What Ever Happened to Optichannel?

A few years ago, the digital world was abuzz with talk about optichannel. Marketers traded decks full of hub-and-spoke graphics. Marketing software vendors added integrations, and everyone talked about being wherever the customer was, whenever they were.

Yet here it’s 2018 and 9 in 10 of marketers are still primarily reliant on email. What gives? The revolution, it seems, came and went. But now, with the rise of messaging apps, the need for optichannel is back with a vengeance.

Why optichannel fizzled

A toxic cocktail of budgetary factors held marketers back from making optichannel work. Despite the desire to experiment, 92 percent of marketers reported greater pressure than ever to prove ROI. Under powerful headwinds, they reinvested their budgets into older, more proven channels, and their small deployments fizzled.

“To marketers armed with powerful email marketing tools, everything started to look like an inbox. It seemed good enough.”

At the same time, Gartner reported that marketers have had to do more with less budget. Buying tools for additional channels was out of the question. And when social media sites switched to pay-to-play models, many marketers were turned off.

The final nail in the coffin was the plain old status quo bias. To marketers armed with powerful email marketing tools, everything started to look like an inbox. It seemed good enough. But now, 2018 is upon us. Marketers are waking up to realize that they’re armed with only email, a website, and some paid ads and social posts. Little of the data integrated. And the customers? The mobile messaging revolution has scattered them to the far corners of the mobile internet. The only way to recapture them is to finally execute on optichannel and bring messaging apps and social media into your CRM once and for all.

The rise of personal messaging

Communication today is splintering into personal channels of choice. It’s a function of the free web – everyone can find the groups, messages, people, and places they resonate with. Ad ops teams can gather and commiserate on LinkedIn. Des Moines marketers can form a Slack thread. In the consumer world, this freedom of association has given rise to a rich new lexicon of memes, emoticons, and emojis. There are limitless ways to express yourself digitally.

In this renaissance of communication, consumers are flocking to messaging apps. They’re weary of social broadcasts, where they feel beset by ads. Facebook even declined in users this past year. Users now prefer to communicate one-on-one, or in small groups, even with brands. In 2015 the big four messaging apps, led by Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, each now with over 1.3 billion users, overtook the big four social media sites.

And though Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more have all launched direct messaging features to allow businesses to communicate directly with customers, marketers are notably absent from the conversation. Aside from the occasional chatbot, marketers missed the boat — they don’t have the tools to communicate here. It’s a huge missed opportunity because today, that’s where the buyers are.

Making optichannel work

The best optichannel advice today feels like a throwback because it isn’t new: be on the channels where your customers are. Only today, the urgency is much greater. Marketers need to scalably integrate messaging apps and social platforms into their CRM and marketing automation tools to create one, single, central view of the customer.

 “Facebook Messenger boasts open rates of up to 90 percent.”

Once integrated, messaging apps feel reminiscent of email marketing, but with one big difference: messaging platforms are spam-free oases. They’re opt-out by default. Marketers can’t message buyers without their permission, which is part of the attraction to consumers.

Message marketers must deliver content that consumers actually want to come back for. It’s a higher bar, but with a much higher payoff: Facebook Messenger boasts open rates up of up to 90 percent.

Today, pioneering B2B marketers are moving their mailing lists to Chat channels that offer more interactivity. Retailers send flash sale alerts to loyal fans on Facebook Messenger. Sports teams post stats and engage fans in real-time on WhatsApp, and news sites circumvent inboxes to deliver mobile alerts on WeChat that actually get read.

For marketers that stumbled with the first go-around at optichannel, it isn’t too late. The buyers are out there. Marketers just have to finally go where they are.