Multi-channel and omnichannel – which one is right for you? What do they mean and how are they different? The terminology might seem confusing because while omni means all, and multi means many, in both cases companies are employing more than one (multi) channel in marketing strategies, and probably not using ALL (omni) of the potential channels.
The trick here is that we’re not really talking about the channels, we’re talking about the strategy. The key difference is not in how many channels to use, but how they use each of them in a consistent channel marketing strategy.
Multi-channel marketing is a strategy that considers each channel (radio, tv, website), platform (Twitter, Instagram, email, ads), and device (smartphone, tablet, iOS, laptop) a different market, with a different strategy. A company would have multiple strategies employed, each with the channel, device, or platform they’re using as an important factor for the strategy.
Omnichannel considers all of the channels they’ve decided to use, as part of the same strategy – with the expectation that the customer will follow the journey set-up by the company, as they continue through the story driving them to conversion along the way.
There’s something to be said for both multi-channel marketing and omnichannel marketing, as neither is the one right approach for all businesses. Deciding which one works for you will help determine your marketing strategies, define which channels are appropriate, and give your best return on investment.
Multi-channel marketing has its benefits when you can recognize your audience’s wants and needs for specific platforms. If your customers on Instagram engage the most with images of your product, you can use this information to strategize what photography and video content you produce to maximize engagement on that platform. For many businesses, Instagram doesn’t function as well for commerce as other social media platforms, but is a great resource for brand recognition and reinforcing the feeling consumers get from using a product.
Twitter on the other hand might be ideal for getting your product information, specials, and news to a large group of customers, with easy linking to drive people to your website to purchase. People are used to seeing a constant stream of information on Twitter, and to learning more with a click, as Twitter serves up headlines worth of information for consumers to learn more about.
Separating these two streams as different targets needing different strategies is an example of multi-channel marketing. You can maximize engagement on each channel, with its own strategy and content – all leading back to your website to capture your customers’ information or to make the sale. Customers can expect certain things from you on certain channels without feeling as if you’re just copying the same content and strategy to as many places as possible.
The multichannel approach is excellent for gaining new followers on social media, as you can adhere to best practices on each platform and have a better understanding of each segment of your audience based on the channel. Personalization is done for each channel, targeting based on the persona developed as your ideal customer for that specific channel or platform, rather than on an individual level.
It can, however, turn into a frustrating experience when your customer sees information about a product—perhaps through a tweet—and in their attempt to find out more through another channel, finds different messaging and information. We’ve all experienced a moment of sending the marketing department in a DM about a product and getting a different answer from someone on the sales floor because the two departments aren’t linked and talking to each other.
Customers – especially millennials – have an expectation that information will be consistent, and easily available without worrying about which channel they’re using. “The data reveals that today’s consumers no longer care about where they are or what device they are on when interacting with a brand, as 58 percent of millennials polled said they expect to engage with a company whenever they choose and via whichever channel they elect. The data highlights the critical need for brands to stop focusing on channels and instead apply what they know about their consumers to elevate the overall experience in the buying journey” (SDL Study Reveals Channels Are Irrelevant to Consumers).
Omnichannel marketing solves this expectation by developing one strategy that spans all of your channels. The same story unfolds over time as your customers move from channel to channel. Your customers are encouraged to alter the story by making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or upgrading their service package, etc. These actions will then move them to a new story determined by the omnichannel strategy, whether that is sending them new information about a complimentary service or new offers based on their most recent purchases for example.
This approach relies on knowing your customers’ individual histories and paths, providing a consistent and strong brand experience rather than drawing lines in the sand like multichannel marketing. Instead, omnichannel marketing removes the walls and barriers to take the next step, by making your customers feel as though they’ve always been in the same showroom.
Omnichannel marketing removes the silos from both the channels and the workplace. Your marketing and sales and community teams will need to work together on the implementation of an omnichannel strategy. This level of storytelling is based on all channels working together to enhance the brand and product story, keeping the customer at the center of the process.
Often referred to as human-centric or user-centric, this style of design, strategy, or marketing puts the focus on the end-user—the customer or client—and works around their experience of your marketing. With omnichannel marketing, the company is responsible for creating a map of all of the different paths a user might take, giving the right information at the right time to help the customer complete that journey. “The nature of ‘omnichannel’ – as opposed to multi-channel – means that the designer must develop an approach that covers every possible form of customer interaction and comes up with a holistic solution” (Omnichannel Experience Design: What, How and Why).
Regardless of which strategy you employ, keeping your users front-of-mind is the most important thing to consider. Users don’t often go looking for a marketing campaign, seeking out pieces of information across channels and platforms, putting it together themselves before they buy. The puzzle has to be solved naturally and over time. Omnichannel and multi-channel marketing can both get them there, it just depends on what works best for you.