The Pervasiveness of Digital – Old Paradigms Broken
This is the story of the now rapid convergence of our digital and physical worlds. The term online-to-offline (O2O) merely reflects the latest stage of this ongoing progression. In this stage, the direct connections between a shopper’s actions online and that shopper’s actions offline have become clearly visible. Very definitely, a line has been crossed as part of this progression. The traditional model for handling the integration of marketing activities is broken; adapting a single insight to different media channels is not a sufficiently flexible approach to engaging the shopper.
An increasing web of activity has evolved for each shopper as the once rather straightforward decision funnel has become the highly non-linear Purchase Decision Journey (PDJ). The shopper is not simply more enabled by the digital-physical convergence but has changed as a result; shopping is now a part of activities previously unrelated to consumption. In these complex pathways of information, insight, and judgment, the flow of O2O naturally takes shape with the shopper seeking to learn, share, explore, and take action based on their needs.
We are no longer able to neatly separate consumer activity by online and offline behaviors, by device, or by media channel. With a proliferation of tools which utilize location data, cloud services conveniently replicating data across devices, and the habitual use of mobile for capturing and interpreting information, shopping actions spill over all of the old boundaries. Suddenly, the relationship between digital campaigns and in-store marketing is much more significant.
With shopper marketing and other disciplines coming together, we ask ourselves what specialization is necessary in such an ecosystem. The need for a broader based foundation across domains becomes apparent. The discipline behind O2O marketing brings that broader base to the mix. Not only does it require an understanding of multiple traditional disciplines, but the ability to draw new abstractions from complex systems of interaction.
Always On - The Nature of O2O Activity
O2O is inherently cross channel and is tied together by data and mobile, but these attributes alone do not define a system of O2O interactions. Rather, what distinguishes O2O from omni-channel marketing is the continuity of the journey. The shopper’s Purchase Decision Journey is “always on” – no longer just purchasing a product but engaging with community, participating in design, attending brand building events, sharing, researching the latest about the brand, and more. So, this highly non-linear system keeps the shopper engaged across numerous interactions as the shopper continues to shift between these steps.
Collecting data on shopper actions allows marketers to see the full picture – knowing when, where, and at what touchpoints the shopper is engaging with the brand. The shopper may research in-store, but the eventual purchase may happen online. Or perhaps the individual, while never actually purchasing, continues to interact and influence other individuals’ decisions.
In some cases, location based apps are bringing together the consumer with goods and services in ways that create selection that never existed before. Didi Dache嘀嘀打车 allows taxi drivers and passengers to find each other as long as they are in each others’ vicinity. By increasing the range of taxi availability beyond the line of sight, such apps introduce significantly more options for both parties, and selection process empowers both the taxi driver and the passenger.
Shoppers enabled by such capabilities throughout their decision journey are not easily captured by typical campaigns. Because their activities are ongoing, the continuous pulse of interactions, data, and decision making is not turned on and off by marketers. Rather brands or retailers may take part in the organic O2O processes – following the shopper, contributing content, enhancing measurement and communication, or changing the ecosystem by introducing new tools and channels. In order to take such an active involvement, we must at least understand the flows as they take shape.
O2O Dynamics – The New Governing Principles
Most crucial to shaping an O2O system is precisely orienting content, creative, and digital tools to the roles that shoppers play throughout the PDJ. “Precision activation” is the placement of the right creative in the right context.
Such activation programs should employ triggers and mechanics that fit with the shopper moving from step to step along the Purchase Decision Journey. Not only does the shopper Purchase Decision Journey cross channels, devices, and platforms, but the shopper roles do as well. In the old model, as shoppers researched and discussed and purchased, the boundaries between media channels made cross-channel transitions difficult. These boundaries in the old model were sufficient context to the shopper’s actions. Now, in the new paradigm, as the individual moves from step to step along the Purchase Decision Journey, we need to identify which steps are tied to which shopper roles in order to determine the right context for our marketing programs.
In facilitating precision activation, data is key to such highly coordinated activities. O2O system data contains indicators of what specific role the shopper is playing at the point of interaction. Once the indicators of the shoppers’ roles have been correctly identified, then the data informs targeting in real-time – maximizing the influence of creative when it counts. We can combine cross-channel shopper interaction data – whether from in-store displays and promoters or from search keywords and online analytics – or utilize simple data from a single, offline touchpoint.
For example, a mother shopping in a Beijing baby store notices a display for an educational event on the topic of second stage infant nutrition. Talking to the in-store representative of the brand sponsoring the event, the shopper learns more about the event and the topic and follows the brand on WeChat to get more information. The unique QR code identifies the event in which the shopper is interested, and based on the event topic, we know the shopper’s stage of motherhood. The representative can follow up with such moms in the future, through the brand’s official WeChat account; creative and content are all targeted for the specific media channel and mom category. The shopper receives information relevant to her child’s stage of development. Mom groups pass along the event content from the brand on WeChat and discuss the events as they happen on brand sponsored sites -- all trackable. Through brand-retailer partnerships, the shopper, via retailer apps, can receive educational content triggered with in-store ultrasound signals. The brand can establish engagement KPIs relevant to these interactions and to the brand’s new educational platform – follows, shares, attendance, and research all reflect the effectiveness of the O2O campaign.
Such a holistic O2O engagement often impacts the entire retail value chain. In supporting precision activation, the brand, retailer, or other parties may play an important counter-role to the shopper. Designing such interactions as part of the O2O discipline often means defining new supporting roles for brands or retailers and incorporating insight-driven creative into the shopper-brand-retailer interactions. The more dynamic the interactions are, then the more engaged the shopper is within the O2O ecosystem. Despite the “always on” impact of digital, the shopper is not disconnected from the physical world and desires to explore physically. Retailers and brands can adjust for the changing dynamics of O2O by helping lower barriers associated with various shopper roles.
When Mengniu approached Geometry Global about their随加随到mobile app launch, they knew that Geometry would understand the complex O2O ecosystem in which this new platform would operate. Mengniu’s community shopper platform allows store owners and shoppers in each others’ vicinity to connect for small convenience purchases. Much like 嘀嘀打车, the app makes services available to shoppers which otherwise wouldn’t be available, and the store’s selection process empowers the small store owner.
Geometry understood how this platform would impact the larger ecosystem. Mengniu’s initiative to expand convenience consumption of local community shoppers counted upon the highly fragmented retailer landscape accepting the new service. With the vast majority of convenience stores being and owner-operated locations with limited resources, owners had little time to provide additional services, and with margins being thin, any loss of business could mean ruin.
Drawing upon our proprietary shopper strategy platform, Geometry mapped the Purchase Decision Journey and, as part of our O2O discipline, brought to bear “agile” software practices in performing interaction analysis around the shoppers and retailers. Based on the resulting insights, we built a marketing program around the new app that emphasized ease of use and incentive mechanics which support the shopper-retailer interactions. In addition, to support platform adoption, we extended the roles of promoters into retail operations – demonstrating the effectiveness of the platform both through in-store training and by actually assisting owners with fulfillment. These cross-discipline activities lowered a major barrier to shopper adoption.
Any well designed O2O system will clearly reflect shopper insights and act as a natural filter for those shoppers to whom the brand is relevant. The right mechanics allow the shopper to shift easily between roles. The right triggers map to each of the shopper roles. Developing consistent experiences, messaging, and promotional activities to support the flow within the O2O system will better keep the shopper engaged with the brand – across channels, devices, and platforms.
With data supporting our understanding of the O2O system flows, holistic analysis of retail in each ecosystem, and the re-occurring opportunities to target the shopper, we have the principles and practices for guiding marketing activities and actively optimize the digital-to-physical Purchase Decision Journey. Supported by the right unifying insights, utilizing data as indicators of system flows, and relying upon brands and retailers to complete the interactions, an O2O system acts as a highly specific filter, speaking to the right target group regardless of the role they are playing.
Shift in Paradigm – Keys to Success
Understanding the interconnectedness of a system is a very important consideration as we move from more traditional omni-channel marketing to O2O, but the most important consideration is how we get started. The greatest barriers to doing so are the lack of cross-discipline understanding and the rigid structuring of disciplines within and across organizations.
We investigate each particular shopping landscape by asking these questions.
- How well is your store connected to your ecommerce operation?
- Does your website drive in-store traffic as effectively as it could?
- At what touchpoint is the greatest potential for increased engagement with shoppers?
- At what steps does the shopper most influence others?
- How much does your analytics data impact the shopper experience?
- Can you customize shopper experiences both online and offline?
- What value do you attribute to offline retailers when shoppers buy online?
- How do you collect data offline without retailer sell-in?
- Does your creative change with the guidance of data insights?
Closing the loop between online and offline is still challenging today, but digital’s increasingly seamless integration into our lives will continue. Moving forward, O2O forms the framework for interpreting and ordering this very dynamic landscape. From the old framework to the new, the guiding principles have changed as follows.
- The previously liner Purchase Decision Journey has become non-liner network of interactions.
- Contextualization by media channel has given way to contextualization by cross-channel roles.
- Brands and retailers have expanded their roles to help lower barriers to new shopper interactions.
We utilize data markers identifying transitions between shopper roles to frame the Purchase Decision Journey and to target shoppers. Optimizing creative to impact the shopper at these transition points, these activities tie together through the mechanics of a well orchestrated O2O system.
With these guiding principles in place, an approach for modeling O2O interactions, and KPIs to support the new framework, our existing marketing disciplines can work together to help clients make sense of the dynamic O2O activities.
Chuck Van Buren (Relationship Marketing and Data Director, Geometry Global, Beijing)