As a marketing consultant and professor, I often come across three important concepts that are frequently discussed in the realm of channel strategy: multichannel, crosschannel, and omnichannel.
Each represents a distinct approach to how a company engages with its customers across various touchpoints.
Read this article about the marketing funnel to get a better understanding about the customer touchpoints.
It's important for marketers and students to understand these strategies and their unique characteristics.
The ability to distinguish between multichannel, crosschannel, and omnichannel strategies enables marketers and students to:
- make more informed decisions,
- create better customer experiences,
- stay competitive,
- effectively use data,
- and prepare for the dynamic nature of the marketing industry.
So let's dive deeper into each.
A multichannel strategy involves a company using multiple avenues—such as physical stores, websites, social media, and mobile apps—to reach and engage customers.
The key characteristic here is that each channel operates independently, with the focus on maximizing the effectiveness of each channel in isolation.
For example, a retailer might have a physical store, an online store, and a mobile app, each operating as a separate entity with its own strategies and goals.
Crosschannel marketing integrates some of the channels, aiming to provide a more coordinated and consistent experience across different channels.
While there is some level of integration, it's not complete. Channels are connected but may not provide a seamless experience. The focus is on using one channel to complement or support another.
For instance, a customer might browse products on a company's website and then start a purchase online and complete it in-store.
An omnichannel strategy represents the most integrated approach. It involves creating a fully integrated and cohesive customer experience across all channels.
The focus is on delivering a consistent, seamless user experience, regardless of where or how a customer interacts with the brand. All channels are interconnected and work in unison.
For example, a customer might start shopping on a mobile app, continue on a laptop, and complete the purchase in a physical store, with each step being seamlessly connected.
Differentiating The Strategies
The differentiators among these strategies lie in their level of integration, customer experience, and use of data and technology.
- Multichannel has minimal integration between the channels, crosschannel has moderate integration, and omnichannel is fully integrated across all marketing channels.
- Multichannel focuses on channel effectiveness, crosschannel on channel complementarity, and omnichannel on a seamless, unified customer experience.
- Thus, omnichannel requires sophisticated data analysis and technology to ensure consistency across all channels, which is not the case in multichannel and somewhat the case in crosschannel strategies.
The distinction between multichannel and crosschannel is generally quite clear. However, differentiating between crosschannel and omnichannel strategies can be more subtle and less obvious.
Although interpretations can vary, there are generally accepted differentiators in marketing circles. These are four aspects to keep in mind when evaluation of a channel strategy:
Degree of Integration
In crosschannel marketing, the integration is partial or selective. Certain channels may be linked, but not all. However, an omnichannel strategy demands complete integration of all channels.
Consistency of Experience
While crosschannel marketing aims for a more cohesive experience than a multichannel approach, inconsistencies may still exist between different channels. An omnichannel approach, on the other hand, ensures consistency of experience across all channels.
Crosschannel marketing often starts from the channel itself, not the customer. In contrast, an omnichannel strategy is deeply customer-centric, built around the customer's needs and preferences.
Therefore, in a marketing era where customer centricity is all the rage, most companies aspire to an omnichannel strategy. However, achieving true omnichannel is not easy and requires extensive and deep organisational integration, data management and analytic tools.
Data and Analytics
Crosschannel marketing uses data and analytics to optimize and coordinate between channels, while omnichannel marketing leverages sophisticated data analysis to ensure a seamless customer journey across all touchpoints as mentioned above.
In essence, as you move from multichannel to omnichannel, the emphasis shifts from channel-specific strategies to a holistic and integrated customer experience.
In other words, we move from an inside-out focus to an outside-in. Understanding the nuances of this continuum is central in understanding the difference between the channel strategies.
I hope this article will help you choose the right strategy for your brand, based on your customers' needs and your business goals.