Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: What’s the Difference?
Omnichannel and multichannel may sound like they're the same thing, but in reality, these two strategies are quite different. Although they both involve many digital channels and steps along the customer journey, multichannel focuses on pre-defined sales pathways for each channel, while omnichannel focuses on adapting how you sell based on evolving customer behavior.
Both are effective marketing strategies and you often have to get multichannel selling right before you’re able to excel at omnichannel commerce. Let’s explore each and take a look at choosing the best approach for your business.
What is omnichannel?
An omnichannel marketing strategy creates a connected, compelling experience across your channels regardless of where and how someone interacts with your brand. It is a customer-focused initiative that marketers use to place products and services naturally in the customer journey as opposed to more isolated pathways within multiple channels.
Examples of omnichannel
An omnichannel approach might start by sending a customer a $100-off coupon in an email. Your tracking parameters register that they open the email but don’t use it to buy anything. Because you have this customer’s email address and it’s the same one they use for their Instagram account, the path you’ve set up in your marketing automation software triggers educational and/or entertaining content over the next week when they’re scrolling their Instagram feed. This automated dripped content across channels eventually encourages them to re-engage and they come back on your website where you can resurface the $100 coupon once they’ve logged into their account or maybe sweeten the offer to a $150 discount. Omnichannel develops with customer engagement, which takes some advanced integration between all of your channels.
What is multichannel?
A multichannel approach is focused on the customer journey within multiple unique, individual channels. This is a strategy that defines purchase paths by channel as opposed to a customer’s actions informing the next step in the journey.
With multichannel marketing, you can set up a funnel for each of your channels and optimize them. You don’t have to orchestrate journeys from channel to channel and account for every variation of behavior. This makes it an easier strategy to start with and a stepping stone to creating a world-class omnichannel customer experience.
Examples of multichannel
An example of a multichannel experience based on the same situation above is when a customer abandons their cart on your website. You might offer a $100 coupon for them to come back and buy. That $100 coupon is then retargeted on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, sent via email, and so on, but the offer on each channel doesn’t change as the customer is navigating between them. It doesn’t consider how many times they’ve ignored the offer or interacted and failed to convert. There’s no personalized content, nothing new.
What’s the difference between omnichannel and multichannel?
Ultimately, the key differences between omnichannel and multichannel start with the focus point of your strategy — either the customer or the channel. While it’s only a slight shift, the fact that by definition, “multi” refers to many whereas “omni” refers to all can help clarify the difference in the strategies.
Think of omnichannel as threading the customer journey across all of your channels and multichannel as the journeys within specific individual channels. Multichannel success might also be measured by engagement with each of the multiple channels individually, while omnichannel looks at the comprehensive customer experience.
Another key differentiator between these approaches is the integration of channels. While multichannel includes more than one channel, it might not take all channels and devices into consideration when coordinating the full customer journey. Omnichannel integrates all channels into a single shopping experience regardless of channel or device. How closely you decide to integrate your channels and the complexity of the technology used to streamline your experience can also further differentiate these two strategies.
Which is right for your business?
Since multichannel marketing allows you to set up a funnel for each of your channels and optimize them independently, you don’t have to worry about coordinating journeys from channel to channel and account for every variation of behavior. As a result, this approach is less complicated and does not rely as heavily on technology orchestration, which can be an easier starting point for many teams. Then, once you have each of your channels lined up, you can start to personalize steps in the journey.
An omnichannel approach, on the other hand, will require significant resources — including initial investments and continuous IT department attention. Your technology stack will also likely call for a robust technology ecosystem including a content management system (CMS), a customer data platform (CDP), a digital asset management (DAM), and other advanced customer journey tools. You’ll have to build a technology stack that’s reliable, flexible, and easy to maintain. Don’t let this discourage you though. An omnichannel approach will help you create a desirable customer experience – just make sure to set realistic expectations when you’re getting started and choose software that will work well together to coordinate and manage this experience.
Now that you know the key differences between omnichannel and multichannel marketing, you get to choose which direction is best for you. Remember, multichannel is focused on pre-defined pathways across many channels that don’t necessarily integrate at every step. Meanwhile, omnichannel integrates all your channels with technology to personalize interactions based on evolving customer behavior — ideally in real time.
Leveraging the technology in a digital experience platform (DXP) — such as a CMS, CDP, or DAM system — will help you manage, coordinate, and distribute personalized content within and across your channels to help teams achieve their desired marketing strategy. To learn more about how Acquia can help with your multichannel and omnichannel aspirations, request, watch, or click through a free demo of our technology solutions today.
Note: This article was originally published on Widen.com and has been updated to remain current.