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Edition 5 · BS or Brilliant: Satan's omnichannel 😈

Updated: Nov 24, 2021


Repeat after me…. Omnichannel 👏 is 👏 not 👏 a 👏 strategy.

Like the mythical sirens in ancient Greece, did an obsession with omnichannel lead some retailers (i.e. those who sell things) to a ruinous hellzone? Was the industry’s infatuation a pesky red herring? ‘Omnichannel’ could be the 2010s’ most successful buzzword. Coined by Bain & Co’s Darrell Rigby, the term spread faster than the Delta variant. Pundits chanted “Right product at the right place at the right time” evangelically on every business conference stage. … and the obsession never quite evaporated. Right now, there are 25,000 jobs related to omnichannel on LinkedIn. There are omnichannel associates, omnichannel analytics directors, and omnichannel marketing data custodians. Yes, omnichannel marketing data custodians. They custode the data. 🤦

Every brand has finite energy and resources. To draw Michael Porter, the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Was the opportunity cost of going all in on omnichannel too great for some? When a fancy, shiny new term appears, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals.

Byron Sharpists know winning brands balance physical availability (making it easy to find and buy), with mental availability (making the brand come to mind when it matters most with a desirable, memorable brand)

But focusing solely on the former (i.e. physical availability only) is like going to work with one sock. Not entirely useless, but much better if you have both.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at the story of Gap. A tale of omnichannel without the oomph. Early on, Gap invested significantly. Customers could click and collect. They could reserve to try on in store. Online carts were synched across its key brands Gap, Athleta, and Old Navy. A 2014 report from L2 (before Gartner made them more boring than washing the dishes) identified Gap as ‘Gifted’ in omnichannel, awarding them top points for their unified cart, search visibility, and in-store reservation system. The brand scored 4th on a list of 82 specialty retailers.

But omnichannel wasn’t enough. As Gap went omni-tastic, the brand neglected its brand and product. All this at a time when it stood to be the beneficiary of a love for basics and a trend towards casual clothing. The right place, right time don’t matter so much when the right product is nowhere to be found. This is the story of an identity crisis.

Contrast this with Fast Retailing (Uniqlo’s) approach. The same L2 report awarded them an ‘average’ score. Online and offline weren’t particularly cohesive. Prior to 2019, the mobile app was a sh*tstorm. It was only the pandemic that brought some sanity to their ecommerce experience.

But Uniqlo had something Gap had lost. Compelling products and a sound strategy. Where other prominent apparel companies (e.g. Zara and H&M) focus on speedy serving of runway trends and fads, Uniqlo opts for minimal basics, low-cost quality, and technology-infused textiles. This is a strategy. The products themselves made up for what the digital experience lacked.

Zara offers another example. The Spanish retailer also scored ‘average’ and was relatively late to the ecomm game. The online experience lacks luster to this day. But the brand never lost sight of its speedy runway-to-store strategy. The rotating roster of products translates to more frequent store visits. There’s always a reason to see what’s in at Zara. Can the same be said for Gap?

But! Hope isn’t lost. With the arrival of a new CEO, Gap has architected a comeback strategy dubbed Power Plan 2023, and aims to bring sexy back via the vessel of Kanye West. The artist inked a 10-year deal to create Yeezy Gap. Gap’s stock climbed 40% on the announcement, and fell 6% when Kanye threatened to walk away. Wells Fargo estimates the partnership could bring in $1B in 2022. A lofty goal! For context, the annual revenue from the Gap brand is ~4.6B.

So let Gap serve as a cautionary lesson. Doggedly pursuing what’s trendy can distract from what’s meaningful. Avoid shiny-and-new syndrome without a careful assessment of what makes sense for your brand. Go to work with both socks. Omnichannel isn’t interesting enough to be the center of any strategy.


Is Lil Nas X the most brilliant marketer in all of the lands? Just maybe. If you haven’t seen his MONTERO (call me by your name) clip, it’s likely you’re returning from an extended, silent meditation retreat. Namaste!

Allow me to update you: In March, Lil Nas X launched his second single Montero (Call Me By Your Name), accompanied by a video that’s sci-fi meets biblical symbolism meets queer maximalism. Lil Nas X begins in the Garden of Eden. Trialed in the Colosseum, killed by a butt plug, and rejected from heaven, he slides down a pole to begin his descent into hell, where he gives Satan a lap dance, murders him, and nabs his crown.

Chaos ensued.

  • Christian conservatives worried the lusty video would spawn a fresh crop of devil worshippers

  • TikTokers #PoleDancedToHell

  • Cosplayers created a slew of Montero inspired makeup looks

  • Parents feared their children might experience a sudden urge to twerk on CGI satan...

...and Montero was the 51st single ever to debut at #1. Then it went platinum.

So the results speak for themselves. Lil Nas X’s breakthrough moment is beyond brilliant. Let’s take a look at the key elements that drove its explosive launch.

The launch is a masterclass in creative commitment, continuity, and building strategic hype. What can marketers learn from the Lil Nas X approach?

  • The value of long lead time: “Agile marketing” and “responding in real-time to culture'' don’t substitute a real plan. “Iterate” and “pivot” lose their meaning when there wasn’t a plan to begin with. Lil Nas X and team took 9 months to plan the release of Call me By Your Name. While agencies emphasize the importance of “always-on”, this shouldn’t come at the expense of deep thinking and strategic planning time.

  • Strategic hype - Building on cultural moments & what’s trending: Many a brand aspire to “cultural relevance”. But how many execute and commit? Cultural relevance requires a deep understanding of your audience and brand. Don’t just look at your calendar and align your strategy to every buzz-worthy national day in a month. Taco Tuesday makes all the sense for some, and none for others. Shooting at everything is a surefire way to waste money and shed your cred.

  • Actually join the conversation: Lil Nas X offers fans opportunities to participate and empowers them to create. He offers them rewards. He regularly responds to engage fans and make them feel part of something. Take this TikTok duet as one example among many.

  • Learn by doing: Lil Nas X ran several meme accounts as a fresh college drop out. Experimenting, he used them to promote his music, but noticed that funny meme-style posts would receive thousands of likes, whereas his Soundcloud links would receive hardly any. Why not combine the two he thought? A video of a cowboy dancing to Lil Nas X’s first hit single was the result. You won’t stumble across this type of learning in a trend report.

  • Fortune favors the active and interesting: Unless you’re Ocean Spray, don’t expect viral moments to ‘just happen’. Even then, don’t expect lightning to strike twice. There’s the off-chance your brand might be swept up amid a favorable social-media firestorm, but it’s about as likely as death by asteroid. A key moment in Lil Nas X’s debut hit “Old Town Road’s” success was this video of a man standing on a galloping horse going viral posted by @audemarju. A lucky chance? No, Lil Nas X sent him the video and asked him to post. If it’s all a game of likelihoods and probabilities, good things come to those who do.

  • Unapologetic self-expression: It hits different when a person or brand expresses their quirky selves vs puts up a trendy facade. Though the launch is carefully considered, it doesn’t feel manufactured. In one fell swoop down a CGI pole, Lil Nas X did more to demonstrate gay excellence than every corporate that ever rainbow-ified their logo in June.

It’s isn’t the second coming of Christ, but marketers everywhere should watch Lil Nas X.

To go deeper on the man’s marketing prowess, check out Anthony McGuire’s excellent article “Old Town Road: The Best Entertainment Case Study of 2019 ”

See you in hell! 😈

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