If you’re a marketer, you’ve no doubt heard the terms multichannel and omnichannel bouncing around. And while they kinda-sorta mean similar things, they are actually two separate marketing practices that, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, will ensure your brand’s widespreadness, consistency and omnipresence — both online and off.
We’re going to break down these 2 strategies in as simple terms as we can to illustrate their differences. Then, we’ll serve you a helpful handful of examples that will drill their distinct meanings home (in your brain).
Multichannel Vs Omnichannel Marketing
OK, first things first, the important distinctions between these terms…
This approach to marketing, sometimes called cross channel marketing, is when brands are present on and interact with their customers via more than one communication channel. The focal point of this approach is usually to sell products and services.
Multichannel marketing can be both direct and indirect, and combines inbound and outbound marketing strategies. It’s all about spreading yourself out over as many channels as you see fit to meet a potential customer where they’re at, deliver consistent messaging and brand image, and generally be where people are already looking.
Today, you can see great examples of this everywhere. Most every brand has implemented multichannel marketing to some extent. But as an example, take what Brafton does for businesses. We use a combination of PPC, email marketing, social media, blog posting, website creation, and more to help brands reach their audience. This is multichannel.
Omnichannel, on the other hand, is more about the customer experience than it is the product or service — although, all things point back to sales eventually, right? The goal of this approach is to build seamless brand integrations throughout a variety of touchpoints — both offline and online.
A great example of this today is Apple — a brand whose vast majority of sales come from its eCommerce business. The success of their online store has naturally shifted the focus from its brick-and-mortar locations, making their physical store locations less of a sales priority and more of a customer experience priority that augments their eCommerce business.
You purchase a product online and when you need expert assistance, be it a repair, general information, details about their various services, etc., you stroll into one of their storefronts to get help from the Genius Bar. And while you absolutely can still purchase products in-store, it’s not necessarily the main drive to visit. Apple’s online and offline service offerings are a pretty seamless experience.
So that’s the main difference: One is sales driven, and the other, customer experience.
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Marketing In More Than One Medium
Now that we know the bulk of the difference between a multichannel and omnichannel marketing approach, it’s worth it to analyze some of the most popular (and successful) marketing channels today, with respect to each practice.
First, multichannel. But let’s break it down even further into examples of inbound and outbound channels.
An inbound marketing effort is all about cultivating a meaningful relationship with your customers through robust and purposeful content. It’s less about snatching the lead or closing the sale by any means necessary and more about following what’s called the “inbound methodology”:
- Attract: Through social media posts and SEO-focused content, such as blogs.
- Convert: Via CTAs, landing pages and forms.
- Close: With customer relationship management (CRM), workflows and emails.
- Delight: By conducting some social monitoring or sending a survey.
Emphasis on the “delight.” Inbound marketing content should be alluring and engaging and answer questions that consumers are already asking.
Outbound marketing, while still certainly an applicable approach, is far less popular than it once was. This is where you’ll find all your billboards, print ads, TV (or, perhaps much more relevant, YouTube) ads, direct mail (flyers) and some other forms of online and offline advertising.
In short, outbound marketing involves reaching out to, essentially, a cold audience, whereas inbound is all about tailoring content to a target audience’s specific needs.
When you combine inbound and outbound channels, you’ll find yourself waist deep in a multichannel marketing campaign.
As we’ve established, omnichannel is more about creating a seamless customer experience across platforms. In other words, it’s about more than just the channels themselves. With an omnichannel approach, you’re looking at things like brick-and-mortar stores, apps and other online platforms, and creating harmony between each.
Omnichannel strategies often involve more than just marketing and sales teams, stretching further to include stakeholders across:
- Customer service.
- Customer success.
The Ultimate Goal of Each Marketing Approach
OK, this one is pretty easy: sales. After all, it’s still business, and business needs sales. The difference we’re highlighting is how those sales are acquired. Directly, indirectly; inbound-ly, outbound-ly; multichannel-y, omnipresent-ly; intentionally, coldly.
If you can get the stars to align, having a multichannel and omnichannel strategy at the same time can be a game changer. You bring customers in through the former, and make them want to stick around with the latter. It’s a winning combination.
But enough explanation. Let’s get into some real-world examples of multichannel and omnichannel applications to put the finishing touches on this mostly (hopefully) clear picture we’ve been painting in this blog post.
Examples of Multichannel and Omnichannel Marketing
With any luck, these should now be a little clearer, but examples are always welcome and helpful — so we gathered some for you. We’ll kick these off with omnichannel before moving on to multichannel.
First up, Spotify.
The music streaming giant, Spotify, is a great example of omnichannel success.
The platform has multiple apps across web, mobile and desktop, and they all integrate seamlessly with each other. For example, if you’re using Spotify on your phone and then all of a sudden pull up the desktop app ahead of your intentional and deep study session, the player will automatically sync up with its mobile version — allowing you to immediately pick up from where you left off. But beyond this cross-platform synchronicity, it’s also seamless in how you’re able to interact with other users.
Take this scenario, for example: You’re over at a friend’s house and they’re playing music over their Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. You want to ask them to queue up a song before remembering — you can just do it yourself. You pull out your phone, open Spotify, and it immediately recognizes your friends activity, prompting you to join the session on the same speaker so you can queue up your own songs — with no interruption in the music whatsoever. Pretty seamless if you ask us, and a great example of omnichannel-ness that delivers a great customer experience.
Starbucks, the coffee behemoth that it is, is also mammoth in other ways — like its omnichannel experience.
Few (and we mean few) come close to the success of Starbucks’ rewards program. Customers can check, update and make changes to their account across a variety of channels, including the popular app, their website or even in-store. If you want to reload your account with funds for more coffee and snacks (to fuel those intentional study sessions with Spotify in the background), you can do so using the latter methods — and it will update across all of these channels in real time. No matter which channel you use, it’s a homogeneous experience; another quality example of a strong omnichannel experience.
The last example we’ll share that showcases expert omnichannel integration is Sephora — the makeup and beauty chain that has seen major success.
Like the Apple example we shared at the top of the blog, Sephora supports its in-store shopping with its eCommerce operation for a seamless retail experience. Although Sephora still relies heavily on its brick-and-mortar operation for sales, the brand gives exclusive access to certain features to Beauty Insider members. Shoppers can build a “beauty bag” online, and all the products added to the bag are… omnipresent. Your account will save items and, when shopping in-store, users can access them on tablets for quick and easy access and information, making in-store purchasing that much easier.
Disney is a powerhouse, no doubt about it. And whether you’re a self proclaimed “Disney adult” or not, seeing the magic in their omnichannel marketing approach is pretty easy. The beloved brand offers so much to so many people, which warrants multiple websites — all strong with an even stronger customer experience. Their site is a world-class example of mobile-friendliness. Not only does it work great on mobile, but once you’ve booked a trip, you can plan it in its entirety through their app — down to the smallest little details.
They’ve created a frictionless experience across all of their channels — augmenting the in-person experience with all the fantastically optimized online stuff. This means it’s easier to plan your visit to Disney to ensure that you walk by most of the corn dog stands…
Now, a couple examples of excellent real-world multichannel strategies.
Grammarly, the cloud-based typing assistant, gets multichannel marketing right. You’ve likely seen their YouTube ads, which are further complemented by equal-quality display ads and email marketing campaigns. Already, with the handful of channels and consistent brand images throughout, it’s a great example of multichannel marketing done right. Further, they offer a great selection of easy-to understand videos that show newcomers how to actually use the software — some of their video ads are even tutorials.
+1 for Grammarly and multichannel marketing. Wait. This isn’t even a competition.
This is a bit of an old example, but we love it so much — and it does such a great job illustrating a multichannel approach to marketing — that we couldn’t not include it.
A handful of years ago, the UK fashion retailer TopShop partnered with Twitter to sync up a myriad of data from the platform with data from the retailer’s ads to create live billboards for London Fashion Week (LFW). Then, some magic tech would scan tweets that used the hashtag associated with LFW at the time to display relevant TopShop products on the billboard — a multichannel combination of social media and physical billboard advertising.
Who knew product images of color blocked fashion could make such a great multichannel experience? Besides TopShop, I mean.
Now, we hope you’re able to make a clear distinction between these two popular, albeit often confused, marketing strategies. If you find yourself getting confused down the road, just remember: multichannel = multiple channels; omnichannel = seamless customer experience.