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Multichannel vs. Omnichannel Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Marketing no longer follows a straightforward path – it is a zig-zag of crossroads that determine the buyer journey. Thanks to multiple digital platforms and devices, marketers must now adopt a mix of marketing strategies, particularly multichannel and omnichannel marketing. Although multichannel and omnichannel sound synonymous, there are significant differences between the two. 

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel Marketing

The debate between multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing is one of the most debated topics in the marketing circuit. Surprisingly, not many marketers know that multichannel and omnichannel are two different sides of the same coin – they tend to use the two terms interchangeably. 

While the main similarity that multichannel and omnichannel marketing share is selling via multiple physical and digital channels, the core difference lies in how each integrates the customer experience across various channels.

What is multichannel and omnichannel marketing?

As the name hints, multichannel marketing focuses on marketing and selling products via different channels such as retail, social media, online website, etc. Here, each channel functions independently according to its unique goals and marketing objectives. In essence, multichannel marketing seeks to offer customers the flexibility to interact with a brand via their preferred channel. Thus, each channel presents a unique brand promotion and selling opportunity. 

A brand’s multichannel marketing strategy may include both physical stores and a website. However, these channels function separately and have minimal interaction. So, for instance, you purchase an item from the brand’s retail store, you will not be able to generate a return request for it on their official website and vice versa. This type of siloed and poorly integrated customer experience is often an inconvenience for potential customers.

Omnichannel marketing involves a multichannel approach that can offer an integrated buying experience to customers. Unlike multichannel marketing, wherein each channel is independent of the other, omnichannel marketing aims to integrate multiple channels to create a more connected and seamless experience. The core principle of omnichannel marketing is to create a consistent and customized shopping experience for customers across all devices and platforms. 

In the omnichannel marketing approach, customers can access and leverage multiple channels simultaneously. For instance, while browsing for a specific product on a brand’s official site, a customer finds out that it is in stock in the nearest retail hub. They can add the item to their wishlist and proceed to purchase the product from the retail store. Once they reach the retail outlet, a sales rep can look up the product in their inventory and help the customer locate it immediately. Here, all the touchpoints in a buyer’s journey are well integrated and connected, making it a seamless experience for the customer. Nike’s marketing strategy is a great example of this. As is evident by now, omnichannel marketing’s primary goal is to provide consistent customer-brand engagement, regardless of which channels customers are using to interact with a brand.

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel Marketing: The key differences every marketer should know

1. Data: siloed vs. centralized

Data centralization is a must for any brand that wishes to deliver a personalized customer experience across all marketing channels. When data is not consolidated and integrated, it remains in a siloed form in individual channels. Naturally, the final picture of a customer’s data also remains highly fragmented. This is the case with multichannel marketing.

Say, for instance, if a customer interacts with your brand using three different channels (website, social media, and physical store). When these channels aren’t integrated, you cannot have a complete picture of how the customer interacted with your brand via these three channels. In this case, the customer data across individual channels only tells a part of their complete journey. When you design your marketing strategies and campaigns based on this fragmented and channel-specific data, they are bound to be flawed. 

On the other hand, omnichannel marketing truly believes in data centralization. So, marketers using the omnichannel approach always strive to consolidate the data collected via different marketing channels. Based on this consolidated data, they design highly accurate and customized marketing plans that can appeal to customers across all platforms. 

2. Objective: channel vs. customer

Essentially, multichannel marketing takes a channel-centric approach to marketing. It aims to promote a brand across many channels to boost engagement and conversion via mass awareness. Contrary to this, omnichannel marketing is all about customer satisfaction and customer experience. Instead of increasing the number of channels to expand brand reach and boost engagement, the omnichannel approach aims to integrate all channels for delivering a personalized and connected customer experience across individual channels. Unlike multichannel marketing, omnichannel marketing does not stress on conversion. Instead, it focuses on providing a smooth experience to customers on any channel they interact with.

3. Consistency

Multichannel marketing is characterized by a complete lack of integration. Since all marketing platforms operate as individual entities, it can often confuse customers, leaving them with a dissatisfactory shopping experience. However, omnichannel marketing aims for consistency in customer experience. For example, if you viewed a dress on a brand’s website, you will see the same sponsored ads featuring the dress on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, and then you receive an email about the dress being on sale. That’s integrated marketing wherein all channels interact with each other to create a wholesome experience. 

Omnichannel marketing strives to build a consistent brand image across all channels, enhancing brand familiarity and improving the customer-brand relationship.

4. Customization 

In the multichannel approach, marketers mainly aim to promote a brand and spread its message to improve customer engagement and encourage customers to complete relevant CTAs. Omnichannel marketing takes this to a whole other level by putting additional and genuine effort to know the target audience, their needs, and pain points. This allows marketers to design highly targeted and personalized campaigns for different buyer personas to drive optimal engagement and customer satisfaction. 

5. Business efficiency

In multichannel marketing, all channels are layered in siloes – there’s little or no communication among them. Thus, all the different tenets involved in marketing, such as inventory management, customer support, sales, and marketing teams, are treated as separate entities. The lack of communication often results in discrepancies and inaccuracies in a brand’s marketing campaigns. The exact opposite occurs in omnichannel marketing. Since all the channels and elements of brand promotion, marketing, and sales work as a close-knit unit, the organization runs like a well-oiled machine. Overall, the omnichannel approach helps streamline business operations, facilitates better resource allocation, and maximizes workplace productivity.

Wrapping it up

Marketing is highly customer-centric now. In 2020, customer experience is one of the most crucial aspects of modern marketing. Naturally, omnichannel marketing takes the crown. In the digital era, dominated by a host of digital devices and channels, touchpoints in the buyers’ journey have considerably increased. This inevitably means that customers now have many diverse ways to interact with brands. Thus, brands cannot afford to hold an isolated presence on individual platforms – they need a comprehensive and well-connected approach (maybe a combination of multichannel and omnichannel marketing) that can encompass the entire expanse of the digital world.

Author avatar
Shriya Garg

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