This article was originally written for CMO where it was published on October 29, 2015.

A decade ago, marketers had a fairly straightforward understanding of their consumer’s path to purchase. It was linear. Predictable. And consistent. But the rapid increase of e-channels has diffused the consumer’s path to purchase into a labyrinth of more than 800 shopping journey options, according to Cisco.

These consumers are now learning more, engaging faster, and expecting greater value and convenience everywhere. So how can marketers conquer this new, complex path to purchase?

Here are three cutting-edge tactics—all possible right now:

1. Bring “Smart” Content Marketing In Store

Over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed a rise in the use of content marketing campaigns, powered by real-time analytics, to help acquire, engage, and retain consumers. In fact, according to a 2015 Content Marketing Institute study, 59% of B2C marketers plan to increase their content marketing budget in the next 12 months.

More and more, this kind of “smart” marketing is becoming everyday practice for online marketers, but what about offline retail? Despite the 94% of all U.S. sales that take place in store (U.S. Census Bureau), physical retail has largely remained just that—offline and definitely not “smart”or backed by real-time analytics.

However, thanks to technology advances, there are now combined in-store analytics and content marketing solutions, offering features such as:

  • Remote content management to trigger in-store content updates across digital screens or displays—segmented by date, time, locations, store promotions, and even demographics.
  • Real-time analytics, showing you customer engagement metrics with the brand and corresponding demographic breakdowns.
  • The ability to optimize your campaigns with A/B and cohort testing, just as you do online.

So in essence, the black hole that was once the store can now become a source for rich consumer insights, increased ability to target, acquire, and engage consumers, and a new watering hole for high-converting, automated advertising.

2. Use In-the-Moment Consumer Insights

Because of the fast-evolving nature of today’s consumers and their path to purchase, you need a window into their shopping behaviors and motivations. Industry research can be a good starting point for recognizing consumer trends, but relying on it to guide your strategy is extremely risky. Why? Because how consumers shop and interact with one category or brand to the next can have huge variations.

Instead, I recommend a blend of mobile research to get rich, in-the-moment insights and some form of in-depth research for further explanation. This mixture gives you quick, inexpensive yet detailed results and, most importantly, gets you in front of consumers as they’re moving through their path to purchase. The key is to pick a solution geared toward providing specific insights around your brand and consumers, such as:

  • If it’s not advertising, how do consumers initially become aware of your brand/store?
  • What are your consumers’ pain points with your brand?
  • What do their various paths to purchase look like?
  • How do they perceive your brand versus the competition?
  • What touch points are most effective in influencing a purchase?

In this way, you’ll be able to take action at the appropriate time, channel, and situation so that you can better capture, convert, and retain consumers.

3. Move Beyond Omnichannel

Errr–beyond omnichannel? Yes, this one may sound a little daunting, but hear me out here. This concept is a natural next step from what you’ll learn from in-the-moment insights.

Marketers hatched the omnichannel strategy after realizing that the ecommerce versus brick-and-mortar war wasn’t going anywhere, so it was best that both learned to play nice. The goal was to keep consumers shopping, from channel to channel. And, while the concept was a definite step in the right direction, its translation wasn’t quite as successful.

Misstep #1: For the most part, we started by wrongly assuming that purchasing would be the primary function of these channels and failed to recognize the unique “why, how, and wow” of these channels for consumers, that is:

  • Why this channel is relevant and impacts consumers positively.
  • How it helps move them along their path and eliminates friction.
  • What the unique “wow” is that cannot be easily replicated on other channels and can be used to amplify the incredible in their experience.

Misstep #2: In making purchasing the primary function of these channels, we also made sales the primary indicator of success, which then spiraled into a series of siloed channels. Instead of creating one seamless customer experience regardless of the chosen mix of channels, we created a rather frustrating journey for consumers full of friction, with:

  • Different pricing strategies and campaigns per channel.
  • Different pickup and return policies per channel.
  • Different customer service policies and departments per channel.

So what am I suggesting here? It’s time to eliminate separate channel strategies and move beyond just trying to optimize “purchase-ability” everywhere to really capitalizing on channels based on their unique value to consumers.

The modern path to purchase demands a rethink of the traditional marketing mix to survive in today’s retail. These three impactful tactics will help you do just that, as well as pave an easy transition into what will become the future of retail.

Image Copyright: TAKASHI HONMA / 123RF Stock Photo