Media Coverage

Omnichannel and Multichannel: Separate Words (Worlds Apart)

Just as marketers had grown comfortable with the idea of the multichannel opportunity, an even shinier object came into view: omnichannel marketing. And because no one wants to be caught using last year’s lingo, omnichannel has quickly jumped into the vernacular. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they represent two very discrete notions. The more marketing technology matures to support true omnichannel campaigns, the more important knowing the difference will be.

So, let’s rewind and clarify what makes a campaign omnichannel versus multichannel before we look at why omnichannel is an increasingly vital approach to reaching and persuading consumers. Then, we’ll explore some of the challenges that we currently face when attempting to run true omnichannel campaigns.

A multichannel marketing strategy is one delivered through more than one channel. You see a TV commercial for a product. Later, you may see a banner ad for that same product while you’re on the internet or hear an ad while listening to the radio in the car. The marketing wisdom is if you know your customers are splitting time between a myriad of different touch points, hit all those touch points to ensure that, at some point and on some device, the customer gets the message.

Omni, on the other hand, means in all places. However, an omnichannel marketing strategy is more than just delivering a single message in all places. Unlike the more brand-centric multichannel, omnichannel is very customer focused. The goal is to deliver messages that are relevant to where customers are on their journey with a brand — to be omnipresent and omniscient about each customer’s needs at different points in time.

An easy way to discern the difference is if you imagine your campaign is a story. With a multichannel campaign, there’s a good chance your customer may hear the same chapter through different channels. This repetition is boring, and it may make the customer shut down mentally.

With an omnichannel campaign, you’re revealing a different chapter at every touch point. They may be exposed to one part of the story as they drive by a billboard. Then they’ll hear another part on the radio while in the car. Perhaps a third part will unfold as they’re browsing the internet on their PC at work. When they get home, they hear even more of the story during a podcast they listen to on their mobile device.

It’s more personal, and the holistic story builds deeper interest and better understanding — and, hopefully, drives purchase intent with customers. It is as if you’re walking alongside, helping them on their customer journey.

Omni Challenges

Multichannel campaign executions have become common. There are few brands that would only advertise on TV or solely on social media, for example. Omnichannel, on the other hand, is far from ubiquitous. In fact, full-fledged omnichannel marketing deployments tend to be rare because following a customer from device to device and from online to offline is incredibly complex, as is the identification of what stage a customer is at in the buying process.

A multichannel plan tends to make assumptions about a customer’s position in the purchase funnel, according to the type of media with which they’re interacting. TV, for example, is often considered good for general awareness-building, whereas digital retargeting is used for pinpointing customers who have indicated purchase consideration by their behavior, such as having looked at shoes on a particular merchant site on that same device. In the latter example, however, to leverage this as a truly omnichannel experience, the fact that they looked at those shoes and the ensuing offers related to this knowledge would also need to follow them from device to device.

How can a marketer possibly know that it’s the same person from device to device? There needs to be a “glue” that can hold together all the messy moments within the chaos of consumers’ ad-infused daily lives and preferences. While we know the main ingredient of that glue is data, it’s still a huge challenge to link together the multiple mobile moments and other digital touch points created every day. We leave a little trail here and another trail there, and sometimes those trails just don’t connect.

Siloed organizations are also a big part of the problem. Different departments have control over different parts of campaigns, and the data they collect can be found quite literally underneath different desks in different offices, stored on various hard drives, for who knows what reason. If there’s no single place to centralize and unify an organization’s data, then there’s no way to see the connections or to leverage them as part of an effective end-to-end journey.

Technology is another challenge. Legacy systems designed to run basic single-channel customer interactions are also typically unconnected. A marketer may have a sophisticated programmatic or social platform, but lacking interconnectivity across and between systems can create huge gaps in the ambition for a holistic campaign.

But all hope is not lost. Marketing technology is evolving rapidly to meet these omnichannel needs. And while no single, simple, plug-and-play solution has yet emerged, we can work with our existing tech stacks to get our data in a place where we’re close to the omnichannel dream.

In my next article, we’ll explore in more detail how marketers can better align the components of their tech stack to position their brands for omnichannel success, from ways to centralize data and implement workflow solutions for easier campaign set-up to the types of analytics needed to understand how different channels work together to drive your best performance.

Kerry Bianchi is President and CEO of Visto, a technology company bringing transparency, interoperability and accountability to digital advertising.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives.

Originally published in Forbes on 12/26/18.