A Strategic Example To Differentiate Between Omnichannel Marketing And Multichannel Marketing

If you followed me on Twitter, @jchengery, you’ll have seen a tweet about this article on iMedia Connection: 6 tech trends you can ignore in 2014.

The author, Eric Anderson, Vice President of Marketing at People to People Ambassador Programs, claims that there are six tech trends digital marketers can safely ignore in 2014.  One of them is “omnichannel,” as he believes that “multichannel” is a sufficient-enough word to encompass the idea that all marketing channels should be integrated and provide the same seamless experience for a customer, whether he/she shops in a store, via a desktop/laptop, or via a mobile device (such as a smartphone or tablet).

While I can certainly see his point about where “omnichannel” is a bit redundant, I think it does have its place in the marketing world.  A good article that showed this was this one from eMarSys, presented by New Markets Sales Director Alex Timlin.  In it, there are some great photos of the concepts of multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing.

Essentially, omnichannel marketing is where the marketing process to a person is consistent and seamless across all channels, whereas multichannel marketing is where the person is marketed across multiple channels, but the message and experience may not be consistent across all of them.

You may know that the prefixes of those words indicate a great deal about the relevant strategies.  Both come from Latin (for the record, I was a Latin major, so I’m very familiar with these prefixes):  “Omni” stands for “all,” while “multi” stands for “many” (which is where the word “multiple” comes from).  Thus, omnichannel marketing refers to having a strategy across all channels, while multichannel marketing refers to having a strategy across many channels.

Anderson believes that the word omnichannel isn’t even needed if multichannel marketing strategies are properly set up, but as Timlin points out, many industries are just learning about the need for proper integration across channels to ensure there is a consistent marketing message and experience across all of them.

It got me thinking on what would be a good example to clearly illustrate the differences between omnichannel marketing and multichannelmarketing.  I think (and hope) the following example will help.

Imagine a military army that has four different divisions in it.  These divisions consist of tanks, jeeps, planes, and troops. (If you’ve ever played a strategy game on your computer, or on any of the popular gaming systems, such as Nintendo, PlayStation, or XBox, it may be helpful to picture that game or games in your mind.)  Each division has a commander.  The mission is to infiltrate the enemy’s land and take the enemy’s headquarters, which is heavily fortified.  The enemy knows that the army is coming and has four divisions of tanks, jeeps, planes, and troops to counter.

Here are two scenarios:

Scenario 1 (Multichannel approach): Before the battle, the commanders decide to attack from each direction (north, south, east, and west), figuring that they will defeat the enemy divisions and surround the headquarters.  The attack proceeds, but before each army division can defeat the enemy, the enemy divisions retreat and becomes a unified force surrounding the headquarters.  The commanders and divisions are cut off from each other, so they continue trying to plow ahead, with only marginal success.  While they make some headway against the enemy, casualties and fatalities are high because the enemy is unified and able to utilize all of their resources (jeeps, tanks, planes, and troops) against the army, while the army’s divisions are separated, thus not matching up the best resources to attack the enemy. Thus, the division’s tanks are being bombarded by planes, while another division’s troops are being thwarted by the enemy’s tanks. They suffer heavy losses against the enemy.

Scenario 2 (Omnichannel approach): Before the battle, the commanders discuss attacking from the north, south, east, and west, but they also discuss the possibility of the enemy divisions combining into one unit before the separate divisions are defeated.  Thus, the commanders decide that they must be on the same page with their attack strategy if the enemy does combine into one unit.  As a result, they choose to integrate each division so that there are an equal number of tanks, jeeps, troops, and planes in each division from the start.  The battle commences, and the enemy does combine into one unit.  However, the army was prepared for that possibility and starts to combine  its resources strategically against the enemy (using planes to bomb the tanks, using jeeps to overrun the enemy troops, etc.).  There are few casualties as the army is able to overtake the enemy and take over the headquarters.

Just as in the example, there are several divisions (commonly referred to as “channels”) on the same team.  This is the case in any company in any industry:

– Product Creation

– Product Distribution

– Marketing

– Social Media

– Management

– Etc.

The channels of the company all want to make the company more successful and profitable, just as the army divisions want to achieve victory.  With a multichannel approach, the company channels don’t really know what the other channels are doing and aren’t allocating the resources together in the most effective manner to make the company successful.  Thus, much of the effort isn’t as optimized as it could be with an omnichannel approach.  With an omnichannel approach, each channel is aware of the other channels’ efforts to help the company be more successful and profitable, and integrates its own resources and abilities to help the other channels’ efforts to be more unified and successful.  As a result, the effort across all channels is more optimized, and, thus, more effective in promoting the company’s main message and marketing strategy to its target market, resulting in greater success and profitability.

While it would seem that companies would want their multiple channels to coordinate with each other in order to make their efforts more successful on a unified front, it’s not as easy as just going out and doing your best for the company (much like the army divisions just plowing ahead with their individual resources).  If your channels aren’t on the same page, much of the effort is duplicated and isn’t optimized for maximum effect.  This is why it’s critical to have your channels on the same page, knowing what each other channel is doing, and working together in order to achieve that symbiotic approach that will fully maximize the efforts of each channel and provide the best results for the company.

This is why I believe that the term, “omnichannel marketing,” came to be born. It is to remind companies that just having many channels working as hard as possible toward the goal of making the company more successful and profitable will often not lead to the best results.  There needs to be coordination amongst all channels to ensure that every product test, every marketing campaign, every distribution channel, and every social media platform is on the same page in regards to how the company wants to be perceived in the marketplace by its target market, how the company will go after that target market with its products/services, and how the company will respond to any feedback, complaints, and interaction with that target market.

What do you think?  Do you think “omnichannel marketing” is a necessary term in digital marketing today as Timlin and I think? Or, do you think that “omnichannel marketing” is not needed and that “multichannel marketing” is sufficient, as Anderson thinks?

Vote in the poll below, and let me know any further thoughts in the comments section- thanks!

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