The number of channels through which brands can communicate with their customers is constantly expanding. From social selling to digital marketplaces, e-commerce, and in-store shopping, there are now countless ways for companies to deliver their messaging while offering high-quality customer experiences.
Two common approaches marketers use when delivering their strategies are multichannel and omnichannel marketing. But what exactly are these different techniques, and how do they work? In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get started with multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing. Either read on or use the clickable menu to jump to the topic of your choice:
- What is multichannel marketing?
- What is omnichannel marketing?
- What are examples of multichannel marketing vs. omnichannel marketing?
- Multichannel marketing vs. omnichannel marketing: What’s the difference?
- Wrap-up and further reading
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.
1. What is multichannel marketing?
Pre-internet, traditional ‘old media’ marketing campaigns relied on a few tried and tested channels (or ways of communicating with consumers). These were: print advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, and broadcast media. Today, however, the number of marketing channels has exploded. E-commerce, social media, YouTube, product review sites, and many other media have appeared since the internet came along.
To harness the opportunities these contemporary channels offer, the idea of multichannel marketing emerged. Targeting customers with messaging across numerous channels, multichannel marketing incorporates both online media (email, social media, search engine marketing, for example) and offline media (such as direct mail and other offline approaches).
Importantly, the channels in a multichannel strategy are usually disconnected, with each channel used to pursue a singular marketing objective. For instance, a company may run a social media campaign to raise brand awareness on Facebook, while running a separate campaign to push a new product on TikTok. Even if these campaigns target a cross-section of identical consumers, the messaging will not be the same. In this way, multichannel marketing is a brand-centric approach that prioritizes key messages over a unified customer experience.
While this technique might not sound ideal, it’s much easier to implement. Individual campaigns on standalone channels minimize integration efforts. This approach also offers other benefits—if a campaign goes badly, for example, it won’t impact other channels. On the flip side, with a multichannel campaign, customers don’t receive a particularly consistent brand experience. In the short term, many brands consider this an acceptable trade-off while seeing multichannel marketing as a solid foundation to build on, eventually leading to a full omnichannel strategy.
We go into more detail about multichannel marketing in this article.
2. What is omnichannel marketing?
If multichannel marketing describes a disconnected, brand-centric approach to marketing, then omnichannel offers a highly-connected, fully-integrated, superior customer experience. Omnichannel marketing provides consistent messaging, tone of voice, fully-harmonized visuals, and—most importantly—an understanding of a customer’s needs and desires.
A good omnichannel strategy captures customer data at every point on their journey, from past interactions to prior purchases, social media shares, likes, and more. All this data is used to provide a fully-tailored customer experience that delivers at the point of need.
At this stage, you might be wondering: why would anyone choose multichannel over omnichannel marketing? The answer is largely practical. Omnichannel is exponentially more difficult to execute. This is because all the different channels—both on- and offline—must be 100% connected, and that is not easy to achieve.
While many software solutions claim to offer fully-integrated omnichannel experiences, these only tackle the online aspects of omnichannel marketing. Important though these are, a truly omnichannel experience also means conducting focus groups (to determine customer needs) customer service training (to ensure sales personnel are appropriately skilled), and seamless supply chains. For well-established companies, this can mean a full restructure that goes beyond marketing alone. While software plays a part in this, there is no silver bullet for delivering a fully integrated omnichannel experience.
We go more into detail about omnichannel marketing in this article.
3. What are some examples of multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing?
Now we know what multichannel and omnichannel marketing are, how do they look in practice? Let’s explore with a couple of fictional examples.
What is an example of multichannel marketing?
Meet Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a fashionista who loves jewelry. One day, she sees a paid promotion from her favorite Instagram influencer for a set of earrings from a brand called Emeraldique. Seeing this, Elizabeth is reminded that Emeraldique recently sent her a discount code via email. Excitedly, she heads to their website to find the earrings. She has to search a little—trawling through some items that don’t really interest her—but she eventually finds the earrings and decides to buy them.
At the checkout, however, Elizabeth’s discount code won’t work. Checking the small print, she sees that it’s only valid for brooches, which don’t interest her. Fortunately, there’s an Emeraldique store in town, so Elizabeth decides to head down and check out the item in person. When she gets to the store, she spends a bit of time explaining the situation to the salesperson, who eventually informs her that the earrings are no longer in stock. Instead, the salesperson helps her find the earrings in Emeraldique’s mail order catalog. Although not ideal, Elizabeth really wants the earrings, so she orders them anyway—without a discount—and a couple of days later, they are delivered to her door.
This highlights a simple multichannel marketing strategy. Elizabeth has used numerous channels: social media, Emeraldique’s website, their catalog, email, and store. While she purchased the product she wanted in the end, the experience was poorly connected. Each time she switched channels, she had to start her customer journey all over again.
What is an example of omnichannel marketing?
This time, let’s imagine Emeraldique has an omnichannel strategy. Once again, Elizabeth purchases her earrings in-store. This time, however, the company has kept a record of her transaction. When she arrives home, Elizabeth sees that she’s received another email from Emeraldique offering a further 20% discount on selected necklaces but only if she downloads their app. She knows a good deal when she spots one, however, so Elizabeth promptly downloads the app. She’s met with a dashboard promoting a beautiful necklace that perfectly matches the earrings she just bought. Elizabeth decides to go ahead and buy it but halfway through the transcation, the doorbell rings, and she closes the app.
Later, at work, Elizabeth checks out the necklace again, this time on her work browser. Although she was using the app before, when she logs in, the dashboard on her computer still remembers the necklace and discount code, showing her the reduced price. Elizabeth then sees a ‘try before you buy’ option that she hadn’t noticed before. She requests that her local Emeraldique store holds the necklace so she can try it on.
During her lunch break, Elizabeth heads to Emeraldique, scanning a QR code at the door with her app. Moments later, a friendly salesperson with a tablet greets her warmly and takes her directly to the counter to try the necklace on. They also recommend a matching bracelet, so she buys both. The store automatically emails her the sales slip, along with another loyalty discount for future purchases.
This time, Elizabeth’s experience has been highly connected, interactive, and was tailored to her precise needs. At each point where she might have given up, the brand had remembered her past shopping interactions so that she didn’t have to start the journey all over again. In this scenario, not only did she buy more from the brand than she originally intended to, but is now well on her way to becoming a loyal customer. This is an example of how a successful, fully unified omnichannel approach can work.
4. Multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing: What’s the difference?
As our examples demonstrate, multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing share many traits. However, they do remain distinct, and you can use the following checklist to distinguish more easily between them in the real world:
- Multichannel marketing uses multiple (on- and offline) channels that are disconnected.
- Omnichannel marketing uses all channels (again on- and offline), and these channels are highly connected.
- Multichannel marketing focuses on customer engagement, pushing key messages that a brand wants customers to hear.
- Omnichannel marketing focuses on customer experience, ensuring that a customer’s needs are perfectly fulfilled at the point of need.
- Multichannel marketing employs a brand-centric strategy, focusing on calls to action via individual campaigns.
- Omnichannel marketing employs a customer-centric strategy, taking into account a customer’s views, expectations, past interactions, and future intentions. This Forbes article goes into this personalization in more deatail.
- Multichannel marketing can be scaled up or down according to a team’s available budget and resources.
- Omnichannel marketing requires significant upfront and ongoing investment in technology, software, and algorithms to create an ongoing, harmonized experience.
- Multichannel marketing is ideal for brands that want a more flexible approach or are just starting to develop a marketing strategy.
- Omnichannel marketing is often the end-point or ‘holy grail’ for many brands. They will often work towards it over a longer time.
- Multichannel marketing can be executed purely within the marketing function of a company.
- Omnichannel marketing goes beyond marketing alone. Done right, it should involve all aspects of a company’s operations, from product design to customer service, IT, supply chain management, and more.
Ultimately, the key difference between multichannel and omnichannel marketing is convenience. As customers grow increasingly savvy, they expect higher levels of service and greater ease of navigation when engaging with brands. Delivering all this to customers can be a significant challenge. But when executed well, that is exactly what an omnichannel approach offers.
5. Wrap up and further reading
As we’ve seen in this post, it helps to think of multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing as different destinations on the same journey. By starting with a more straightforward, multichannel approach, brands can focus on particular campaigns, explore different techniques and hone their messaging.
From here, they can progress towards a more integrated cross-channel strategy, before finally arriving at a fully cohesive omnichannel approach that provides unsurpassed customer experiences.
To get more into the nitty-gritty of the differences between multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing, or to discover more about what a career in digital marketing might hold, try out this free, 5-day short course. Alternatively, check out the following introductory guides: