Why Omnichannel Marketing Is The Most Important Phrase In Small Business Today

Originally published in Smoke & Vape Magazine, October 2018

Although local retailers and neighborhood corner stores enjoy the outspoken support of contemporary consumers, too often that goodwill doesn’t translate into a sustainable business model. The “buy local” movement, or events like an in-store vape party may inspire a customer’s sense of community, but will never compete with their need for convenience. Because, while everyone offers an e-commerce option, very few small business owners give their customers an online experience.

Omni-channel marketing is changing the way that brick-and-mortar stores do business, and it’s a term with which every independent vape shop owner need become familiar. It’s the idea that an in-store customer experience can be replicated everywhere — online, on social media, on mobile apps, even on product packaging, label design, and advertising.

Most importantly, omnichannel marketing isn’t an expensive solution that requires large teams of people; most shops can implement it with the resources they have in-house.

“Convenience is about more than a simple online store,” says Adam Mizrahi, owner and Chief Creative Office of Miami-based marketing solutions and creative agency Creative Propulsion Labs. “Customers expect their online shopping experience to match what’s in the store. In many ways, a sense of familiarity adds to the ease and convenience of it all. It keeps them coming back time and time again.”

In a hyper-connected age where the latest technology is already outdated, and the newest social media platform is yesterday’s news, most vape shop owners understand that multiple touch points are crucial to maintaining a thriving customer base. But if an upscale store has an outdated website and a social media strategy that doesn’t stay on message, then all of those touch points aren’t coming together to create a unified experience.

Omni-channel marketing takes all of those things and coalesces them around one coherent brand experience, giving customers the convenience they desire. But with so many points of contact, where does a shop owner begin?

The Store Is The Foundation of An Omni-Channel Marketing Plan

Before shop owners can integrate the digital with the physical in an omnichannel marketing plan, they first need to decide what kind of experience they want to give their customers. That all starts in the store. Opening and maintaining a vape shop is about more than selling vape products and accessories.

“Brick-and-mortar retailers need to have a personality,” says Mizrahi. “Everything from the decor and the color scheme, to customer service and product selection all play a part in creating a customer experience.”

Shop owners should start simple. Most experts agree that small things like decor and store colors — things that help with branding — will create an identifiable atmosphere for customers. Once established, that brand should be maintained throughout every channel, including a website, email, social media, and more.

From there, owners can decide who they want to be. Does the store sell upscale vaping products, hard-to-find products, or does it cater to a more bargain-basement clientele? One thing vape shop owners may choose to do is put in a tasting bar. They can then ask for customers to vote for their favorite flavors on social media. The idea is to create an in-store experience that can be translated to other channels, keeping everything interconnected.

Mizrahi notes that employees are an essential part of creating an omnichannel marketing experience. “Nothing makes a customer more upset than when they ask an in-store employee about something they saw online, and the employee has no idea what they’re talking about,” says Mizrahi. “Make sure your employees are involved not just in the day-to-day of the store, but that they’re part of your online customer service as well.”

Separate Touch Points Are A Thing of The Past

If a local vape shop is known as a place that plays great music, has friendly customer service, and fun events every other week, their online presence needs to reflect that atmosphere. Conversely, if that same store’s weekly blog is nothing but short, boring technical posts about vape mods and other products, customers will be left to wonder if they’re looking at a site for a different store.
In other words, once the foundation is laid in-store, the same experience needs to be brought to every other touch point.

“Don’t just build an online store,” says Mizrahi. “Today’s vape shop owners need to bring their store online. Omni-channel marketing is all about recreating the brick-and-mortar experience across every touch point.”

The great thing about putting together this plan is that the barrier to entry is so low. There’s no need to hire a team of web developers or social media consultants; everything can be done in-store with the team that’s already in place — with apps they have on their phones.

With a simple WIX or WordPress site, store owners can provide a decent web presence and even have their employees run a store blog. Weekly events, such as unboxing shows or product reviews, can be hosted on Facebook or YouTube live, and contests can be held using Instagram. They key is making sure that everything is integrated into one cohesive experience.

One of the most overlooked tools is email, which the pundits may say is dead but has a remarkably high success rate in terms of customer engagement. An email subscriber list that includes a weekly newsletter, pertinent store information, and the occasional discount or coupon alert will grow a customer base if tied into everything else properly. These days, a simple MailChimp account is free up to 2000 users.

As exciting as new technologies are, most customers are still tied to the old standards. A shop’s presence on Google My Business is critical, as Google still drives most searches. Store owners should make sure that their Google My Business listing reflects their brick-and-mortar atmosphere. The highest interaction and open rates still come from Facebook and WhatsApp, despite the critics who say that no one uses those mediums anymore.

“Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for Business have interaction and open rates upwards of 90 percent,” says Mizrahi. “Omnichannel marketing works when you reach your customers where they are already, and right now the data shows that this is where they are.”

Too many small business owners put a PDF of their print catalog online and call it a website. What they’re really doing is telling online customers that if they want to know what’s going on in the store, they have to come to the store.

In an age of convenience, owner’s should be bringing the store to their customers.

Branding Is The Glue That Binds Omni-Channel Marketing

Omnichannel marketing is about more than just an online experience; it’s about the total customer experience. And there’s no better way to create a complete experience for customers than with branding across all channels.

“Good logo design means nothing if you don’t carry it across everything you do,” says Mizrahi. “From boxes to bags to products to websites, customers should recognize your logo on everything you give them.”

It may seem simple, but too many store owners will spend money on a great logo, and then balk at adding it to their website or even their packaging. People are visual creatures, and especially online where the average attention span is less than a few seconds, a familiar visual logo will remind customers of a great experience they had in-store and make them more likely to share that experience with friends or family.

“Everything from your website to your packaging should convey a singular message about your store and about your brand,” says Mizrahi.

Today’s Customers Want A Great Experience

Despite the predictions from doomsayers, brick-and-mortar retail is alive and well. Research shows that no one customer prefers to shop wholly online or in-store — they want a mixture of both, depending on their needs at any given moment. There’s still a convenience and a familiarity with going to a store to make a purchase that customers enjoy.

That’s why blurring the lines between physical and online retail channels is so important, so that customers feel a sense of continuity no matter which way they choose to shop.

Most importantly though, stores need to make it easy for customers to sign up for their omnichannel — websites and social media are only as good as the people who use them. Shops should ask for a customer’s email at checkout and marketing materials should show people how to sign up for everything.

Feeding a store’s sales funnel isn’t only about bringing in new customers, it’s about making sure that the walk-in customer doesn’t forget their experience.

“Omni-channel marketing allows the customer experience to transcend any one retail channel,” says Mizrahi. “And if nothing else convinces a store owner of how important it is, the fact that the competition is doing it definitely should.”