Omni-channel V Multi-channel
While multi-channel describes the possibly familiar ‘multiple’ channels through which a business maximises its marketing – through social media, traditional print advertising, TV and media advertising – omni-channel focuses on the experience that each individual customer has when they’re interacting with that messaging. The goal of omni-channel experience is to make that experience as immersive and seamless as possible.
So, that’s the basic difference. We’re going to use this article to go into a bit more detail and clarify some of the advantages and pitfalls of each approach.
Casting a wide net
Let's start with multi-channel...
The term multi-channel simply describes running many different channels at once to reach customers, through whatever medium. The implication, when we speak about multi-channel marketing in comparison to omni-channel, is that these channels don’t connect or relate with one another.
So, while the multi-channel model promotes mass messaging with some room to target specific demographics – there are some possible drawbacks. One of the great arguments in favour of omni-channel is the consistency of experience for the customer – which can be lost in a multi-channel model. The company has many different – usually tailored – messages being sent out at once, which may sometimes clash.
Tailoring and Experience: What's the value of Omnichannel now?
The principle behind omni-channel puts the customer experience is at the centre of the company’s messaging, with consistency as a priority.
It attempts to build a coherent and unified communication style, for the benefit of the customer. Information is freely shared between different teams to keep the experience for the customer frictionless and – importantly – consistent.
An omni-channel model is customer-focused and allows for personalisation, and thus increases brand prestige (“they took such good care of me!”) and retention. A word that has been tossed around to describe omni-channel is ‘immersive’: the business and customer are interacting during the entire process of deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
Apple is perhaps the most prominent example of omni-channel native business: appointments and customer service is mediated through digital and brick-and-mortar stores as well as – of course – Apple devices for an immersive and efficient experience.
Businesses need to look at their own needs to make a choice.
Banks and insurance, for instance, have taken omni-channel very seriously up to now: making false or inconsistent communications can take a massive toll on consumer trust when you’re handling people’s money – especially during a time of crisis (like, to pull an example out of thin air, a global pandemic). This is also where the higher rates of retention in omni-channel (an increase of 91% YoY, suggests a survey from Aspect Software) may become especially significant: the only real reason to change bank accounts is poor customer service.
In many other cases, however, the cost-benefit calculation is going to tip heavily in the direction of a multi-channel approach. A digitally-native brand will almost certainly need to integrate an omni-channel approach to some extent – customers will appreciate being able to access it from a range of locations, whether it’s social media, email or phone – and it’s asking for trouble not to have these different channels integrated to some extent. A brick-and-mortars outfit, however, may not be so pressed.
It’s worth saying that there is obviously also significant overlap: where one approach can benefit the other. Sharing customer data between channels and using those insights is ‘omni-channel’, by our definition – but can be used in an otherwise multi-channel approach without being disruptive or lots of investment.
Taken together, it might make sense for many businesses – especially younger businesses – to focus first on developing a robust multi-channel: identify a buyer persona, prioritising the best channels for your business, developing automation and analytics. Later, when it provides a growth opportunity, an omnichannel approach may recommend itself. Deciding between multi-channel and omni-channel is a process.
Hopefully, it should be clear now that multi-channel and omni-channel represent two different models – philosophies, even – on the way in which businesses can reach their customers. It’s important to stress that one is not necessarily better than the other – and there are no fine lines: parts of one approach can be tailored into the other. It’s about the business and its specific needs – as, indeed, may be the case with the customer.