Multichannel Marketing vs. Cross-Channel Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Our technology-enhanced world has transformed the marketing landscape. The internet—combined with new customer data and the dominance of social media—offers ever-more complex ways for brands and consumers to engage with one another. 

While these emerging forms of engagement have complicated modern digital marketing, they offer unparalleled opportunities to deliver tailored customer experiences. New techniques have evolved to help marketers target consumers across countless channels. And two of these approaches include multichannel marketing and cross-channel marketing.

In this post, we’ll explore what multichannel and cross-channel marketing are, how they differ and what similarities they share. We’ll cover:

  1. What is multichannel marketing?
  2. What is cross-channel marketing?
  3. What is an example of multichannel marketing vs. cross-channel marketing?
  4. Multichannel marketing vs. cross-channel marketing: what’s the difference?
  5. Wrap-up and further reading

Ready to get the basic of multichannel and cross-channel marketing down? Then let’s crack on.

1. What is multichannel marketing?

Multichannel marketing is a common technique used to reach customers via multiple on- and offline channels. This includes digital channels like websites, email, viral videos, social media campaigns, influencer marketing, apps, and GPS. But it can also include traditional, offline channels such as direct mail, telemarketing, vouchers, print advertising, or in-store experiences. Using a selection of these, brands can raise awareness of their offering or create new ways of connecting with potential or existing customers.

Crucially, multichannel marketing is highly brand-focused. This means each channel is usually targeted on a particular objective or campaign. For instance, a company might use one channel to build brand awareness with potential customers while using another to focus on selling a product or service to existing customers. In this respect, multichannel marketing is largely disconnected. Consumers cannot easily switch between channels while maintaining a consistent brand experience. 

While multichannel strategies tend to be disconnected, they remain a common starting point for many brands. This is primarily practical. Smaller businesses, and others with limited resources, may find a multichannel marketing strategy simpler to implement than a cohesive, resource-heavy approach that offers a consistent brand experience.

This might sound negative, but multichannel strategies are also an excellent testbed. They allow brands to explore new ideas, dropping or expanding individual campaigns, as appropriate, without impacting their larger strategy. Once a marketing presence is established the brand can then add additional channels, connecting these to create a more fluid customer experience. And this takes us neatly to our next section.

2. What is cross-channel marketing?

Much like multichannel marketing, cross-channel marketing utilizes multiple channels. However, it is also more customer-focused, linking the different channels to offer a better user experience. Brands may track customer behavior (such as shopping habits or social media activity) to build profiles that create a more user-friendly journey. Consumers can switch more easily between channels, thereby improving brand engagement.

It’s important to note, however, that while cross-channel marketing is better connected than multichannel marketing, it is not always 100% seamless. For example, it’s often straightforward enough for brands to connect most of their online channels, e.g. website, email, and social media campaigns. And while this may be sufficient for online-only brands, connecting these online channels to offline experiences (such as in-store shopping) is more complex. Not all brands have mastered this art form.

Nevertheless, a cross-channel marketing strategy is generally accepted as the next logical step from a multichannel marketing strategy. The ultimate goal for many brands is to create a fully omnichannel marketing strategy that delivers a completely harmonized customer experience.

3. What are some examples of multichannel marketing vs. cross-channel marketing?

Now we know what multichannel marketing and cross-channel marketing involve, how do they look in practice? In this section, we’ve created a couple of fictional case studies to illustrate.

What is an example of multichannel marketing?

Meet Usain. Usain is looking to buy a new pair of running shoes. He recently received a 20% discount voucher for a new sports brand called Runstoppable. Popping online, Usain checks out Runstoppable’s website and finds a pair of sneakers he likes. But when he heads to the checkout, he finds he can only redeem the voucher in-store or via Runstoppable’s app. He downloads the app and goes through the whole process again.

This time, he can enter the code but at the last second decides he’d like to try the sneakers on before buying them. So Usain goes to the local mall to find Runstoppable’s nearest outlet.

When he gets to the store, Usain finds the salesperson a little pushy. Although he knows which sneakers he wants (he has already tried to buy them twice!) they keep upselling a different pair. He finally tries on the shoes, but when he goes into the Runstoppable app, the 20% discount code is missing. Because he quit the app session before buying the shoes, the information hasn’t been stored. Usain ends up paying full price for the shoes.

This simple example highlights common positives and pitfalls of a multichannel marketing strategy. While Usain used multiple channels (e.g. the website, the app, the store) and these eventually pushed him towards a purchase, his experience was far from seamless. He had to restart his  journey each time he switched channels.

And because his experience was not fully connected, Usain leaves feeling a little annoyed—both about the invalid voucher and the pushy salesperson. He might think twice about shopping with Runstoppable next time.

What is an example of cross-channel marketing?

Let’s explore Usain’s experience again, this time through a cross-channel lens. Once more, Usain receives a 20% discount voucher for Runstoppable sneakers, which spurs him to check online. This time, the voucher has a personalized code that Usain can enter on his browser. Because this code is unique to him, Runstoppable’s website instantly connects to the app on his smartphone, storing the information.

Once again, Usain decides to try the sneakers on before purchasing them. When he gets to the store, the salesperson doesn’t have direct access to his shopping history and tries to upsell the wrong shoes. This time, though, Usain quickly whips out his phone and shows them the product he wants, including the discount code.

While there’s a bit of wrangling at the checkout (the salesperson has to call the manager to manually redeem his code) Usain is generally happy: he has the shoes he wants and gets his discount. The shopping experience wasn’t 100% perfect, but it was much better connected. 

By integrating his online activities—even if not fully connecting these to his experience in-store—Runstoppable starts building a simple profile of Usain’s shopping habits. When he gets home, he’s been sent a promotion for running socks, something he’s more likely to consider, having just purchased a new pair of sneakers.

4. Multichannel marketing vs. cross-channel marketing: What’s the difference?

As our examples show, multichannel marketing and cross-channel marketing share many similarities. For this reason, it can be tricky to distinguish between them at a glance. To help, here’s a list of key differences to keep in mind when trying to identify them:

  • Multichannel marketing uses multiple disconnected channels.
  • Cross-channel marketing uses multiple connected channels.
  • Multichannel marketing is brand-centered, focusing on individual campaigns, e.g. ‘share this content’, ‘buy this product’, ‘click this link’.
  • Cross-channel marketing is customer-centered, offering more coherent messaging across channels. These will address a customer’s needs, e.g. an e-voucher to use in store, or online, followed by a promotion for an additional related product.
  • Multichannel marketing is poorly interactive—messaging is more general and focuses on telling consumers what the brand wants them to hear.
  • Cross-channel marketing is highly interactive—messaging involves listening to a consumer’s needs and providing them with a call to action that addresses their specific needs.
  • Multichannel marketing is used as an umbrella term to capture all marketing channel strategies, including cross-channel (and omnichannel) marketing.
  • Cross-channel marketing is a distinct subset of multichannel marketing, but not all multichannel is the same as cross-channel.
  • Multichannel marketing is ideal for a more flexible approach that offers broader market coverage and distribution of business risk.
  • Cross-channel marketing is ideal for more customer-friendly, data-driven campaigns that target specific customer groups.

Ultimately, the core difference between cross-channel and multichannel is how they interact with customers and why. Multichannel marketing is low risk but less convenient for consumers, while cross-channel is more interactive with the specific objective of putting customers first. Which one is right for your company will depend on your short- and long-term objectives, what product or service you provide, the size of your budget, and how big your team is.

5. Wrap up and further reading

Whether you work at a startup or for an established brand, multichannel and cross-channel marketing are both excellent techniques for shaping your marketing strategy. As we’ve explored in this post, each offers benefits and drawbacks, which are applicable whether you’re a marketing newcomer or a seasoned expert.

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