The marketing world loves its jargon, and often, it's confusing.
One example: people use the words multichannel and omnichannel interchangeably. This, however, makes much more sense than most confusing terms. The two terms share similar roots and strategy, but they do diverge in important ways.
Multichannel vs Omnichannel: What’s the Big Difference?
For all intents and purposes, multichannel marketing refers to a literal retail strategy involving multiple channels. Omnichannel marketing is a term that came later on, and usually refers to a cohesive and coordinated campaign involving multiple channels and data-informed decision making.
Some, however, think there’s no real difference. The argument comes primarily from an etymological angle. Multichannel marketing means marketing in multiple channels. Omnichannel marketing means marketing in all channels (omni = all). And in that argument, omnichannel marketing represents the latest buzzword in the ever evolving cadre of marketing bloggers toting the newest things.
Even if the term is a buzzword, the underlying shift that it signifies is not. Marketo refers to this:
“The term “omni-channel” may be a marketing buzzword, but it refers to a significant shift: marketers now need to provide a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device.
Consumers can now engage with a company in a physical store, on an online website or mobile app, through a catalog, or through social media. They can access products and services by calling a company on the phone, by using an app on their mobile smartphone, or with a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer. Each piece of the consumer’s experience should be consistent and complementary.”
Omnichannel marketing is essentially a customer centric model. It is a strategy that assumes (rightly so) that a customer may be browsing via multiple media (either simultaneously or sequentially) and therefore tries to develop a cohesive brand from channel to channel.
2XeCommerce also gave a great definition of omnichannel marketing in relation to multichannel and cross-channel:
“Omni-channel is using all channels as though they were variations of each other. There’s no difference between goods, pricing and other aspects between online and offline experiences. This is the seamless experience customers really want.”
The true difference between multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing lies in how you think about it. One seeks to have a presence in multiple channels; the other seeks to build a cohesive and consistent customer experience across multiple channels. This image illustrates it really well:
The Disintegrating Lines of Marketing and Sales Channels
Technology is proving to make ‘single-channel marketing’ obsolete.
As you know, we live in a multi-screen world now. 90% of all media interactions today are screen-based, and mobile and tablets are quickly becoming main players. A 2012 study from Google looked at how we interact with multiple devices, and they split our usage into two categories:
Sequential screening (moving between devices)
Simultaneous screening (using multiple devices at the same time)
To say that we’re all using multiple devices to research and purchase is trite though. What’s more important are the changes quickly coming within marketing channels and the ripening ability to purchase wherever you’re at. Think about some of these advancements:
- Facebook and Pinterest Buy Buttons.
Basically, anywhere your customer is, they’ll be able to buy things. Question is, will you be there offering another branch of excellent customer experience?
Multichannel vs Omnichannel to Bridge the Online/Offline Gap
Omnichannel marketing is the best way to bridge the gap between offline retailing and online customer experiences. Considering 60% of customers admit to researching products online before purchasing in person, this is important.
So often, however, there is a disconnect. As UX Magazine put it:
“When customers call your company, they don’t view your support channels separately; to them, everything is managed as a whole, not a bunch of different departments. And they’re not wrong to view the customer experience this way—91% of customers want to pick up where they left off when they switch between channels.”
One simple way to do this, and one of the earlier examples of effective omnichannel marketing, comes from Nordstrom’s integration of inventory data.
Here’s what they did: Say that a shopper was looking at a handbag on their website. She could see where it was available at nearby stores, and reserve it for pickup the same day.
This is pretty commonplace now, but when Nordstrom did this, they were definitely in the minority and it paid off: In the 11 months afterwards, their sales increased 8%. Another early example is Macy’s using QR codes to encourage online research while shopping in-store.
Those are two simple ways to bridge the online/offline gap. Here are a few other ideas:
- Offer a variety of support channels (Twitter, phone, email, text, live chat, in-person store, etc)
- Integrate inventory data for online/offline research and purchasing.
- Store data in a central location
- Integrate your marketing channels (SEO, SEM, email, local, social, etc)
- Experiment with pop-up stores (more on that below)
In the past, a brick and mortar store had to scramble to figure out emerging online channels—this was a totally new and uncharted domain. Of course, many retailers still have a lagging knowledge about mobile and tablet experiences, which delays their response to new marketing channels.
Today there is a different paradigm, with online commerce being a low-risk, high-reward venture and brick and mortar being the opposite. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing the increasing trend of pop-up stores: they are a safe way to test a new brand touchpoint and to bridge the online/offline gap in an omnichannel strategy.
Multichannel vs Omnichannel Marketing: A Few Examples
While it’s tough to distinguish the two sometimes, think about it from an intuitive, customer-centric perspective. Is each channel contributing to the overall customer experience in a meaningful way?
Eastbay: Strong Multichannel Approach
Our first example comes from Eastbay, a brand you're surely familiar with if you've ever shopped for sports apparel. Eastbay's success is remarkable when you consider they've transformed a catalog business into a digital marketplace.
Eastbay owns a strong social following across the platforms most meaningful to e-commerce sales, and they use that audience to drive sales. Here is an example of the company offering a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes on Twitter:
Eastbay continues the same social product marketing across other channels:
This social strategy, combined with e-mail marketing and the catalog, undoubtedly tackles the multi-channel approach in an effective way, but doesn't incorporate their catalog, links to their website, or any sort of customer acquisition strategy for this particular campaign.
This is an example of multichannel serving a purpose, but we can still see the opportunity to connect the dots, play more to the specific strengths of each social platform, and acquire new customers using deals or promotions around the Jordan shoe launch.
It’s all about putting the strategy together so the customer can leave and pick up anywhere and have a cohesive experience.
IKEA: Omnichannel at its Finest
Let’s contrast that with one of the strongest omnichannel approaches of recent years: IKEA.
IKEA's omnichannel approach is so comprehensive it's hard to pick a good starting point. There's an acquisition strategy for in-store, on their e-commerce store, or through their mobile app.
The experience can begin when you download the app, at which point it immediately identifies your closest store and invites you to join their loyalty program which you'll use to access your shopping lists, discounts, local campaigns and more.
From there you can add to your shopping list (which you can also use in store and check local availability), or you can just view information about your local store which includes the most popular hours and when might be the easiest time to shop.
If you aren't quite sure how that furniture might look in your room, IKEA has developed an augmented reality app to help place the items in your room at scale to help you create your design plan:
From the convenience of your couch you're able to sign up for their loyalty program, locate your home store, build a shopping list and even start to design a room around their products.
Once you are in the store, the experience you started on your couch seamlessly crosses over as you view your list, identify where the items are located, and buy them to get in and out as painfree as possible.
Anecdote: Last night I was in Ikea, I looked up the product to add it to my warehouse pickup list - noticed they had another color but it was out of stock, and then it gave me the option to purchase online.
But it doesn't end at the point of purchase. IKEA is aware their furniture comes in flat packages and requires a fair degree of assembly. They've built a library of content on YouTube from 'How-Tos' for assembly, staging plans by room, collections, and more. Here's an example if you needed help after you bought a new couch to replace the one you started your shopping on:
Once you've purchased and set-up all that data, IKEA begins remarketing based on your specific purchases in a predictive manner that helps suggest the pieces you might need next. This approach spans e-mail, your online account, and physical mail offers.
When it comes to multichannel vs omnichannel, omnichannel wins. It’s not a buzzword, and there is a clear distinction. Omnichannel marketing is customer-centric and focuses on providing a holistic experience wherever the customer is, whether that is offline/brick and mortar or providing a compelling online customer experience.
Customers want an omnichannel experience, and thanks to technology and big data, it’s becoming easier and easier to give them one. That said, most retailers are lagging behind, so there is a huge opportunity to jump ahead of the competition and delight your customers.