5 Key Points to Support an Omnichannel Strategy (Insights for 2020)

Insights from the engineer behind one of the world's greatest brands.


With much of the retail sector cowering in the shadow of Amazon, there is much to learn from brands that have embraced retail’s new normal by striving to achieve a customer-focused user experience as part of an all-encompassing brand strategy.

The Walt Disney Company consistently gets this right, always delivering a best-in-class Omnichannel experience.

At a recent GDS Omnichannel Insights Summit, Disney’s Gunjan Bhow, the current SVP and GM, Digital / Mobile / e-Commerce, delivered the keynote touching on 5 key points toward an omnichannel strategy for companies to remain competitive in today’s uber-competitive retail landscape.

This article revisits Bhow’s still-relevant key points with updated insights based on the challenges top executives still strive to overcome.

1. Use Social Media as a Listening Tool (Not a Bullhorn)

Marketing professionals, until recently, viewed social media platforms as avenues for reaching the customer—an additional channel by which they would inundate the consumer with sales messaging.

Bhow explains that rather than mercilessly promoting products and services—businesses should just listen to consumers. By doing so, companies position themselves as the unique solution to the problems consumers are voicing in real time.

2020 Insight: Understand the User, Benefit from a Long Term Relationship

The implementation of social as a consumer satisfaction gauge promises to evolve far past 2020. Companies have become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to quantify user sentiment, and thus position themselves to fill the voids that consumers identify in market.

The shift that occurs when companies make a conscious effort to better understand users, ushers in new sales opportunities, which companies should ultimately recognize as the opportunity to nurture long term relationships with customers.

2. Build Relationships, not just Transactions

Building long-term relationships with consumers “…completely changes your economics, your marketing and how you approach that interaction with the consumer,” explains Bhow.

Consumers today are more conscious than they have ever been. For this reason, it is no surprise that more and more brands are adopting customer-centric ideologies, based in:

  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Empathy.

Bhow goes on to say that brands that get this right focus on improving user experience (UX) by simplifying the buying process for the consumer, while also earning their trust and respect.

Companies that provide stellar purchasing experiences, and maintain positive sentiment over time will be top-of-mind next time the consumer prepares to buy.

2020 Insight: Co-Exist (Compete?) with Amazon

Building relationships with consumers remains a top priority in 2020. It represents a key pillar of importance when engineering a strategy to co-exist—and even compete—with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

a still mage from Gunjan Bhow's keynote speech at the GDS Omnichannel Insight Summit 2017
Gunjan Bhow delivers the keynote speech at GDS’s Omnichannel Insight Summit.

3. Design Contexts, Not Channels

“The consumer journey starts with context and intent. They don’t organize their mind in channels” -Bhow

Historically, businesses have planned and executed by the channel. The purchasing populace however, thinks in terms of context. When the consumer lands on your brand’s content—intentionally or simply by-the-way—it is important that the context is delivered consistently and reliably at each touchpoint.

Maintaining appropriate messaging throughout all channels along the customer journey allows users to internalize that messaging, which is then continually reinforced at each touchpoint. Consistency ensures that your brand will remain situated top-of-mind next time a purchasing opportunity arises.

2020 Insight: Context More Relevant than Ever

Bhow’s insight on context remains at the forefront of omnichannel consideration in 2020 on multiple levels, particularly the following points that executives aim to better navigate through:

Goodbye to the ‘Typical’ Customer Journey

Companies must learn to cater to unique customer profiles in an era where typical customer journeys no longer exist. It used to be that if users converted on a display ad or in-store, the respective marketing campaign would be credited.

These days, we know that users are much more conscious, and can therefore take their time when making their way down the purchasing funnel. Users may be served display ads, consume thought-leadership articles, view multiple videos on YouTube and engage with marketing emails before converting in brick and mortar (or at whichever other point). It’s a journey!

Mitigating Brick and Mortar

Brick and mortar locations represent something entirely different than they did twenty years ago (and perhaps even five). Considering retail models such as the Apple store, IKEA, and emerging beauty brands with innovative business models like Kylie Cosmetics and Glossier, provides a glimpse of insight into the role of physical locations (or deprioritization thereof?) in this increasingly omnichannel world.

One thing certainly can be said—Brick and Mortar is here to stay. The question is simply: In what capacity?

4. Recognize Mobile as an Infinite Data Collection Opportunity

“[Mobile] has turned the physical consumer into a digital touchpoint…to think about that as another shopping or a transaction channel is doing it a disservice…it’s probably less than 1% of its potential” – Gunjan Bhow

The convenience of reaching consumers via mobile is indisputable.

But like social, the mobile approach is underutilized. Whilst mobile’s ability to function as an always-on, always-accessible point-of-sale is irresistible to retailers, it is far more valuable to lean on data collected via mobile for the most reliable consumer profiles.

2020 Insight: Provide Compelling Experiences, Respect User Privacy

With the spotlight shining bright on GDPR, it is important that brands do not become deterred from providing personalised, compelling experiences—particularly on mobile—that provide value to the user. This, in turn, allows for an influx of invaluable customer data for companies.

5. Focus on Data in any Omnichannel Strategy

“The data is the ROI…it’s not an after effect…it needs to be a proactive, cohesive strategy.” 

Bhow, the current GM of digital at Disney, stresses the importance of placing data at the center of initiatives. Rather than carrying out projects that happen to yield data, businesses and brands ought to prioritize data collection as its own initiative. The ROI yield then becomes the richness of the data collected. 

2020 Insight: Integrating Data Yield Across Touchpoints

A heavy emphasis on data collection across all customer touchpoints, channels and backend systems leads to one of the greatest weaknesses of today’s omni executives:

How can companies best integrate cross-touchpoint data to develop the Omnichannel strategy as a whole and report on ROI and success?

Omnichannel by nature is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach that today’s top companies are racing to adopt, given the current state of consumer buying patterns and the developing customer journey.

Top Omni Challenges for 2020: Next Steps

Looking to 2020, here’s a list of challenges that omnichannel brand marketers look to overcome:

  1. Define a strategy to co-exist (and even compete) with Amazon.
  2. Reduce friction in user experiences, thus increasing customer lifespan.
  3. Cater to customer profiles now that the typical customer journey no longer exists.
  4. Understand physical locations in an increasingly omnichannel, digital world.
  5. Provide personalised, compelling experiences while maintaining user-privacy.
  6. Integrate data collection sourced from multiple consumer touchpoints, channels and backend systems.

Check out the highlights from Gunjab Bhow’s keynote address from the GDS 2017 Omnichannel Insight summit: