What’s omnichannel mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with the best pizza outside of Naples? And where does lively writing fit into all this?
Andris Lagsdin has a small company outside of Boston called Baking Steel that manufacturers and sells ultra-conductive metal baking sheets.
Its flagship product is its namesake Baking Steel, a heavy, quarter-inch honed hunk of steel.
It doesn’t look like much—it looks like an ordinary piece of metal. But it gives you the best pizza crust outside of Naples. (Ze. Best.)
Last spring, Andris ran a contest promoting a new, lighter product called the Mini Griddle. He invited subscribers to comment on his blog post with a recipe idea: What would you make with a Mini Griddle? The best entry would be the winner.
I entered the contest on a total whim. My recipe—invented as I sat at my desk one wintry morning in my perpetual state of starving—was for an avocado-egg breakfast sandwich.
I wrote the entry like a Craigslist personals ad (albeit a G-rated one):
FRIED EGGS SEEK COMPANIONSHIP, HARMONY
Two perfectly cooked fried eggs seek companionship for cozy living snuggled within the borders of 7 Sprouted Grains toast.
We enjoy the friendship of crunchy, salty, and smooth. In our youth, we confess, we’ve tried it all… and we are wiser for it. But now we are mature, and we know who we are, and what we want.
We: Seek a tangle of arugula, a mash of avocado, and some quality smoked salmon or thick-cut bacon to ground us. A flourish of sea salt and perhaps a twist of fresh-ground black pepper would complete our family.
You: Are the adventurous type who want to squeeze more out of life. You embrace opportunity where others simply seek substance. You look forward to a meal as it brings another turn at the stove or oven… because every meal is a chance to make the world a little better, brighter, richer, and more Baking Steel delicious.
And guess what? I won the Mini Griddle!
Baking Steel announced my win on its blog by making my sandwich, and naming it after me, The Handley Breakfast Sandwich. (Side note: Do you think they missed a marketing opportunity not calling it the “Ann-wich”?)
That could have easily been the end of it.
But it wasn’t.
My griddle arrived. I made the avo-egg sandwich. (Which was amazing, by the way. Especially with a shake of sriracha.)
I used the griddle a few more times after that (grilled cheese, French toast) before wondering: What else might I do with this?
I trolled the Baking Steel blog some more. It was there that I noticed a link to Baking Steel’s baking classes.
So I went and took a pizza baking class at Baking Steel’s test kitchen (along with my buddy Jess Ostroff). This is us in full-on pizza nerd mode:
And so it continued: I bought a Baking Steel pizza steel for my brother, who also loves to cook. And eventually I opted for some accessory items—a pizza paddle from Baking Steel, a case of a specific brand of tomatoes that Andris reveals are the secret to killer sauce.
Clearly, I’m a little obsessed. But why?
Is it just because the Baking Steel gives my pizza the best crust I’ve ever had? (No, it’s not just that.)
Is it just because the griddle turns out consistently awesome home fries and perfect eggs-in-the-hole? (Wrong again.)
The real driver of my fan status isn’t just the product: It’s the entire customer experience across every touch point I had with Andris and his team.
In a broader sense: The omnichannel experience is everything.
Are you rolling your eyes a little at my use of the word “omnichannel”? I am, too, because it’s one of those buzzwords that businesses like to toss around, though it often has only a vague and fuzzy meaning.
In traditional marketing-speak, omnichannel means that we seek to give our customers a seamless and unified shopping experience across all channels.
Omnis (Latin for “every” or “all”) traditionally has sought to unify the experience a customer has with you—whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by phone, in person (or by catalog, social apps, or what have you).
But today omnichannel isn’t just a technology or shopping play. It’s more broadly the brand experience that a customer has with you across various platforms and channels, at every step of the way. It integrates technology, data, content, and communication across an organization in an effort to deliver a seamless experience to the customer or prospects.
In other words: What your customer experiences over here also matches what they experience over there.
When all those touch points are aligned, as in Baking Steel’s case, it’s a powerful thing. And when they aren’t, your customers and prospects end up feeling uneasy, and disappointed at the mismatch. Haven’t we all had the experience of an amazing brand with a disappointing UX or rude customer service person?
So what did Baking Steel do well to create an aligned omnichannel experience, that turned me into a rabid fan?
1. Physical squared perfectly with digital.
My experience at the Baking Steel class was everything I expected it would be—from the minute I arrived at the test kitchen until the minute I drove away, with my leftover pizza buckled into the seat beside me.
Andris was over-the-top fun and crazy-passionate. In the test kitchen, he cracked a beer, cracked jokes, and acted as part cook, part scientist—explaining and sharing the tiniest elements of creating a perfect home pizza.
Like this two-minute look at how to slide a pizza off the peel:
I arrived as a decent home cook; I drove away as a full-fledged pizza nerd.
Many companies spend vast amounts of time, resources, and budgets aligning the customer experience online and across mobile and desktop devices. But you shouldn’t overlook the brick-and-mortar experience as a nerve center that can bring your online presence to life.
In-person experiences can also consistently drive sales and convert potential buyers to active (or more active) customers, as Brendan Morrissey writes in MarketingProfs.
And a significant portion of sales still occur in physical locations, according to Census Bureau data.
Your so-called brick-and-mortar experience might not be an actual storefront. It could be a class like Baking Steel’s. Or a workshop in rented meeting space. Or a user conference. Or a visit to a trade booth.
Idea you can steal: Is the in-person experience you’re offering customers and prospects matching the brand you’ve cultivated online? Have you strategically aligned the digital and physical elements of your brand to deliver a seamless customer experience, through a store you own, a retail partner network, or anyplace you are meeting customers face-to-face?
2. Using voice and tone consistently across all channels and accounts to convey brand.
Andris is the face of Baking Steel, and his tone of voice is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, slightly obsessed.
“Passion” is another one of those words that is tossed around a little too liberally in marketing. But Andris’s passion is the real deal: His obsession is for sourcing the best ingredients and presenting them in the best possible way to drive the best outcome in a home kitchen.
He experiments. He sometimes fails. He has fun. He’s more Alton Brown than Christopher Kimball, from a cheffing point of view.
And that’s a point of view he maintains across all of Baking Steel’s content and social channels.
This recent Instagram post is a great example of the brand’s voice:
If your lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change.. #bakingsteel #pizza . . . . . #buzzfeast #foodphotography #foodforthought #healthyfood #bonappetit #compromise #fitfam #notvegan #steelnotstone #bonappetit #howiholiday #eattheworld #foodphotography #droolclub #noleftovers #sunday #f52grams #food #pozzaporn #foodporn
Idea you can steal: Have you identified your brand voice? Are you consistently using it across all digital and physical channels, from your website to your emails to your packaging?
3. Nailing the bigger story.
“Empathy” and understanding your business’s “why” are a few more I could add to my list of 2017 marketing clichés. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t at the heart of truly great marketing. They are.
A close read of Baking Steel’s content offers a good example of how customer empathy and its “why” are at the heart of Baking Steel’s marketing.
The Baking Steel story isn’t really a story about honed steel or the best canned tomatoes or the right yeast. The Baking Steel story is bigger than that: It’s a story about love.
Specifically, its why is about helping home chefs create the best food they can for the people they love. For their families, friends, themselves.
I might say that customer empathy and a bigger story are… (wait for it…) baked right into the brand. (Rim shot!) (Ba dum tsh!)
Idea you can steal: Go upstream with the rest of your leadership team to flush out your why. Find your bigger story: Why do you exist? What’s your deeper purpose beyond a surface product or “solution” or beyond the… uh… dough?