Omnichannel versus multichannel marketing

‘Omnichannel’ has become a popular term – or buzzword – in marketing circles, and while some marketers have grasped the concept well, it has caused confusion for many more. With more consumers using more devices to access eCommerce sites, there is pressure to ensure messaging and experiences are consistent.

As a result, marketing departments are left to debate what the differences are between omnichannel marketing and multichannel marketing and the question is often asked – does the brand really understand what both terms mean? A more important question is, how does a brand implement an appropriate strategy?

It is time to deliver some distinction between brands who have a strategy across ‘multiple channels’ and those who have a ‘multichannel strategy’. What the last few years have taught us – after the first whisperings of omnichannel – is that successful brands will use multichannel marketing solutions to create an omnichannel experience for their customers, ensuring they remain at the heart of all personalised communication.

As mentioned, this distinction is only just emerging in some businesses but is already central to the thinking of others. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, put it rather more directly than most when confronted by a question from a journalist about the threat of ‘f-commerce’ (used to describe Facebook Commerce): “In the eyes of the consumer, e-commerce and retail are now one. It’s just shopping, right?

What marketers are learning – some faster than others – is that they do need to take into account different channels and the communication across them, but they shouldn’t work in silos. The customer profile should be as comprehensive as possible and the experience as seamless as you can make it.

Brands have moved on from marketing the same products along different channels. Now the channels themselves dictate the content. Daniel Eisenhut, Head of Professional Services at Emarsys, believes: “Customers behave very differently according to the channel, both in terms of responsiveness and in buying strategy; fitting that into a multi-step communication framework is the challenge we currently face,”

This is why a lot of the latest conversations around Big Data have really been focused on working with data from different sources and different channels – with the aim of finding out more about customers and lost opportunities.

But a Big Data project is often the answer to a question, not the question itself – by that I mean that marketers need to have a clear vision of what they are looking to achieve by bringing together data from different channels. Marketers need to make a conscious decision to put the customer at the centre of the equation.

Many brands install processes to drive multichannel marketing efforts, but more recently more of those brands, and companies in the wider marketplace, have been trying to work across those channels more effectively and enable commerce to happen effectively and measurably – independent of the channel itself.

So, rather than the question being ‘do we call it omnichannel or multichannel marketing’, marketers should be thinking ‘do we have a genuine ‘multichannel strategy’ or ‘do we just work across multiple channels’?

Alex Timlin, Head of Client Success at Emarsys

Image source: Shutterstock/Bloomua