When we read about omnichannel marketing, most of what we see involves digital channels, so when a campaign involves print, I take notice. In the article “The Secrets Behind 3 Great Optichannel Experiences,” published in Target Marketing, we find the case study of Neiman Marcus. This case study included not just online browsing and email, but also direct mail, so I was all ears.

As described in the article, Neiman Marcus leverages information it gathers on customers to personalize their e-commerce, email, and direct mail experiences. The core of Neiman Marcus’ effort is customer identity, which is the process of recognizing each customer as he or she interacts with the brand. If Jane Smith interacts with Neiman Marcus online, for example, the retailer recognizes her and knows that she is the same as Janie C. Smith who has a Neiman Marcus credit card and the same as J. Charlene Smith who signed up for the loyalty program. Every time Janie Smith interacts with Neiman Marcus, the brand knows it’s her, enabling it to create an accurate and comprehensive picture of who she is, how she behaves, and what her preferences are.

Neiman Marcus then uses this information to create a great customer experience, including personalized marketing communications. For example, when Janie searches for specific clothing sizes on the website, those sizes will start to automatically populate her searches from then on. Not only this, but Neiman Marcus will use the same sizing in its email and direct mail pieces, too. Those pieces will also feature the items in which Janie showed interest online (called direct mail and email retargeting), and sales offers will be tied to her previous browsing and purchase behaviors, too.

Where does Neiman Marcus get this data? It encourages browsers to log into its website and stay logged in. This allows the retailer to track shoppers’ behavior and be certain those behaviors are tied to them. Loyalty programs, credit card purchases, email click-throughs, and member discounts through email and direct mail offers are helpful, too. All of this creates a comprehensive picture so that Neiman Marcus isn’t just seeing browsing Janie, or email or direct mail Janie, but the complete customer Janie, who may interact with the brand differently depending on which channel she is using.

This is where “opti” comes in. Neiman Marcus is not just tracking what Janie is doing, but which channels are most effective at reaching her at what time. How do I know this? The use of the term “optichannel marketing.” Optichannel is determining the right channel for each marketing contact based on where they are in the sales journey. In other words, Neiman Marcus is not using its marketing channels haphazardly, like throwing spaghetti at the wall. Rather, it knows which channels give the best results for which customer interactions at what time. This requires research, tracking, and testing.

Optichannel was a hot topic several years ago, but we don’t hear about it much anymore. The term is associated with big data, but big data is not necessarily required. Adding marketing channels to your database as a variable field and tracking which channels your customers use to respond to which campaigns can yield tremendous insights, too. But how many marketers actually track this information? I don’t know, but my guess is that Neiman Marcus is one of them.  

Part of the challenge of print these days is proving ROI in light of the low-cost digital options available. If more marketers were tracking the effectiveness of individual channels for their campaigns, the value of those channels would become clear based on results. In those cases, printers wouldn’t have to pitch the value of print. The channel would do that on its own.

Optichannel is not a term we use much, but maybe it’s something, as an industry, we should focus on more.