Multichannel vs Omnichannel – which are you really?

Are you tired of those seemingly perfect omnichannel diagrams that showcase a harmonious blend of different channels? They might look great on paper, but what they don’t reveal is just how challenging it can be to execute seamlessly.

Perhaps you’ve already navigated the waters of multichannel operations, but you’re well aware that there’s a treasure trove of untapped data waiting to be discovered. Then there’s the data you do possess, often locked away in departmental silos, where its true potential remains hidden.

Data isolation is a perilous trap, akin to words taken out of context—the entire meaning can shift. Relying solely on monthly board meetings to showcase data won’t be sufficient to keep your business afloat in today’s competitive landscape.

What truly propels business growth is a dual strategy: attracting a fresh influx of customers while retaining your existing ones. But how do you achieve this elusive goal?

The key lies in establishing a presence across all the channels your target audience frequents, seamlessly integrating data from these diverse touchpoints, and using the insights gained to consistently craft cohesive, compelling, and personalised experiences.

Yes it’s hard but there are experts in this area, from working with external agencies who’ll drive results for you, to consultants who’ll steer you in the right direction, to taking advice from other leaders who were in the same boat as you.

Two of the most used business approach buzzwords in the eCommerce and online brand community are ‘multichannel’ and ‘omnichannel’, but do brands understand the differences in each approach and why they might not be getting the results they need based on the method they are using?

As the online shopping experience has become more and more popularised thanks to the seamless convenience and smooth customer experience that many eCommerce platforms exhibit the need to understand how you do business and the long-term effects are vital for growth.

For example, a multichannel and an omnichannel approach are two ways to structure your organisation and collaboration efforts, but they tend to be mistaken for one another and their individual benefits and setbacks.

This means that growth strategies and organisational structures can become mixed up in their execution vs. their goals.

So, let’s look at what each approach is and what it does for a brand to better understand why they are different.

Multichannel Approach: Utilises an array of different platforms and communication methods separately to make more people aware of a business.

Omnichannel Approach: Creates a consistent customer experience for people who are already aware of and engaging with a business via connected communication streams.

With a multichannel approach, the aim really is just to grab the attention of as many people as possible, favouring volume over all, which is possibly the biggest difference between the two methods.

This is because it’s almost the complete opposite of what an omnichannel approach stands for: customer-centricity and a tailored experience through the use of streamlining technology.

Another key difference is that a multichannel approach focuses on channels, and this usually means that there would be double the number of platforms and channels involved in the approach compared to its counterpart.

For example, using a multichannel approach in a retail campaign would involve things such as:

  •  Websites
  • TV and radio ads
  • Social media
  •  Email
  • Phone calls
  • Billboards and posters
  • SEO and paid channels
  • Maybe even more depending on their resources

An omnichannel approach, however, would be a lot more compact, with perhaps the use of websites, social media and email channels, which are all synced up so that consumers can move from one to the other with ease.

Omnichannel also sees channels as being cohesive, not in isolation, which means that it looks at the bigger picture as a whole, such as using their channels to provide a return on advertising spend (ROAS), which gives established marketers the confidence to further invest in the channel strategy.

Why is an omnichannel approach important?

As consumers are starting to prioritise a personalised experience when looking for brands to spend their money with, it’s only natural that an omnichannel approach is the best choice to utilise.

But just because it’s the best choice for your consumers doesn’t mean that there aren’t real pitfalls.

Just like any method, the initial phases of starting out will always be the hardest, though only for a short amount of time.

For example, the long-term pros and initial cons of implementing an omnichannel approach are:

  • You will have an improvement in customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • You can collect more specific and better data and analysis
  • You will have an increase in sales and revenue

The disadvantages of an omnichannel approach:

  • It requires a complex implementation phase and management reshuffle
  •  An investment in technology
  • A change in mindset for those who are in a SILO mindset

This is in stark contrast to the pros and cons of a multichannel approach:

Advantages of a multichannel approach:

  •  Greater audience reach
  •  Many ways to engage customers

Disadvantages of a multichannel approach:

  • An inconsistent customer experience and personalisation
  • Limited integration between channels
  • Difficulty in tracking performance

Do you need to have an omnichannel approach from day one?

Honestly, there really isn’t a massive need for an omnichannel approach from the get-go. Obviously, the longer you have an omnichannel approach, the better for your consumers and your ability to get used to being integrated and collaborative to produce a comprehensive customer experience. But it’s not essential unless you are starting out as an organisation with a goal of being customer-centric first and foremost and some brands will be naturally.

In the early days, treating channels in SILO does initially help to accomplish your goals and get customers, but it’s not a realistic long-term investment or solution to needing a loyal and interested consumer base.

When businesses begin thinking about the long-term effect of isolating their departments and prohibiting collaboration, they start to see how omnichannel is more necessary to their needs. This is because closing off communication with other organisational divisions essentially isolates independent groups so that they only focus on their own efforts and create their own company culture within. But what happens when you need to expand or fix an issue with targeted audiences?

That’s where the need for collaboration and synergy comes in.

Though a SILO mentality is something that can help to keep teams focused on their main goal, issues will begin to arise due to the lack of information sharing and collaboration when long-term business goals are created.

There is also something to be said about the diminishing return on investments if you continue relying on digital channels, because when you only utilise channels as a way to catch as many fish as possible, you reach a peak but then decline when you’re not able to meet everyone’s experience needs.

Therefore, omnichannel creates a halo effect to boost all channels through the use of simplicity and personalisation in their circular and cohesive channel streams.

Some great examples would be campaigns run by Nike and ASOS, which allow their customers to seamlessly shop, no matter the channel, as they are coordinated, integrated, and with the same goal in mind: the customer.

Where should omnichannel rank in your list of priorities, and how can you make it more of a priority within your company?

Omnichannel should be one of the main focuses in your business, as it has the capability to bring in an increase in your ROI and consumer base.

For a consistent and seamless customer experience, prioritising omnichannel is the most successful way to accomplish this. If you’re struggling to make it a priority, simply remember your core values as a company or ask yourself these questions:

Do we want to make each experience seamless every time?

Do we want to give customers the channels they want?

Would customers want personalisation at every step of the journey?

If you answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, you’ll see that it all leads to an omnichannel approach. Get in touch to find out more, [email protected] and next up in Part 2, we’re covering customer expectations vs reality.