As an agency, you’re in the business of creating success for your clients. And while you already have a proven roadmap you use as a starting point for new clients, there’s no single path that delivers strong results 100% of the time.
One key element in planning and executing a successful marketing campaign is selecting the right marketing strategy.
Most businesses, including startups, B2B companies, ecommerce marketplaces, and retail stores, will benefit from either omnichannel marketing or multichannel marketing.
The choice isn’t obvious for every business and every client, which is why we’ve created this guide to help you decide which marketing strategy is best for each of your clients.
Let’s get started with some definitions.
What is multichannel marketing?
Multichannel marketing is an approach to reaching the customer base that works across more than one marketing channel. Of course, for that definition to make sense we need to define “marketing channel” — so let’s do that first.
A marketing channel is any distinct method of reaching customers. Print ads, physical store (in-store) advertising, display ads, social media advertising, organic search, email, and more are all different channels, and there are plenty more.
Multichannel marketing, then, is simply using multiple channels to reach customers. It sounds simple enough — reaching customers where they are is a lot easier to do than reaching them where they aren’t.
One key distinction here is that the various channels in a multichannel marketing strategy aren’t necessarily connected. A brand may or may not use the same campaign assets on a billboard as on paid search, but the user experiences aren’t designed to be cohesive.
Each channel serves to grow brand awareness or to funnel viewers to products and services in hopes of converting.
Benefits of multichannel marketing
Multichannel marketing delivers many benefits to brands:
Reaches audiences where they already are
Builds brand awareness quickly
Promotes specific products, services, and experiences
Is simpler to execute (and often cheaper)
What is omnichannel marketing?
Omnichannel marketing also reaches audiences across multiple channels, but it does so differently. The “omni” part of the term doesn’t mean a brand must be omnipresent (existing on all conceivable channels). Instead, it means that the brand provides a consistent unified experience on all the marketing and sales channels it’s using.
With omnichannel marketing, the seamless customer experience feels similar no matter which channel the customer engages with. Each channel is designed in a customer-centric way with the goal of meeting customer needs, not just exposing them to a brand.
When engaging with an omnichannel approach, customers may leave off an interaction on one channel and pick it back up on another without starting over from scratch.
Benefits of omnichannel marketing
Omnichannel marketing may be tougher to pull off, but it delivers powerful benefits:
Creates a better customer experience
Provides better data, leading to stronger analytics
Produces stronger brand recognition and brand loyalty
Enables higher-quality customer support
Key differences between omnichannel and multichannel marketing
These two marketing approaches have some overlap, which makes it difficult to see the differences until experiencing them firsthand.
Let’s break down those differences, showing how the two approaches diverge in seven areas.
1. Integration vs. isolation
Omnichannel marketing is highly integrated, pulling all marketing channels and customer touchpoints into a single flow, creating a seamless and consistent customer experience across them.
Multichannel, on the other hand, activates multiple channels that operate independently. There’s less integration overall and a much greater opportunity for isolation, which can lead to a fragmented or disjointed customer experience.
Clint Fontanella at HubSpot puts it this way:
“In a multichannel environment, the user has access to a variety of communication options that aren’t necessarily synchronized or connected. However, during an omnichannel experience, there are not only multiple channels, but the channels are connected so you can move between them seamlessly.”
2. Consistency and personalization
In the areas of consistency and personalization, omnichannel marketing comes out ahead. This approach creates more consistent messaging, branding, and customer experiences no matter where the customer engages with the brand.
At the same time, it personalizes the approach (within that consistency) based on the customer’s behavior and demonstrated preferences.
These two areas are both weak points for multichannel marketing, which may lack consistency. The customer experience can vary significantly between channels, and while there may be some personalization, it tends to be less targeted.
Multichannel is more concerned with getting the message across in as many places and to as many people, and it’s less concerned with keeping that message perfectly consistent.
3. Customer-centric vs. channel-centric
Omnichannel marketing is customer-centric. The goal here is to understand individual customer needs and then deliver them. Whether a customer wants to engage with a brand via phone, on-site chat, or social media, the omnichannel business meets customers where they want to be met.
Multichannel marketing, in contrast, can be channel-centric, focusing on building numbers (followers, page views, clicks, etc.,) rather than on meeting specific customer needs. Because each channel is managed separately, multichannel marketing runs the risk of creating both a disjointed customer experience and a fragmented view of the customer.
4. Data-driven vs. channel presence:
Omnichannel marketing relies on data and analytics to understand customer behavior and preferences across channels. This data-driven approach allows brands to target communication and focus on the channels delivering the best results.
Multichannel marketing tends to focus on establishing a presence on various platforms and channels. The goal is to reach a broader, larger audience (“the more clicks, the better!”) rather than to use data to focus on a more specific audience.
5. Seamless customer journey vs. disjointed experience
Omnichannel marketing focuses on the customer journey, which means customers must be able to transition between channels seamlessly (in terms of customer service) and should experience a coherent, consistent marketing message as they bounce in and out of various marketing channels.
The result is a continuous and connected customer journey that looks and feels the same from start to finish.
Because multichannel marketing focuses on growing channels and reach, not on creating a seamless experience, it risks creating a more disjointed customer experience with less emphasis on connecting the dots between channels.
6. Customer engagement vs. channel usage
Customer engagement is a huge element in omnichannel marketing. This approach seeks to create meaningful engagements that build trust and ongoing customer relationships. This isn’t always easy to do well, but the results can be extremely powerful.
In contrast, multichannel marketing focuses more on investing in channels to increase exposure, visibility, and/or reach.
Of course, this isn’t to say that omnichannel means not reaching large audiences, or that multichannel means you’ll never build meaningful relationships. To be clear, we’re talking about the general focus — what’s easier to do under each approach.
7. Holistic vs. siloed approach
The last point of differentiation also comes back to interconnectedness. Omnichannel marketing takes a holistic approach that views all channels as interconnected parts of the customer journey. Every interaction matters because every interaction is either pushing the customer forward or driving the customer away.
This sounds like the obvious choice — who wouldn’t want to do it this way? — but again, the challenge is in proper execution. “Holistic” runs the risk of breaking down into no one knowing what to focus on, which can quickly sink a marketing campaign or customer success initiative.
Multichannel marketing may instead treat each channel as a separate entity. It’s easier to know who’s doing what on any given day, but the silos this approach creates often lead to missed opportunities for synergy.
Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses, but the right marketing agency software options can help any agency get better at executing both omnichannel and multichannel strategies.
Selecting the ideal approach for your client's needs
As an agency, you have the difficult task of selecting the right approach for each client.
While an omnichannel experience is typically a more powerful approach than multichannel, it isn’t always easy to get right — and getting it wrong can backfire. It’s also not necessarily the best approach in every context and for every client.
There are a number of factors to evaluate as you make this decision, including:
Client's business goals
First up is understanding a client’s business goals. Why are they partnering with you, and what have they told you about the outcomes they’re hoping to achieve?
For example, let’s say you’re supporting an ecommerce business with a single product (imagine any of a host of Shark Tank contestants). The product doesn’t require much in terms of customer journey or customer support, and the main objective is “flooding the zone” with information about the product.
This is a scenario where the complexities of omnichannel might not be worth the investment. A modest multichannel approach that tells lots of people, “Hey, we’re here, and you want this thing we make,” is probably preferable.
But what if you’re supporting a SaaS business that’s struggling with customer retention or with converting free users into paid users? Plenty of people are signing up for their product, but most drop off before converting.
In that case, it’s not a matter of getting the “we exist” message out there. The problem is somewhere in the customer journey or in customer success: People don’t see the value of the paid version, or they don’t understand how to keep getting value out of the product.
Here, an omnichannel approach that reaches customers wherever they are with consistent, relationship-building messages, could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Target audience also matters here. Does your client need to appeal to huge swathes of consumers for a one-time purchase? Does it need to capture a very niche group of businesses for a five-figure software licensing deal? What about a local audience of regular diners who love and believe in the restaurant?
Target audiences at lower price points and more transactional in nature may sometimes do better with multichannel, while those that rely on relationship-building or ongoing success with the product almost always do better with omnichannel.
Industry and competition
The client's industry and the competitive landscape they’re in can both be critical factors in the decision-making process. Clients with complex customer journeys often benefit more from an omnichannel marketing strategy because the challenge is reaching that “aha! moment” and then experiencing continued success.
Competition can shape the marketing approach, too. If a client is simply competing for awareness in an uncrowded market, a rough-and-tumble multichannel strategy may be the right first step. But if a client is striving for differentiation — telling a story of why customers should choose them over 17 rivals — an omnichannel strategy is probably the way to go.
Data and analytics capabilities
The quality of available data could also play a role. Omnichannel marketing relies on data-driven insights and personalization, which means you’ll need good sales and customer data (and the tools to personalize at scale) if you want to succeed with this model.
Marketing automation software can help here, both to collect better data and to free up marketing teams from tedious responsibilities so they can focus on understanding and taking action on that data.
If the data doesn’t yet exist or the client doesn’t have the bandwidth or budget to engage in personalization, multichannel may be the only option.
Consider as well how practical each strategy would be based on the client's available resources. Clients vary in their budgets, staff availability and capability, and technology maturity.
Omnichannel marketing performs well, but it requires more in each of these categories. For this reason, resource constraints may lead to a preference for multichannel marketing.
Scalability and future growth
Last, be sure to select the strategy that works not just for right now, but for where the client wants to be in six months, a year, and five years. If multichannel is a stopgap and nothing more, then overinvestment can hamper future growth. On the other side of the coin, if a company is mature and future growth seems minimal, the added resource burden of omnichannel may not be worth the cost.
Whichever strategy you choose, be sure to build upon it in a way that can adapt as the client's business grows.
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