In Pursuit of the Universal Customer Experience: Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Marketing

The new age of marketing comes with its own evolving jargon and terminology. Take, for example, “multichannel” and “omnichannel.” Those terms grew up together, and suddenly, before we knew it, were on everyone’s lips. Often, I see them used interchangeably. But do they really mean the same thing?

It’s worth some thought since those terms are at the heart of marketing strategy as the ever more complex dance between brand and consumer evolves while their engagement spans an increasing myriad of platforms, channels, and media. So let’s define terms.

For starters, here is some perspective from a couple of marketing and analytics gurus: Jim Sterne, co-founder and chairman of the Digital Analytics Association, argues that “multichannel is made up of the consumer touch points across all the channels you use as a company. Omnichannel is made up of the touch points your customers connect with you on.” James Niehaus, the head of analytics at Ensighten, put that thought even more succinctly: “Omnichannel is multichannel done right.”

So what are we getting at here? I believe multichannel represents the company-centric view. Enterprises today must deliver the best possible strategy across all engagement channels − Web, social, mobile, email, in-store, call center, print. Too often, however, marketers define “multichannel” as simply a culmination of the paid, owned, and earned media properties they engage their audiences on. However, since engagement across each of these channels is often managed in silos within the enterprise, this crucial data often stays within these same walls.


In contrast, omnichannel is consumer-centric, and is about true continuity of the consumer experience outside of any preconceived walls or silos. Or as Jim Sterne put it, “As a customer, I am desperate to get the same brand and message and experience and offers across any touch point. As a corporation, trying to deliver on that process, it’s a practical nightmare. Everything seems to end up in silos.”


To go from multichannel to omnichannel marketing puts the spotlight squarely on openness and execution. To make the leap, the marketer must ask: How does the consumer experience my brand across the multitude of channels and devices? How do I make sense of and act on the multichannel engagement data to deliver a unified consumer experience?

The Multichannel World of Today’s Marketer

The TV show Mad Men in so many ways brings to life the pre-digital world of marketing and advertising. Companies reached consumers through a limited number of quasi-independent channels: newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV. In contrast, digital media are different in every respect. The new engagement channels are highly interrelated. Buyers engage not just on websites, but also with social and mobile apps, which we see eclipsing the website-centric paradigm of the last two decades. They shop from PCs, tablets, and mobile phones. They even expect their mobile location to be taken into consideration when shopping or searching.

Examples are legion. An airline interacts with consumers on its website, through mobile apps, distributed call centers, and the service staff at the airport – and across each of these mediums, the customer demands a personalized experience. Furthermore, while the airline may not control what its passengers tweet or post on Facebook about delayed flights and lost baggage, it needs to be responsive on social media to manage brand sentiment. A television show today will sink or swim based on a fan base that is in continuous social interaction over unfolding segments, not just during the seasons but between, not just on its own domain but also on content viewed on Hulu and YouTube. So, how does a business manage these interactions – across channel, device, and location – to ensure each action furthers loyalty, purchases, and customer delight? That’s the pursuit of the omnichannel marketing nirvana.

The Role of Data and Analytics

To go from multichannel to omnichannel marketing requires deep insight into consumers − not just as members of aggregate segments, but who they are as individuals. What’s required is breaking down silos and looking at digital marketing at a user level, and delivering personalized experiences across all engagement touch points. Here is how:

  • Collect data from all online, offline, and offsite sources. Getting all the data in one place is the first big step, including data from third-party vendors, many of which hold it hostage behind proprietary firewalls.
  • Overcome silos. You need to integrate that data to create the foundation for seeing how consumers interact across the increasingly complex customer journey.
  • Decipher behavior patterns. How an individual interacts with a banner ad, for example, is different from how they engage with content on a social platform. You need to predict how, based on prior behavior, each individual is likely to behave next as they move across touch points.
  • Personalize action. Omnichannel marketing requires analyzing complex multichannel data sets to deliver the right content, on the right channel and device, at the right time. Personalization and relevancy are paramount when it comes to delighting consumers.

When all this works as intended, when a consumer recognizes that a brand actually knows them and is aware of how they interact across each touch point – something magical happens. When done right, not only does omnichannel marketing increase brand loyalty and customer lifecycle value, but builds trust. Consumers become more willing to share their data with you, realizing the personalized experience received outweighs privacy concerns they may have. And a virtuous cycle begins.

Related reading