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Do you know the difference between multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel marketing?

Feb 6, 2018
Do you know the difference between multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel marketing?

With so many marketing terms frequently used interchangeably, it is little wonder that marketing strategies can become unclear and unfocused. Using accurate terminology in the right context is only the first step to employing these ideas effectively.

This is noticeably true in discussions of multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel marketing, which are often presumed to be one and the same. Yet a number of nuanced and subtle differences exist between the three, the understanding of which could help you to decide which is most appropriate for your marketing strategy.

Multi-channel marketing

In many ways the simplest and indeed the most taken-for-granted, multi-channel marketing is a term most people presume is understood because it is so central to the modern industry.

According to Business Dictionary, multi-channel marketing is ‘the use of many different types of marketing, such as web sites, catalogues, telephone calls, mail, and television advertisements in order to obtain the business of a consumer.’

Given that in the context of modern marketing very few organisations can justify simply marketing to their potential customers via one channel alone, most brands have a multi-channel strategy without even realising it.

Yet as TechTarget points out, this does not mean that multi-channel marketing needs no thought about its implementation. TechTarget highlights the fact that these channels can be either direct or indirect, depending on whether you want to employ more traditional outbound marketing techniques like direct mail or sending catalogues or rely on inbound marketing like content creation that draw the consumer to the company. Each of these brings inherent benefits and challenges, and so choosing which channels are most appropriate for your offering can affect performance.

Cross-channel marketing

For Business Dictionary, cross-channel marketing is the ‘use of one marketing channel (such as direct mail or internet) to support or promote another channel (such as retailing).’ While like multi-channel marketing this strategy of course involves more than one platform, the focus is on the word support.

Whereas in a multi-channel strategy a brand can have an online presence on a number of platforms, in theory it is possible for two campaigns to run alongside but somewhat independently of one another. For cross-channel marketing, on the other hand, one channel must feed and boost the other and form part of a holistic, mutually-beneficial strategy. 

For Econsultancy, cross-channel therefore means ‘to provide a seamless experience across a combination of several different channels.’ It suggests that ‘in this sense, cross-channel takes the basic theory of multi-channel and elevates it to create an overriding and seamless brand experience – as opposed to a one-off or fractured brand message.’

Experian therefore sees cross-channel as ‘the current holy grail of marketing strategies’ because it capitalises upon ‘online intelligence analytics and complex delivery platforms’ to build a strategy in which all channels are interdependent.

Omni-channel marketing 

The third in the trio is omni-channel marketing. TechTarget describes this as ‘a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a bricks and mortar store.’ 

In this it sounds very similar to Econsultancy’s definition of cross-channel, but it is possible to argue that omni-channel requires an even greater depth of integration. For Shopify, ‘omni-channel removes the boundaries between different sales and marketing channels to create a unified, integrated whole.’ This is closely linked to the notion of Single Customer View, whereby brands collect data from a user’s habits across all platforms in order to build a coherent picture of their needs and practices.

Shopify offers a detailed account of how a successful omni-channel strategy could work for one product, from initial awareness through to purchase and retention. In doing so, it demonstrates the level of detail and prior-thought that goes in to providing such a well-rounded experience for the customer.  

Although it may take more planning and implementing, there is little doubt that omni-channel offers insights and results that a multi-channel strategy cannot. Although ten or even five years ago simply having a presence on multiple platforms might have been enough, today’s demanding consumer looks to your brand for an experience, not just presence.


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