The marketing world loves its jargon, and often, people who don’t spend life on their tiptoes get confused by some of it.
For example, it’s amazing still how many people are confused by the difference between CRO and SEO. Yes, they both contain the word optimization, but they’re entirely different in practice.
Similarly, 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. Listen to Marketo:
“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:
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 offline retailing with an online customer experience. 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)
Considering eCommerce, while it is certainly growing quickly, only contributed to 6% of the overall retail sales in 2014, there is a whole lot of mass under the tip of the iceberg here.
So, traditionally, a brick and mortar store had to scramble to figure out emerging online channels. Of course, they still are, as evidenced by retailers’ lagging knowledge about mobile and tablet experiences, as well as their consistently delayed response of figuring out new marketing channels.
Still, 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?
Our first example comes from Bro Science Life, a brand I’m not ashamed to say that I love. Dom Mazzetti, or the Brofessor, is a not-so-subtle YouTube act that plays, tongue-in-cheek, on the absurd culture of gym rats. Here’s one of his videos:
While Mazzetti is brilliant (in my opinion) his marketing strategy lacks a cohesive identity. The core of the brand comes from his YouTube videos, of course, and he monetizes it through branded apparel. However, he sells his merchandise mostly through another company (KottonZoo) which also sells a bunch of other brands:
Oddly, though, they also operate an independent eCommerce site – shop.brosciencelife.co – but it’s a totally different place, literally and aesthetically:
His Twitter channel is funny, but merely reiterates videos he has published on YouTube. Same goes for Facebook and Instagram.
— Bro Science (@BroScienceLife) November 26, 2015
The email marketing from KottonZoo is on point – to an extent. It starts off with an awesome black Friday deal from Bro Science Life
But then it also includes products from their other brands, brands that I have never indicated interest in and that distract me from the products I actually might care about:
This is not to knock the Bro Science Life brand. They’ve done really well at creating a humorous and distinct brand, but there is a lot of opportunity when it comes to their multichannel vs omnichannel efforts. See, overall they are in many places, yet they somehow feel disconnected.
It’s all about putting the strategy together so the customer can leave and pick up anywhere and have a cohesive experience.
Bonobos: Omnichannel at its Finest
Let’s contrast with one of the best examples of omnichannel marketing that I can personally think of: Bonobos.
For an anecdote, a few weeks ago I walked into one of those Bonobos Guideshops. You can browse their inventory, try things on, and even drink beer, but you can’t buy anything. The staff, however, is brilliant and helpful, and they’ll order online for you whatever you’d like.
Once you order in-store (with your first-timer’s 20% discount), they set you up with an account and put you on their email list, where they’re constantly offering fresh deals in a cleanly designed email.
They’re a hip brand, and they show it by playing to emerging marketing channels and networks, and treating them at once as a distinct network with its own tactics and also a cohesive extension of their brand.
Not only do they take advantage of traditional channels like brick and mortar and a well built website, but they’re all over social and do it effectively. They really are everywhere their customer is:
Check us out on Snapchat (username: bonobos) for a chat with our founder/CEO @dunn. We discuss spirit animals, the Cubs, entrepreneurs, etc.
— Bonobos (@Bonobos) November 6, 2015
Bonobos is a great example of bridging online and offline marketing; a clear contrast of multichannel vs omnichannel marketing in action.
— Bonobos (@Bonobos) November 18, 2015
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.