Omni Channel vs. Multi-Channel Marketing: The 360-degree Journey
Even seasoned digital marketers can be hard pressed to describe the difference between omni-channel and multi-channel marketing, but customers are well aware of how these go-to digital marketing solutions can define their experience. They are unlikely to use this in-house terminology, but are certain to recognize the various ways they engage with your brand in today’s saturated marketplace.
Given that, any marketer faced with having to decide between omni-channel vs. multi-channel approaches has a crucial decision to make. Both have their places in the marketing toolkit, and both draw on similar concepts and resources in the effort to engage consumers. But to implement either omni-channel or multi-channel approaches effectively, it’s essential to choose the right one for the right purpose at the right time.
Drawing the Line Between the Two
Let’s begin by defining the often conflated terms. Theoretically it may be possible for a digital business to operate along a single channel these days, but that would be a rarity. Any time you offer your customers multiple ways to engage with your brand — website, social media, email, telephone and mobile apps — you’re engaging in multi-channel marketing, which is the standard for today’s businesses.
Omni-channel marketing utilizes a range of channels as well but with one big difference. Where multi-channel often offers customers different experiences across channels, omni delivers a consistent, seamless customer experience regardless of the particular channels a consumer engages with a business.
Omni-channel vs. Multi-channel Marketing, is There a Clear Winner?
- Consider retention. That omni approach is quickly gaining favor among top digital marketers because both academic studies and practical experience have shown that consumers often balk at potentially jarring differences among a brand’s channels. An article at CustomerThink.com put that insight into rather startling perspective. The author cited one comprehensive study that showed businesses that offered an omni-channel customer experience nearly doubled customer retention rates — 6.5 percent as opposed to 3.4 percent — when compared to those that didn’t.
- Stay in the right lane. That’s an eye-opening stat, but it’s not to say that marketers should abandon the multi-channel approach altogether, as it does have its advantages. For one thing, it serves companies well when they want to focus on reaching optimal performance for selected channels, or target clearly defined audiences. In effect, they structure their marketing activities in what Stacy Schwartz, an adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School, has termed separate swim lanes. Each lane functions largely independently of the others, and is monitored and analyzed separately as well.
- Tailor your messaging. The net result is similar to a 1,500 meter freestyle race in the pool, with each entity pursuing its goals in its own way. That can drive channels to achieve maximum impact, in some cases by tailoring messages and customer experience, but obviously it can also lead to siloing and the sort of fragmented customer experience that drives many consumers away.
- Remain consistent. In contrast to multi-channel, omni-channel marketing recognizes that consumers themselves take an omni-channel approach to engaging with businesses digitally. It’s not unusual — in fact, it’s the norm by now — for a customer to utilize many different channels in the course of discovering, researching and purchasing a product. For that customer, the consistency of the overall experience across channels wins out over a more fragmented approach.
- Utilize technological tools wisely. On a technical level, both omni-channel and multi-channel marketing approaches are supported by integrated, holistic software solutions that have emerged in recent years. These offer marketers cutting-edge analytics and unparalleled visualization of all facets, and channels, in a campaign through a real-time dashboard. By enabling marketers to aggregate, optimize and visualize all of the channels via a single accessible dashboard, today’s advanced systems are beneficial for either approach.
The Bottom Line: Multi-channel is a Tactical Approach, Omni-channel is Strategic
When you get right down to it the major difference between the two related approaches to digital marketing is that multi-channel is tactical and omni-channel is strategic. That distinction can be a decisive factor for a marketer trying to determine the path to take.
Certainly, successful campaigns can be built on a series of tactics that address objectives that, in the end, add up to the whole of the campaign. Multi-channel marketing can support that effort more than adequately, especially when complemented by integrated tech solutions.
In the end, however, the strategic nature of omni-channel marketing essentially tips the scale for most modern marketing professionals. Simply put, it better reflects and responds to the complexities of both the contemporary consumer’s expectations, and the ever-evolving digital marketing field itself. As such, it provides marketers with the most effective means to maximize the impact of campaigns and contribute significantly to their companies’ overall success.
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