Tommy Lamb
Posted 29 November 2021

Why you need to have an affinity for channel affinity

In this guest blog, Tommy Lamb of WITHIN responds to the findings Ometria gathered from surveying 2,000 consumers and 300 marketers in the US.  

It is a simple fact that in order to create good customer experiences, retail marketers have to take a contextual approach to marketing channels. To do this, retail marketers first of all need real-time and actionable data, but they also need to be able to harness the vast amounts of customer attributes they already have. I often say that you can have the biggest data lake in the world but if you only have a rowboat you won’t get very far…

Channel affinity is an aspect of this data lake that most marketers we speak to fail to use effectively. In other words, retailers need to take into account how different customers prefer to be contacted, and use this to inform a strategy. 

Ometria’s recent survey of US CRM marketers showed us that marketers are generally looking to invest more in all available channels – email, SMS, push notifications, social etc. The key to this investment is that it is less important to add new channels than it is to make sure you have a consolidated approach where your existing channels talk to one another.

With a consolidated approach, retailers can start to incorporate channel affinity alongside other data points to create a more contextual relationship with their customers. Marketers can then test and experiment with different types of communication across these channels to pull customers forward. 

Inferring information about your customers

Ometria’s survey showed that while email is a channel that most consumers like, there is a split in preference across all the channels. The data suggested that younger respondents liked Instagram more than email, but that older people prefer Facebook to Instagram. Similarly, people who shop most frequently preferred SMS to Instagram, whereas infrequent shoppers preferred email to SMS by a ratio of almost 4 to 1. 

There is only so much that you, as the person reading this, should take from these specific findings. The point is that you need to look within your data at channel affinity and see what you can infer about your customers and how they respond to different messages on different channels. Perhaps your highest-value cohorts are the ones who use your app, so push notifications are the best way of reaching them. Meanwhile, a younger demographic may prefer to see Instagram posts, and so pointing them towards your Instagram will be most effective.

Assessing your existing channel communications

With the data that you have consolidated, you should then start to examine your campaigns and consider if what you are sending is relevant to that person. Is it the right message to the right person, at the right time in their journey? Sometimes the answer is no, which is OK! 

For example, when it comes to regular campaigns, such as automated abandonment campaigns, are you approaching someone with a $500 cart abandonment the same way that you are approaching someone with a $50 cart abandonment? Should you be using a different channel for each? Or should the messaging or timing be different?

If you want to find out more about your customers, can you think of creative ways to get implicit, or even explicit information about them? We’ve seen examples of brands asking customers to give their opinions on a new range of dresses before they have been created, which is a fantastic way to engage loyal customers and also learn which products they like. 

Avoiding email overwhelm and using it effectively

Email is still the dominant form of marketing communication. But the consumers Ometria surveyed brought up a clear problem: email overwhelm. 49% of respondents felt overwhelmed by marketing emails at least once a week. 

One common mistake retailers can make is to over-communicate to their highest-value segments. It makes some sense, because all the data is telling you that this segment buys the most and so they are probably the most responsive to your marketing. But by hammering these users, you are harming your relationship with them and risk alienating them. 

CRM marketers also need to think about how they measure engagement. With the changes to open rates brought about by iOS 15, marketers should look towards metrics other than email open rate. Creating segments based on last add to cart date, or last SMS clicked date, or last in-store visit will give you a wider sense of who is engaging with your content. 

The social component

In terms of how consumers find new fashion brands, Ometria’s survey suggested that the most powerful channel is “friends and family.” This might seem difficult for marketers to manage, but the trick is to treat these channels like a digital channel. You can start to build gamification and social proof into your channels using User Generated Content, or by deploying micro-influencers, who have small but highly authentic audiences, to engage your potential customers.

Don’t underestimate the social effect of the in-store experience, too. We worked with a brand that saw their digital stores grow rapidly during lockdown, but once malls were open, they saw this growth fall away. Their typical audience was very young, and it seemed to us that their audience was meeting friends and shopping in person. Being able to access in-store data in real-time, as you would have online data is essential to testing these scenarios. 

Listen to your customers

Paying attention to channel affinity is really about trying to understand your customers and their preferences. It’s one thing to invest across multiple channels at once, but if you are not measuring how your customers respond to different combinations of channels and communications, then you will not provide the best experience possible. This will result in wasted time and investment when you could have worked to optimize existing channels. Make sure you have real-time actionable data, and test things iteratively and you will be on the right path.

Find out more about WITHIN and get in touch here.  

Read the full Ometria report into channels and behavior here.

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