Bouke Vlierhuis spotlight: 7 questions on omnichannel success

Today we put the spotlight on Bouke Vlierhuis of the Netherlands with questions on the who, what, where, why, and how of omnichannel strategy. Bouke has a background in everything from engineering to web design to poetry – a perfect mix to be an omnichannel content strategist!

Today he works for an agency in the Netherlands but is an active advocate for going beyond the screen and preparing content to support users wherever they are and however they choose to connect.

We’ve asked Bouke:

  • if it’s becoming urgent for brands to consider strategy in the context of omnichannel experience
  • what tends to motivate actually motivate an organisation to go omnichannel?
  • whether top-down or bottom-up implementations are the best for getting strategies off the ground, and
  • much more.

What is omnichannel? Your personal definition…

You have achieved omnichannel when your user or customer can choose the channel and you have the infrastructure to provide, through that chosen channel, what the customer needs, in the form needed, fast enough to create a seamless user experience.

Do you feel it’s becoming urgent for brands to consider content strategy in the context of omnichannel experience?

Yes, absolutely. The amount of available channels has exploded and this has transformed marketing communications, product development and product delivery in every market. No exceptions.

Maintaining a consistent user experience across all channels, in all stages of the customer journey, requires that companies big and small, B2C and B2B, think about content, customer relations and value delivery in an integrated way. This holistic thinking should be based in timeless brand values and a deep understanding of the target audience and combined with processes and content creation that scale across channels and do not need to be upended every time a hip, new channel arrives.

This will be the winning strategy in the years to come.

Where does an omnichannel content initiative usually start?

To start any sort of serious change, you need one person with a vision and the authority to make it happen. This means omnichannel usually doesn’t happen without C-level buy-in. However, in the last couple of years, data and customer insights have been shaping the marketing organisation. User experience, brand perception and organisational structures are very much part of this change. This means that more and more marketers are seeing demand for an omnichannel approach on their dashboards.

For example, you might send out an email blast to loyal customers and see people responding through Facebook Messenger. The traditional multichannel response would be to ignore this, since ‘we do email and phone support and that should be enough for everyone’.

The omnichannel approach should be to listen to the data and set up an experiment where you try and answer these queries through the channel your customers chose. Set up an experiment, measure the outcomes and if it worked, integrate it. So, in the end, omnichannel starts – or should start, anyway – with the actual customer.

What tends to motivate an organisation to go omnichannel?

In e-commerce and retail, user experience is now the primary factor in establishing superior conversion rates and customer retention. I think this is the strongest drive for omnichannel transitions there. In other markets, the concerns are either related to branding, or to content management. But this will probably change as markets mature.

Growth in B2B e-commerce is huge and for consultants, lawyers, accountants, and other service providers, business models are also evolving. We will see more and more ‘packaged’, information-based products in these sectors and fulfillment will rapidly shift from person-to-person delivery/hourly billing to digital channels. There will be much more automation and self-service. With diminishing human intervention, user experience then becomes the discerning factor, as it has in retail and B2C, and solid omnichannel strategies will be indispensable and essential everywhere.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge holding back organisations from delivering excellent omnichannel experiences?

The biggest challenge is in the ‘boring stuff’: process and organisation.

There is a lot of creative power being thrown at brand design and content creation, but the real secret behind successfully managing omnichannel is getting content, information, and data to where they are needed, in a form that is useful for the context.

Yes, getting your brand story straight is important, but without a good information architecture and proper workflow automation this is worthless and you will lose your mind trying to execute the high-level strategy.

There is a real challenge for agencies here, too. Despite adding competencies like data analysis, software development and digital campaign management, way too many marketing agencies are still, at their core, tribes of creatives. This focus on creation is hurting their clients, because it leaves processes in place that stem from times long gone.

You can’t sell ‘you brief me, I write a blog post and 5 tweets’ as ‘content marketing’ anymore. Agencies need to make an effort to align their execution processes with the emerging omnichannel strategies of their clients.

How do you reconcile omnichannel’s cross-silo, cross-channel nature with the usual funding and resourcing model of an enterprise?

Fortunately, working with smaller companies, I usually encounter smaller marketing organisations that are not as siloed as the ones you see in large corporates. What I do often see, is a disconnect between Marketing, Sales and Service. In these cases, sharing data is usually more important than sharing funding.

Sales and Service have large amounts of knowledge on existing customers that can really help Marketing. Marketing can, in turn, use this knowledge to make the lives of the sales and service teams easier. Once this approach starts showing results, enthusiasm will build. And where there are enthusiasm and results, funding seems to magically appear as well.

Top down or bottom up? How should you move forward?

Neither. Ideally, a marketing organisation should not have a ‘top’ and a ‘bottom’. A marketing team should not only be empowered and multidisciplinary but based around a customer mission. Not around a channel.

This way of organising things is the best (and probably the only) way to orchestrate truly seamless omnichannel customer experiences. When implementing omnichannel in a traditional, hierarchically-organized company, an organisational change is due, either before, or in parallel with, the move to omnichannel.

About Bouke Vlierhuis,

In content marketing, Bouke Vlierhuis finally found a way to combine his creativity, his tech skills, and his passion for sharing knowledge in a single job. At the moment, Bouke is an associate content marketer at Reputations Corporate Communications.

In the upcoming Omnichannel Conference, Bouke will be presenting Omnichannel storytelling from the trenches: how to keep your story straight and not lose your mind.