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What is the difference between omnichannel & multichannel marketing?

Understand how omnichannel marketing compares to multichannel strategies, and why an omnichannel approach is better.


Why omnichannel vs. multichannel matters

Advances in digital technology have brought a mind-blowing variety of devices and channels to market, many of which are well suited for shopping and commerce. Suddenly, activities that used to take place only in stores or over the phone evolved to include browsing web pages on desktop computers, shopping online storefronts on laptops and tablets, and using smartphones with mobile apps and built-in shopping carts. Today we can “buy it now” on social media, through voice-activated devices, or with smart watches and other wearables. All across the digital universe, consumers expect to find ways to explore and purchase the goods and services they seek.

Every brand wants to take advantage of these new touchpoints along the buyer’s journey, but there are different ways of going about it. Should you treat each channel as an independent entity and market one channel at a time, or go to the trouble of coordinating efforts across all of the channels you decide to serve? This is the essential difference between multichannel and omnichannel marketing.

Some people mistakenly use the terms omnichannel and multichannel interchangeably, but there are several important distinctions to consider. We’ll explore the merits of each approach and the reasons why omnichannel wins over multichannel, just about every time.

Chapter 2

First steps: Multichannel marketing

A multichannel approach aims to take advantage of emerging digital channels in a straightforward way that puts the company first. The idea is to establish a presence on the channels that matter most to your audiences, then distribute a consistent message across each of those channels, whether it’s through email, online, in-store, etc.

Serving multiple channels in this way can extend a brand’s reach without requiring an extensive transformation and technology investment; however, if each channel is managed by a different team and messages aren’t tailored to reflect any one customer’s needs, the result is a messy, disjointed customer experience. Many shoppers give up when faced with unnecessary friction and a brand that does not seem to understand their needs.

By contrast, coordinating content across channels provides a fluid experience with the brand, and sets the stage for personalizing the message so that your customer becomes the center of the strategy. This is the essence of omnichannel marketing.

What is cross-channel marketing?

Cross-channel marketing goes a step further than multichannel marketing and begins the process of coordinating experiences across select channels to increase engagement. Cross-channel marketing improves the customer experience, but it will not be seamless if the brand decides not to prioritize some channels that its customers prefer.

Chapter 3

Advantages of omnichannel marketing

Omnichannel marketing takes friction out of the shopping experience and allows a brand to meet its customers wherever they have landed in the buyer’s journey, with a relevant message and next step. Information that someone shares in one interaction carries over to all future points of contact, for a seamless and personalized experience. Rather than sending one static message to all channels in isolation, omnichannel marketing orchestrates experiences across every available touchpoint, including websites, email and mobile apps, as well as physical stores and events.

Omnichannel campaigns also are dynamic, meaning that you are able to adjust content and communications on-the-fly as the organization gains new customer insight. To execute on an omnichannel strategy, enterprises need a martech platform with the capability to create modular content that scales across channels. They also may have to undergo an organizational transformation to break down silos created by a multichannel marketing approach. See Building an omnichannel marketing strategy for more best practices.

When omnichannel marketing is done right, the business earns better brand recognition through more consistent and personalized experiences. A more efficient buying process that takes place wherever/whenever the customer chooses will boost engagement and conversion rates. In the end, favorable reviews will create a virtuous cycle of stronger relationships and recurring sales, making the omnichannel initiative well worth the effort.

omnichannel vs. multichannel

Chapter 4

The Peloton example

The popular Peloton fitness company illustrates the importance of an omnichannel marketing approach. Peloton experiences take place on stationary bikes and home treadmills with options for live or on-demand classes offered through a tablet-like interface. A separate digital membership opens the door to workouts delivered through TV and mobile apps, as well as Apple Watch, and the One Peloton website. Beyond these channels, Peloton reaches its community through an online store, social media, email, word of mouth, and an extended network of passionate instructors.

If Peloton were to pursue a multichannel marketing approach, it might push the same standard offers and announcements out to each channel in a one-size-fits-all model. The brand would appear in lots of places, but without the context of which workouts a member has completed, what accessories were purchased, what groups that member has joined, and any questions the person has asked.

An omnichannel approach allows Peloton marketers to gain a 360-degree view of the customer and deliver relevant experiences every step of the journey to better health. If a member has joined the group for #aclrecovery, Peloton might send related content and an invitation to try a low impact ride. If another member recently achieved the 100 rides milestone, the company could send information about adding strength training with an offer to purchase new weights.

Consumers like when a brand recognizes their preferences and progress and makes it easy to continue the journey. Marketers who figure out how to make these connections earn brand loyalty and repeat business.

Chapter 5

Multichannel vs. omnichannel: 5 Key Differences

In closing, multichannel marketing can be a good place to start, but omnichannel marketing is the hallmark of exceptional CX and maximizes business results. Keep these differences in mind as you decide how to proceed:

  • Multichannel starts with the company message. Omnichannel marketing puts the customer in the center.
  • Multichannel marketing focuses on distribution of static messages, while omnichannel marketing emphasizes dynamic orchestration of experiences.
  • Multichannel marketing has one message for all audiences; omnichannel marketing personalizes each message based on customer data.
  • Multichannel marketing results in a disjointed, frustrating customer experience, and omnichannel marketing provides a series of fluid, seamless interactions with the brand.
  • Multichannel marketing extends a brand’s reach. Omnichannel marketing builds lifelong relationships.

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