I will admit that until I did some dedicated research, I didn’t know the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing. I had been using the terms interchangeably, and now I realize my oversight made me look like a fool. A fool!
But I’ve seen the light. Sure, omnichannel and multichannel marketing both use multiple channels to reach and engage customers, but that’s about where the similarities end. Join me on a journey as we get into the nitty-gritty of omnichannel versus multichannel, and why it’s so important that you know the difference.
1. Customer vs. Channels
“The difference between multichannel and omnichannel really comes down to a company’s approach to digital channels,” says Stacy Schwartz, a digital marketing expert, consultant, and adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School. “Companies that focus on maximizing the performance of each channel—physical, phone, web, mobile—have a multichannel strategy. They likely structure their organization into ‘swim lanes’ focused on each channel, each with their own reporting structure and revenue goals.” The result is competition, which sometimes works for the good, but other times creates friction and misalignment.
In short, multichannel marketing means channels are managed and optimized independently of each other. This approach can lead to competition within your own marketing and a disconnected customer experience.
“An omnichannel approach puts the customer, not corporate silos, at the center of its strategy,” Schwartz says. “It acknowledges that mobile and social have enabled customers to not only quickly switch between channels but actually use channels simultaneously. For example, checking out product reviews on their mobile phone while evaluating a product on a physical retail store shelf.”
Omnichannel marketing means every marketing channel is optimized with the customer in mind. The messaging and marketing approach is consistent across channels, creating a single cohesive customer experience. Every channel and touchpoint have to work together. You can’t have a retargeting strategy that works independently of your email strategy. You can’t have one customer interaction completely isolated from the rest.
At Invoca we see marketers trying to solve this very problem when it comes to phone calls. Phone calls are typically isolated from the rest of a customer’s digital journey — the caller experience doesn’t reflect the online experience and vice versa. But marketers who are committed to omnichannel are changing all that by making all touchpoints — online and offline — work together. For example, marketers may send an automated email with an upsell offer after a customer converts over the phone. Or they may customize a caller’s phone experience based on their online activity.
2. Outside In vs. Inside Out
When we say “outside in” we mean that an omnichannel approach considers how the customer sees the world, which then determines internal marketing strategy and tactics. In contrast, multichannel marketing starts with the brand’s view of the world and is then projected onto the customer, which may or may not align with their customers’ paths to purchase.
Darr Gerscovich, VP of Marketing at Ensighten, a tag management company, says,
The first step in going omnichannel is to look at your customers and determine how they want to engage with you. Don’t force them into paths that are convenient for you, or that are easy to track. Give them options to connect how they want whether that’s in store, online, in an app, or over the phone.
3. Strategic vs. Tactical
The third core difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing is strategy versus tactics. Multichannel is a tactical approach. Marketers manage each channel independently and implement tactics that work best for that channel—the paid search team works independently of the call floor, which works independently of the direct mail team, etc.
With an omnichannel approach, internal departments work together and are in-tune with the overall messaging and strategy. It’s not just about optimizing one paid-search ad; it’s about creating a consistent, cohesive overall strategy.
Why Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Matters to Your Marketing
Marketers need to be more deliberate in how we talk about marketing strategy. It’s clear omnichannel and multichannel marketing are very different and that one is better than the other. When we truly understand and embrace omnichannel, our marketing will change for the better. It will change the way marketing team members work together and with other departments, it will influence our KPIs, and it will change how customers interact with our brands. Needless to say, it’s also going to improve the bottom line.
In order to be truly omnichannel, we need to focus on “integrated marketing communications,” which essentially means ensuring our messaging is consistent across all channels. Brenna Holmes, VP of digital at Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey (CCAH), says, “Integration is essential for effective, results-based marketing no matter what it is and so some phrases just become more ‘hip’ than others.”
Right now, the ‘hip’ phrase for “integrated marketing communications” is omnichannel marketing. But regardless of what we call it several years from now, we’ll still be trying to accomplish the same thing—craft messaging that resonates with our customers and create a seamless, effortless customer experience regardless of how customers choose to interact with our brand.