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Omnichannel vs. Multi-Channel Marketing: Is There a Difference?

If you’re marketing to your customer base across multiple channels, the terms “omnichannel” and “multi-channel” may sometimes be used interchangeably—but in fact, there are distinct differences in omnichannel vs. multi-channel marketing. In this article, we’ll look at what each term means and showcase some examples of how they’re used.

Marketing Channels

But what is a marketing “channel” in the first place?

A channel refers to the means by which you engage with your customer. While 30 years ago that was almost exclusively through print media, radio and in-store displays, today, these channels are largely digital.

A typical brand may use a variety of channels for reaching customers, including, but not limited to:

A brand’s mix of channels, and the specific platforms and tactics they might use, will vary on a company-by-company—or even customer-by-customer—basis. Rather than focusing on your brand, focus on understanding who your audience is and getting data about their behaviors so you can identify the right combination of channels to engage with them.

Omnichannel vs. Multi-Channel Marketing

Whatever your mix of channels, you’ll need to develop a marketing strategy to engage your customer base on the channels most relevant to them as individuals. And here’s where the difference between multichannel and omnichannel marketing comes into play.

Multi-channel marketing refers to using a variety of channels to reach your customers. You may engage with your customers through both digital and offline channels, including email, social media, SMS marketing, in-app notifications and direct mail, for instance.

Omnichannel marketing is focused around tracking every touchpoint that the customer has with your brand, from start to finish, including at point of sale, the supply chain and other retail-focused channels. Rather than putting the product in the center of your strategy, the customer is the priority—and every marketing message is tailored to meet them where they are on their buying journey.

Let’s look at each strategy in more depth.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Multi-channel marketing is a way to integrate all of your marketing channels together into a cohesive approach.

In multi-channel marketing, you can set up dynamic workflows in which an action on one channel triggers an action on another channel. When a user visits a page for a product via your email newsletter, but doesn’t make a purchase, you can follow up with an SMS message offering a special discount on that item. Over time, you can track user behavior and preferences and segment them down to individual behavior, including not just product preferences, but the channels that they engage with, and the times of day that they’re most likely to engage.

Brands are learning the importance of ensuring that every channel can “talk” to one another, so it’s important to make sure that you are storing and sharing your customer data in a centralized platform that allows your marketing teams to understand each customer’s entire digital journey.

Omnichannel Marketing

Omnichannel marketing builds on multi-channel marketing by extending it to offline channels as well, ensuring that channel integration is complete not only within the marketing journey, but throughout the entire purchase, sale and post-sale process.

For example, consider BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up in Store) in retail. To maintain a smooth customer experience, your brand needs to ensure full integration across all channels, including merging your in-store and online inventory tracking systems. Historically, when customers purchased items online, the products would be sent from a fulfillment center; a customer could only purchase an item available on store shelves by physically going into the store and making a purchase.

Through omnichannel marketing, many brands now provide customers with multiple options for how to purchase items, even when using ecommerce channels. Your brand will continue gathering data on the customer’s activities regardless of where they occur, and can respond accordingly with marketing or post-purchase campaigns across all relevant channels.

At  Target, for example, you can search for a swimsuit and see its availability both for shipping and at local stores near you. This provides more opportunities for same-day purchases, versus waiting several days for delivery, and may provide access to inventory that is out of stock online.

Many brands also enable you to purchase an item online, but return it in-store. This takes the friction out of the returns process, as many customers would prefer to hand over an item in a physical store and immediately receive a refund than to repackage an item and wait for it to be returned to receive a refund.

Omnichannel marketing is focused on providing customers with many options for both connecting with your brand and making purchases. Some customers want to shop in store; some want to order online and pick up in-store; some want their items shipped to their home; still others may benefit from a “try before you buy” option that enables customers to try out items at home for a period of time before being charged, like Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe. The goal is to make sure all of your options are integrated and easily accessible to your customers, so that they can customize the entire shopping process based on their preferences.

Summary of Omnichannel vs. Multi-Channel Marketing

To execute flawless multi-channel and omnichannel marketing campaigns, and scale a highly personalized marketing approach to audiences of millions, you need a best-in-class cross-channel marketing platform like Iterable. Iterable makes it easy to build highly segmented marketing campaigns that provide sequenced and individualized messaging across all of your marketing channels—enabling you to engage with your audience on a granular level, based on their specific behaviors and preferences.

The importance of providing an integrated experience is clear: more than 80% of customers are more likely to become loyal customers to brands that provide an integrated experience across all of their channels. Furthermore, brands that use multi-channel and omnichannel marketing strategies achieve 91% higher year-over-year customer retention than brands that don’t. To gain a highly loyal, high-value customer base, make sure all channels at your disposal are working in harmony to create a unified, unforgettable customer experience.

Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform that powers unified customer experiences and empowers marketers to create, optimize and measure relevant interactions and experiences customers love. Leading brands, like Cinemark, DoorDash, Calm, Madison Reed, and Box, choose Iterable to power world-class customer experiences throughout the entire lifecycle. Discover our growth marketing solutions for personalization, increasing customer engagement, and more. Discover our platform and schedule a demo today.