Omnichannel vs multichannel marketing

12 Sep 2022  |  by Joe Meade

If you work in marketing, you’ve probably heard colleagues using terms like ‘multichannel marketing' and ‘omnichannel marketing’. In some instances, you may have even heard these terms used interchangeably. 

However, although both of these methods involve using more than one marketing channel to engage customers, they are different concepts.

To help you decide which approach to marketing is best for your business, we’ve put together this guide to omnichannel vs multichannel marketing. As well as providing definitions for each method, we’ve also broken down the differences between multichannel and omnichannel marketing and looked at examples of both strategies in action.

Definitions of omnichannel and multichannel marketing

Before jumping into the details of omnichannel vs multichannel marketing, let’s create a definition for each concept.

What is multichannel?

Multichannel marketing is the practice of using more than one marketing and customer contact channel to communicate with customers and prospects. Both online and offline channels can be used, and more than two channels can be used simultaneously. In fact, the more channels a company uses, the better.

However, with multichannel marketing, the channels used may not necessarily be integrated with each other. Instead, every channel used in the process is separate and independent from the others and works in a vacuum. Each has its own strategy and goals.

For example, in a retail setting, a company may have a website and a brick-and-mortar shop. Both will drive sales for the same brand, but they won’t necessarily do this in the same way.

As each channel functions separately in a multichannel marketing campaign, a customer must go to that specific channel to find the information they require.

As part of a multichannel campaign, the product or the service the business provides is at the centre of the marketing campaign. The channels employed then work individually to deliver that message.

What is omnichannel?

Like multichannel campaigns, omnichannel marketing involves a brand communicating with its customers on multiple channels simultaneously.

However, with an omnichannel campaign, all of these marketing channels are integrated with each other and create a unified experience for the customer.

For this reason, during an omnichannel campaign, a customer can seamlessly move between channels.

Omnichannel vs multichannel: what are the key differences?

Now we know what both multichannel and omnichannel marketing involves, let’s dig a little deeper into the differences between the two approaches and the benefits of each strategy.

Customer experience vs customer engagement

One of the main differences between the two marketing approaches is that while multichannel marketing focuses on engaging customers, omnichannel marketing instead focuses on improving the customer experience.

Companies that employ multichannel marketing aim to cast their net as wide as possible to engage the maximum number of potential customers. By contrast, companies that employ an omnichannel marketing strategy instead aim to create a consistent customer experience for people who are engaging with a business.

To demonstrate the differences between the approaches and how they impact the customer, let’s look at an example that focuses entirely on social media.

When companies adopt a multichannel approach to their social media marketing, they aim to get more followers, comments, likes, and shares. By increasing these metrics, the marketing department can demonstrate that a growing number of people are engaging with the brand across these channels.

On the other hand, a company that employs an omnichannel approach to social media marketing will place much less emphasis on quantity-based metrics such as likes and shares. Instead, these businesses will look to ensure that customers who interact with the brand on social media receive an improved and seamless experience across all platforms and that the messages received are harmonious.

Channel centric vs customer centric

While multichannel marketing focuses on channels (as the name suggests), omnichannel marketing focuses on the customer.

Overall, the aim of multichannel marketing is to maximise the number of channels that are used to promote a brand. Businesses work on the theory that when they promote the product on more channels, more customers will see it. These customers can also choose how they would like to engage with the brand. The more channels offered, the greater the choice for the customer.

However, with omnichannel marketing, the customer is the focus. In these instances, the goal is to remove friction between different touchpoints. Here, a smaller number of truly interconnected channels is preferable to a greater number of channels that aren’t connected correctly. With an omnichannel approach, customers should be able to move seamlessly from one channel to another and receive the best possible experience.

Quantity vs quality

As multichannel marketing maximises the number of channels the product is marketed on, it focuses on quantity. By contrast, omnichannel marketing focuses on the quality of the experience offered.

Remember, the aim of multichannel marketing is to increase reach and allow the customer to choose how they would like to engage with a business. However, no effort is made to link these channels. This means that when a customer moves from one channel to another, they have to start the process from the beginning. Ultimately, this means the quality of the experience is reduced significantly.

This is particularly true in instances where a customer has a problem with their account or is struggling to make a purchase. For example, let’s say a customer has forgotten their password. In this instance, they may call a customer services team member, who talks them through a step-by-step process that helps them recover their account.

But, when the customer follows these steps, they may still be unable to reset their password. As a result, they will email a screenshot of the error code they’re experiencing to the customer services team. However, because the email and phone channels of the business are not synced, they have to explain the problem from the beginning.

By contrast, the quality of the customer experience is central to omnichannel marketing. Although an omnichannel approach does not mean that every channel offers the exact same type of customer support (these channels will still be tailored to deal with the different types of support a customer might need), the quality aspect is ensured by the integration of all the channels. This means that customers can move interactions from one channel to another without having to start from the beginning.

If the same customer who needed to reset their password contacted a company who offered an omnichannel approach, they would receive a better experience. This is because, when they emailed the support team, they would not have to explain the situation. 

In this instance, the customer services representative they spoke with over the phone would have recorded details of the exchange under the customer’s information in the company’s CRM. Due to this, when the second agent picked up the email, they could access the customer’s information and gain valuable context that could be used when replying to the customer on the new channel.

Multichannel vs omnichannel examples

To help you discover even more about multichannel vs omnichannel marketing, let’s look at two prominent examples from the world’s largest businesses. This way, you can see the benefits provided by each approach.

Apple’s multichannel strategy

Apple’s multichannel marketing strategy provides us with a great example of how flexible this approach to marketing can be. Their approach also demonstrates just how well this strategy draws attention to the product(s) on offer.

While the tech giant operates both traditional bricks-and-mortar stores and an online store, their store offering is seen as unique among retail companies. This is because the company’s stores are not built to sell products (although they do still offer this service, of course). Instead, they’re designed to complement the company’s e-commerce business, which accounts for most of Apple’s total sales.

Due to this, the company’s physical stores work as separate customer touchpoints that each serve the bigger picture. Each store is primarily used for advertising/marketing purposes, and Apple customers and prospects are invited to use the store as more of an interactive gallery where they can test products and services.

As well as using retail stores for advertising and marketing, Apple uses additional channels and services to create demand. These include the Apple TV+ streaming platform and the Apple News+ news subscription service. These channels also provide the company with extra revenue streams.

By operating all of these channels independently, Apple has the flexibility to pursue different strategies across different marketing channels. This helps the company promote and sell its wide range of products to a diverse set of customers.

Amazon’s omnichannel approach

By contrast, Amazon adopts an omnichannel approach that puts the customer at the centre of its marketing efforts.

Amazon’s approach centres on data. The e-commerce giant knows every customer who has ever purchased a product from them. The company then uses each customer’s data to provide a personal and relevant user experience.

Amazon takes an omnichannel experience to the next level. Not only does the company focus its marketing efforts on the customer, but it centres its entire business model on the customer experience. For example, with Amazon One-Click, shoppers can make their purchases seamlessly. Alternatively, Amazon Alexa allows customers to make their next purchase with their voice.

Amazon’s success shows what omnichannel marketing is really about: it allows customers to connect with a brand through any of their channels at any time. As each channel is connected and updated with each interaction, the customer journey is seamless.

Omnichannel vs multichannel: which is the right approach for you?

Today, an increasing number of businesses are moving towards providing omnichannel marketing communications. This is because this way of marketing offers unified branding and a seamless customer experience.

However, even though omnichannel marketing is viewed to be the superior choice, it isn’t the natural choice for every business. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the scenarios that suit both approaches. This way, you can decide which option is best suited to your needs.

When should you choose multichannel?  

If you’re short on resources, you may not be able to afford an omnichannel approach. Generally speaking, omnichannel marketing is more expensive to implement because it requires more work to set up and maintain.

Meanwhile, multichannel marketing can still bring excellent results. Plus, because every channel can function independently, stakeholders don’t need to communicate and work cohesively. Instead, each stakeholder can firmly focus on the performance and growth of their own channel.

However, multichannel marketing still requires significant investment, and you’ll still need to have the right tech infrastructure in place so that you can scale your multichannel operations. As part of this, you’ll need to employ marketing automation software. Otherwise, you’ll be unable to grow and add new channels without sacrificing quality.  

When should you choose omnichannel?

When executed correctly, omnichannel marketing is a fantastic option for businesses of all sizes.

Although it’s a more resource-intensive approach to marketing in terms of both initial investment and ongoing maintenance, it provides a fantastic selection of benefits to the business involved and the customer. These benefits include a smoother user experience, higher customer retention rates, and greater brand loyalty.

If you’re interested in adopting an omnichannel approach to your marketing activities, allow Apteco to help. Our software can help you design and deliver successful campaigns that take advantage of every possible touchpoint during the customer journey.

As well as helping you provide your customers with consistent messages across every channel and touchpoint, our software allows you to communicate with your customers in exactly the right way at the right time.

Joe Meade

Group Marketing and Communications Specialist

Joe joined the Apteco marketing team in 2021. A large part of Joe's role involves coordinating regular partner and customer communications, events and exhibitions, monthly marketing reports and website development. Outside of work, Joe spends his weekends either watching or playing rugby.

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