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping study found that 85 percent of shoppers would be more likely to shop in stores that offer personalized coupons and exclusive offers. This holiday season, retail brands have the opportunity to own the experience of every customer that engages with their brand – engaging and delighting shoppers in new ways that will earn their trust and loyalty. Shoppers want to feel that their preferences are understood. Personalization empowers brands to accomplish that and communicate with customers on a human level.

Paige O'Neill, Chief Marketing Officer, SDL

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O'Neill joined SDL, which sells customer experience technologies, in October 2013. Before joining the UK-based company, she spent more than three years as vice president for marketing at Aprimo until its acquisition by Teradata. Earlier she worked as vice president of marketing at Aravo. Tweet to Paige O'Neill.

I think it's difficult to put a timeframe of a particular holiday season on it. Do I think it will happen this holiday season? I think there will absolutely be retailers who will say they've made an investment in customer experience and omnichannel that have seen an impact to their revenue. 

But I also suspect that we're at the very tip of the iceberg in terms of consumers understanding, expectations of omnichannel, retailers embracing the technology and implementing the strategy. To say that it's going to play out this year in any significant way, I think that's over-setting expectations.

My gut is that we're on a multiyear journey to get to what that looks like. But I've seen studies come out, even recently, taking things beyond just the millennials who are expecting this consistent experience and saying that other generations are starting to adopt the behaviors of millennials because they see it all around them. 

All the data we have say consumer expectations around this are growing. I think retailers and companies in all industries would be wise to keep moving in that direction with their investment and creating that experience.

Michael Fisher, President, Yes Lifecycle Marketing


Fisher oversees Yes Data and Technology Services, Yes Agency Services, and Yesmail Interactive, which deliver vendor messages to customers by aligning multichannel platforms with analytics and agency services. Previously, he was SVP of sales and marketing for the Americas at Alterian, VP and general manager of the financial services group at Epsilon and SVP of sales for DoubleClick. Tweet to Michael Fisher.

Cross- channel, personalized consumer communications have never been more important. Consumers are demanding consistent experiences across all channels and wanting access to brands, on demand, based on their preferences. Add in the broader adoption of mobile devices and the expectation becomes even greater. One might open an email on a phone, then order from that email on a laptop. The experience must be seamless. Coordinated experiences create opportunities for frictionless transactions. And this holiday season, the easier a brand makes it for a customer to buy, the more they will sell. 

Marketing technologies that enable more real-time, contextually relevant, communications that incorporate insights-led creative will continue to prove valuable. In fact we see customers achieving greater than 20 percent lift over their high water marks for digital marketing when highly personalized relevant communications are delivered at the right time and within the right channel. Simple things for this holiday season might focus on weather event triggers tied to holiday experiences. 

We also see greater adoption of enabling technologies that incorporate social communications where revenue attribution extends beyond the notion of a like, a post or a tweet. Coordinating social channels and the subsequent tracking, and ROI measurement where social lives and participates in the broader digital marketing ecosystem, will be more prevalent this holiday season. 

Brands should look for solutions that leverage technology to enable their customers to sell to their networks when the brands cannot.

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith / all rights reserved.