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Multi-channel vs. Omni-channel: What’s the difference?

Content Marketing
Content Marketing

Whether we know it or not, all marketers are engaged in either multi-channel or omni-channel marketing.

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel

The terms may not be familiar to you, and if you are like most people, you’re probably not very clear on the distinction.

But, it is important to understand what encompasses each one of them and make an informed choice about how to use them effectively.

A. What is multi-channel marketing?

Multi-channel marketing is also referred to as cross-channel marketing. It describes efforts by companies or marketers to interact with their audiences via multiple channels.

These channels may be direct or indirect, online and offline. Many times, however, multi-channel marketing involves a combination of the two.

What’s great about this idea is that multi-channel marketing takes account of the multitude of choices the client/user has in terms of communication channels. They have access to the Internet and this access opens a wide range of choices such as social media, email, blogging, mobile apps and so on.

Multi-channel marketing is a strategy that uses multiple channels in order to reach a wide audience.

These days, with all these choices available, your customers could be anywhere. Multi-channel marketing allows you to be wherever your audience is and get in touch with them regardless of the channel they are using to communicate or acquire information.

B. How does multi-channel marketing work?

Basically, multi-channel marketing means that you have to simply contribute branded content on multiple channels and hope for the best.

The strategy works best if you know how to create a cohesive marketing strategy and combine the multiple channels into a single branded concept that shows consistency and transmits the same message.

The first thing you need to understand is that you combine multiple channels regarding their destination. You can combine TV ads with blogging (content marketing), radio and podcasts with social media, computers, and mobiles with TV and radio and so on. The sky is the limit.

On regard of how the strategy works, let’s put some things together:

According to a study published by BigCommerce, young audiences are rarely buying their products or services from traditional physical stores, it is important to conduct your marketing strategy towards digital channels.

Based on the audience you are going to target, your options may vary.

Multiple channels allow you to expand the audience and be there where your customers are:

omnichannel retail report

Multi-channel marketing works only when you decide to advertise or promote your brand, business or products on multiple channels at the same time.

It’s your choice what combinations to choose, where to address your message and why but ultimately, in order to succeed, you need to address them properly and to the right audiences.

For example, if you advertise on the radio or tv, you need to make sure you select the proper media channel where your potential customers are. People watch TV and listen to radio stations but they do not watch the same channels and they do not listen to the same station. They are divided based on interests, age groups, and locations. It’s hard work to come up with a lucrative strategy but if you want to succeed, there is no way around.

Multichannel marketing

Combining a traditional channel with a digital distribution channel will be, however, easy. Digital marketing and advertising are easier to implement due to the exact numbers collected by browsers and social media through cache and cookies.

All these benefits of digital media will allow you to adapt easier to the audience, to select your targets better and to address your message with fewer efforts and costs than traditional channels.

However, you should always keep in mind that channel integration is essential in this multi-channel marketing, that it is not enough to just use each channel in particular but to integrate them with each other and come up with a consistent channel-wide message.

In fact, most of today’s marketers are already working on some level of integration as we can see from the following graph:

LEVEL OF MARKETING INTEGRATION

C. Multi-channel marketing examples

One of the best example in this category and also an example that is easy to understand by the novice marketers that engage in multi-channel strategies comes from the Gatwick Airport.

What they did great was to introduce multiple strategies for customer support on multiple channels such as:

  1. Use Twitter as a real-time customer support tool.
  2. Install information points on construction sites which otherwise would have remained unused.
  3. Integrate their location-based service Qype with their website, allowing the customers to rate the facilities and the services.

Gatwick Twitter

What were the results?

This multi-channel marketing strategy worked. Their initiatives gained immediate press attention and led to widespread media coverage in offline newspapers such as the Sunday Times.

Also, the company benefited a lot from more than 100 online coverage articles, internationally, which led to more exposure and increased awareness of the brand. There was also a 57% increase in the social media mention of the company with more than 85% of comments being positive.

Another great example of a multi-channel strategy done the right way comes from Apple.

Everything they do, starting with the presentation of the products, the web services and up to packaging is done with unity in mind. They are working on multiple channels and at the same time, they are able to unify the customer experience across these channels.

They form a consistent message and then, they manage to deliver it everywhere, in the same form. For example, upon the launch of the iPhone 6 model, the company’s message was “The only thing that’s changed is everything.” This message was present in their press releases, on websites and blogs and even on CEO Tim Cook’s slides:

tim cook apple

D. Pros and Cons for multi-channel marketing

There are a lot of benefits to multi-channel marketing and at the same time, a lot of challenges you, as a marketer, will have to face. Nothing is as easy as it seems at first and nothing is too complicated for a professional since others do it. Therefore, it’s up to you whether or not to choose to embark on such a journey. I will try to help you, by pinpointing some of the most important aspects of it:

Benefits and pros of multi-channel marketing:

The main benefit of multi-channel marketing is availability. They can access the content you are publishing from wherever they like, whenever they like. Your content is accessible across multiple platforms and channels and this availability makes it more visible to the audience. Also, you get access to a wider audience since not all the people are using the same channels.

Another important benefit of multi-channel marketing has a lot to do with memory and memory imprint. We are constantly bombarded with tons of data, with thousands of messages and a lot of information every day. Most of this data is easily forgotten. When you address a message n multiple channels, you increase the chances that specific message will be imprinted in your targeted audience memory. It’s easy to forget a slogan you see on a TV ad but it will be easier to remember it if you see it on websites, social media, and YouTube as well.

Challenges and cons of multi-channel marketing

We’ve seen the benefits of multi-channel marketing and now, it’s only obvious we should also talk about the challenges you, as a marketer, will have to face when you create a strategy of these sorts.

  1. It’s time-consuming and complex compared to other marketing strategies. You will need to spend time thinking and re-thinking your strategy in order to address the same message on multiple channels and be consistent at the same time. Designing ads and banners for multiple social media channels is easy when you use online tools that allow you to create and adapt your designs with a click of a mouse. However, things will get harder if you want to adapt your digital message to TV or radio. Your digital designs may not be suitable for these media channels.
  2. You will have to find the right message to the targeted audience. You need a message that suits multiple channels and at the same time, a message that attracts the attention of your targeted audience.  Or, to adapt your slogan/CTA to each channel in particular while at the same time, preserving the brand message and maintain your brand consistency and values.
  3. Analytics. There are a lot of benefits of using analytics when you conduct marketing or when you pay for advertising. They can help you assess your success and learn from your mistakes. However, when you embark on multi-channel marketing there’s a good chance you will have to deal with multiple analytic tools from each of the channels your market your business or your products on. This task will consume a lot of time which otherwise could have been spent on improving your designs, coming up with new slogans and CTAs or new and improved products and services.

E. What is Omni-channel marketing?

OMNICHANNEL MARKETING

Omni-channel marketing definition: Unlike the above discussed multi-channel strategy, which is designed with the distribution channels in mind only, the Omni-channel marketing strategy addresses the messages based on the customers’ perspective.

In other words, you don’t just publish ads, banners, texts, videos, and audios. You walk into your audience’s shoes and try to create a message based on their views and interests.

Omni-channel marketing is still a multi-channel marketing strategy but it provides customers with the ability to interact with the brand on multiple platforms thus helping them progress to a resolution in an easy and natural matter.

Focusing on the customer, you can say that the Omni-channel strategy is the multi-channel marketing done right.

Omni-channel marketing is all about interaction. It involves directly the customer and gives them a direct line of communication and allows them to easily approach the brand you, as a marketer, promote.

F. How does Omni-channel marketing work?

The most important part of the Omni-channel strategy starts with the marketer, trying to create a message as if they were a customer and not a promoter. In order to do Omni-channel marketing the right way, you need to walk in your customers’ shoes and identify yourself as part of the audience. If you are not convinced to buy something you promote, the customer will not be convinced either.

The Omni-channel strategy implies that you should test different approaches and messages, interact with your audience, collect data from this interaction and adapt your message to what you learn from it.

It’s important therefore to measure the response of the targeted audience besides measuring the campaign results. You need to put the customer first and try to do what’s best for them. Omni-channel is more than simply pushing forward your messages. It takes into account what the customer wants and builds up based on this knowledge.

How do you acquire knowledge?

Well, this is the difficult part, of the process but nevertheless, the most important step in creating a lucrative strategy. You need to analyze previous data inputs and do it with the utmost objectivity.

You need to understand the customer and in order to do that, you need information. You need accurate and valid information about that customer.

If you are marketing the services of a bank, these kinds of data come to you easily, through the customers’ registration process. They might come easily if you are marketing an eCommerce store as well since people need to register by using their personal information. In other cases, however, you will have to collect information from your previous campaigns and, get yourself out there, and meet the audience face to face.

The next step is to segment all your customers and target audience into groups and subgroups based on their intention and path to purchase. This will also be difficult and time-consuming but once done, it will help you a lot.

Finally, your last step will be to personalize the experience. You know who you are addressing and why, you know their path to purchase, the demographics and a lot of adjacent data. Now, you are ready to personalize the message to each of the segmented groups in particular.

For example, if you have a paying group of customers who buy once a year from you, around the period they make the purchase, you can remind them via social media and email marketing campaigns that it’s time to make that purchase.

G. Omni-channel marketing examples

A lot of companies and brands are at this moment engaged in omni-channel marketing strategies. However, while I was scrolling around the internet during the past few days, I came across the perfect example that is easy to understand and copy. It comes from Sephora.

sephora omnichannel marketing

As you can see, their main focus is on digital audiences, on mobile and desktop altogether. What is great about their strategy and what makes it an omni-channel strategy is how they managed to directly implicate the audience into the marketing and customer retention efforts. Almost everything you see here is personalized and designed with the client in mind. Everything is put together to make the customers’ experience as natural and as engaging as possible and keep them focused on the brand.

By tapping into their Beauty Bag app on mobile and desktop and get instant access to a lot of data and information designed to make their lives better. They can scan product barcodes for information on those products and exclusive videos, access their past purchases and personal activity, learn about the products with tips and tricks articles from beauty experts, browse and buy from anywhere and at any time.

Omni-channel marketing can prove to be quite an adventure for a retail company, if you manage to combine successfully multiple sales platforms and deliver a consistent message across them. Glory Cycles, for example, experienced huge sales growth after they adopted an omni-channel marketing strategy, increasing revenue on Ebay to the tune of 2032%, according to metrics published in a BigCommerce case study.

Our products are pretty complex. We sell custom cycles, so when an order comes in, it has to be built out by our team. Right now, we use a couple of integrated tools to manage that entire process,” Clive de Sousa, president of the company, explained of their streamlined cross-channel fulfillment process. “The customer originally places an order, and then our team gets an update in which it actually has the SKU for each part and a line item for each part.

Another great example of an omni-channel strategy done right comes from The Bank of America. Starting with their website and up to the desktop and mobile dedicated apps, they manage to unify the user experience and at the same time, provide them with a personal take on their services. They came up even with a virtual personal financial assistant, Erica, designed to improve the user’s experience and provide them with valuable information on their services:

Their mobile and desktop apps are also designed with the user in mind, offering a dynamic and complete financial experience, starting with depositing funds and up to the appointment schedules for clients who want to visit the bank.

H. Pros and cons of Omni-channel marketing

We’ve seen together how multi-channel marketing can improve your business and what difficulties you may be facing when designing a multi-channel strategy. What about the omni-channel marketing strategies? What are the benefits and the downsides? Let’s take a look.

Benefits of Omni-channel marketing

  1. It allows you to remain competitive in an already crowded market. There are a lot of similar businesses, I guess, regardless of your main industry. This means that you need to somehow, stand out from the crowd and come up with something that really touches the audience. Omni-channel marketing does this, by involving directly the customer and by personalizing the message that reaches to their ears.

 

  1. Products and services are more accessible to the customers. According to a study published by Facebook, “54% of omni-channel shoppers say they are more likely to shop with a retailer that makes it easy to buy on several devices”. Multiple channels and the user inclusion offered by this strategy, allow the customers to easily access the products and make their purchase decisions on multiple media and devices, across channels and platforms. This is a major benefit considering that the regular user is not tied to a single channel, and neither to a single type of device.

Difficulties faced by marketers who conduct omni-channel strategies:

  1. Complexity. Traditional marketing, including digital marketing, is a straightforward process based mostly on content and a clear, general message or CTA. Omni-channel marketing, on the other hand, is not as easy. It’s not a straightforward process where the marketer designs a campaign and applies it to the general public. You have to take into account multiple channels of distribution, the customers’ needs, and behaviors and deliver a seamless customer experience to all of them by personalizing the messages and adapting them as you go further with the process.
  2. You need to engage in open communication with the audience. This means that you should work on improving communication with your individual teams, starting with people involved in direct transactions with the customers and up to the webmasters, the marketers and the technical support teams. This will not be an easy process if you don’t already have a perfect system regarding this process. Through trial and error and in time, everything is possible.

I. How to choose the right channel

Starting with your blog and social media accounts and up to the offline advertising and marketing channel, your options are virtually unlimited in this area. While being ultimately based on multiple channels, both of the strategies described in this article are based on consistency and efficiency. Each channel should be considered separately as well and analyzed as a single working channel for marketing.

And, there are two main, major categories of marketing channels you can choose from: traditional, offline channels and digital channels.

Offline channels include physical stores and direct contact with the customers, printed ads, magazines, brochures and vouchers, gift cards and customer fidelity cards, TV and video ads.

The digital marketing industry, however, is more diverse and easier to apply. It allows you to mix channel easily and work on customer retention and customer acquisition on multiple fronts at the same time and link them all together.

Here are some of the best examples:

a.Blogs and websites.

They leave room for little interactivity but they are a great choice for content marketing. For brand awareness and influence growth, they should always be included as part of your multi-channel campaigns. This strategy can be expanded to video and audio content as well. Considering that at least half of today’s audience listens to podcasts regularly and watches videos from brands and companies, these two channels, paired with text-based content, can work miracles.

b. Social media.

It is essential for omni-channel marketing as they provide interactivity and allows you to focus on the customers and their overall experiences with the brand. 40% of over 2 billion Facebook users are following branded pages and accounts already. It’s a significant number that shows how important social media is in today’s marketing context.

c. Customer support.

Whenever they are facing a problem, customers usually turn to professionals and companies to solve them. You can establish technical-support and adjacent services channels on social media and engage actively in communication with your customers.

A good example in this case comes from Nike and their Twitter customer support page.

d. News and updates.

Post updates from your company, updates about prices, services products and news related to your business or the industry.

Here’s an example from Bannersnack.

Bannersnack Update Page

e. Discussion groups.

They are engaging and allow you to capture the vibe of your audience, to offer your help, hear what they have to say and communicate with them actively. On Facebook, in special, since pages and business accounts have little to none organic reach, companies and clients are more and more turning their attention to Facebook Groups, leveraging these channels as important marketing platforms.

SIDENOTE: If you work in marketing and you are interested in the top Facebook Marketing Groups, you should check out this post.

f. Paid advertising.

A multi-channel marketing plan or an omni-channel marketing plan may include paid advertising as well. It may be on social media, on traditional digital media, and on search engines as well. The interaction with the customer is very limited here but, if you do your homework and study the market, you have the possibility to personalize your ads based on criteria specific to each sub-group in particular. Also, you can use Ads in combination with social media marketing and blog/website marketing, as a form of content amplification strategy, thus increasing exposure and awareness on all the other marketing channels you are engaged with.

g. Influencer marketing.

Considering that 67% of marketers already believe influencer marketing to be one of the best strategies available today, there’s no reason not to try it yourself. With any luck, it will not even cost you a dime if you find the right influencers to speak on your behalf.

h. Webinars and courses.

This channel can allow you to engage directly with an active and attentive audience, to deliver a message and market yourself or your business without leaving your office. ^0% of the marketers are already using webinars and online courses as one of their main strategies.

Considering that at least half of the registered members of the audience will actually take part in a live audition of your webinar, I guess there’s a lot to gain from such a channel and, if you have the resources, you should consider it right away.

J. Multi-channel marketing Vs Omni-channel marketing

Now that we’ve defined the two strategies, we should also pinpoint the main differences between the two.

Omni-channel marketing implies the existence of a consistent personalized experience for the target audience which spans multiple channels while preserving all its main key aspects.

Multi-channel marketing, on the other hand, has less to do with personalization. It spans multiple channels as well but most of the times, the message is not the same. Different campaigns are being designed for each channel in particular.

Let me give you an example easy to understand. Let’s suppose you own a physical store and an eCommerce website. A traditional multi-channel marketing separates these two channels and adapts the strategy to each one in particular. The website will have less to do with the physical store and vice versa.

In omni-channel marketing, on the other hand, the two stores would be linked and your messages adapted to the audience.

Conclusion

In today’s market has become almost impossible to conduct marketing in a single channel. Well, not quite impossible per se but very improbable, considering that each and every single marketer wants to see positive results.

Multi-channel marketing and omni-channel marketing have consequently become the most natural choices of a marketer. We’ve seen together what each of these strategies encompasses and we’ve browsed through a couple of good examples that enable us to identify the main aspects of these strategies.

What type of marketing strategy do you choose for your brand and with what results?

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Robert Katai

Content Marketing Strategist

"Content isn’t king. Usefulness is. Robert does this in the online marketing and social media space with ease."

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