Why omnichannel marketing trumps multi-channel strategy (and how to get it right)

Profile photo of author Tiffany Regaudie
Omnichannel marketing
December 6, 2022
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“Can you please describe the ideal omnichannel marketing approach for a brand?”

It’s the marketing interview question from hell. If asked, you might start sweating and think back to the last conference you attended. A ton of people were talking about omnichannel marketing, right? Or were they talking about multi-channel marketing? What’s the difference?!

After reading this article, you’ll be able to answer this question with confidence—and, more importantly, start or strengthen an omnichannel marketing program for your own brand.

In the meantime, rest assured you’re probably not far behind most businesses. Omnichannel marketing is an evolution of multi-channel marketing that most brands haven’t mastered yet, mostly because it requires a lot of internal alignment between teams, data integration within tech stacks, and an in-depth understanding of a complex buyer’s journey.

So strap in and get hyped, because “omnichannel” isn’t just a buzzword. It’s the future of marketing as a field, and it’s what’s going to give your brand a competitive edge in 2023.

tweet of Harley Finkelstein talking about omnichannel marketing as the future of ecommerce
Source: Twitter

Table of contents:

What is omnichannel marketing?

Omnichannel marketing focuses on creating a consistent customer experience across multiple online and offline channels. It involves integrating various channels, such as websites, mobile apps, social media, email, and physical stores to provide a cohesive and personalized experience.

Omnichannel marketing uses shared customer data to create seamless conversations and purchase experiences across multiple channels. It makes it easy for customers to buy products and gather information from brands, wherever and however they want.

Omnichannel marketing reflects the true nature of a customer journey: messy, non-linear, and difficult to track (until now).

For example, if Ava starts a conversation with a brand via email, she can continue that same conversation in-store, then impulse-buy a product later via text message. The communication and purchase process across all 3 channels is seamless because back-end app integrations share the same customer data.

With omnichannel marketing, brand interactions start, then continue across multiple channels.

What’s the difference between an omnichannel and multi-channel strategy?

The main difference between omnichannel marketing and multi-channel marketing is the integration of data.

Omnichannel marketing requires a centralized customer profile that calibrates the brand experience across whatever channels the customer chooses. This customer profile (within the CDP) is what makes it possible for someone to click on a Facebook ad, place an item in their cart, abandon that cart, then complete a purchase after getting an email with a discount code for the product they abandoned.

Multi-channel marketing isn’t quite as sophisticated. In multi-channel marketing, brands can still create consistent touchpoints through copywriting and design—but they’re not personalized to the customer because data isn’t shared across channels. If your customer taps on an Instagram ad but doesn’t purchase, your customer service team has no idea that interaction occurred.

Omnichannel marketing focuses on creating a consistent customer experience across multiple online and offline channels. It involves integrating various channels, such as websites, mobile apps, social media, email, and physical stores to provide a cohesive and personalized experience.

Omnichannel marketingMulti-channel marketing
Customer dataShared across multiple channelsSiloed in each marketing channel
Brand experienceOne consistent conversation across all brand channelsSeparate conversations with the same customer
Purchase opportunitiesCustomer can purchase via each channelCustomer may only purchase on some channels
Personalization mechanismEvery marketing channel contains the same data on the customerEvery channel contains some or no information about the customer
Tech requirementsRequires a customer data platform (CDP) with other app integrationsLower tech requirements, dependent on channels chosen by brand/customers
Revenue attributionHolistic, considering all channels before sale and last touchpointAttributes sale to final touchpoint only, which offers only partial view
Multi-channel marketing is like having different conversations with your customer at once.

Why is omnichannel marketing better?

Omnichannel marketing is important because it takes, on average, 6 separate touchpoints for someone to purchase a product. When those customer touchpoints are one long conversation as opposed to several fragmented ones, it’s instantly easier for your brand to serve people with a consistent narrative and an exceptional purchase experience.

When customer touchpoints are one long conversation as opposed to several fragmented ones, it’s instantly easier for your brand to serve people with a consistent narrative and an exceptional purchase experience.

Omnichannel marketing is essential because it caters to the changing behavior and expectations of modern consumers. It allows ecommerce businesses to deliver a consistent brand message and provide personalized experiences. By offering a seamless experience, omnichannel marketing can improve customer engagement and satisfaction, increase retention rates, and drive conversions.

While not many brands are executing omnichannel marketing to its full potential, most brands understand the importance of an omnichannel approach and the need to provide a consistent user experience. In 2021, 67% of ecommerce companies said an omnichannel approach was important to them—so the increase in execution is just around the corner.

Pie chart shows that 67% of ecommerce companies believe omnichannel strategy is important in 2021.
Source: Statista

What an omnichannel customer journey looks like

Omnichannel marketing strategies rise to the occasion of the complex buyer’s journey. As much as marketers love to believe customers purchase products after seeing a few ads and subscribing to an email list for a discount, the reality is much more chaotic.

Image shows the possible touchpoints of a customer journey.
Source: Klaviyo

Here’s what a buyer’s journey might look like for a customer at Felix Gray, a brand that’s embraced an omnichannel marketing strategy:

1. Casey’s pup recently chomped her reading glasses, and she’s in need of a new pair. She googles “Felix Gray glasses” after asking a friend at work where she got hers.

Image shows a Google search result page for “Felix Gray.”

2. Casey browses the Felix Gray website and filters by lens type, but she doesn’t find anything that catches her eye. She’s also on a work break and doesn’t have time to go through with a purchase.

3. A week later, Casey sees an ad on Instagram for “glasses that work as hard as you do.” She doesn’t care for the color of the glasses in the image and doesn’t click on the ad.

4. Casey bumps into her colleague at the gym. They don’t talk about Felix Gray at all. But Casey is reminded of the glasses she liked, so she pulls the oldest trick in the book: She signs up for Felix Gray’s email and SMS list and waits for an offer to hit her inbox.

Image shows a text offering subscribers $20 off their first Felix Gray order.

5. She gets it right away. But Casey is still feeling indecisive. So she clicks through to the website. She finds a frame shape and color she likes and puts the glasses in her cart, but then she has second thoughts. Should she really be buying a pair of glasses she hasn’t tried on, even if she has $20 off?

6. Felix Gray sends Casey abandoned cart emails with a discount, but she ignores them. 10% on a pair of glasses that cost $145 isn’t enough to convince her to buy online. She considers dropping by the store, but it’s not in her neighborhood. Maybe she’ll get a pair from her local vendor.

7. A few days later, Casey receives a direct-mail booklet from Felix Gray that highlights the benefits of their blue-light-filtering technology and mentions their contact lenses. She’s intrigued and decides a trip to the store will be worth her while.

8. Casey’s personal shopping experience at Felix Gray is thoroughly enjoyable, and she buys a pair of glasses. Her personal shopper also helps her sign up for a contact lens subscription.

Image shows a product page for Felix Gray daily contacts.

9. Casey gets an email just before the holidays that Felix Gray is running a special discount for Black Friday Cyber Monday. She finds it’s the perfect opportunity to purchase that pair of sunglasses she’s had her eye on.

Image shows a holiday email from Felix Gray offering 15% off everything.
Source: Milled

5 tips for building your own customer-centric omnichannel marketing strategy

We won’t lie to you—building an omnichannel marketing strategy isn’t easy. But it sure is satisfying.

The industry’s best marketers understand that marketing can’t succeed within its own silo. Successful marketing teams adopt omnichannel customer service, product, IT, and others to create a cohesive brand experience. Nothing tests this kind of collaboration more than omnichannel marketing.

We asked marketing experts about some of their biggest challenges in implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy. Here’s what they mentioned:

  1. Internal alignment between teams
  2. An in-depth understanding of the buyer’s journey
  3. Data integration within tech stacks
  4. Personalized customer experiences that resonate
  5. A commitment to A/B testing and implementing results

Keep reading to find out how to overcome these challenges—and build an omnichannel marketing strategy that succeeds.

1. Invest more in internal alignment than you think you need to

“Omnichannel marketing” may be a misnomer because an omnichannel approach requires a lot more than marketing to pull off.

Jessica Totillo Coster, ecommerce & email marketing strategist at eCommerce Badassery, says, “The biggest challenge I see with brands that want to launch an integrated marketing campaign is a lack of organization and processes.”

The biggest challenge I see with brands that want to launch an integrated marketing campaign is a lack of organization and processes.
Jessica Totillo Coster
Ecommerce & email marketing strategist, eCommerce Badassery

“Often departments are siloed and there isn’t an overarching person to bring it all together. There isn’t enough inter-department communication and sometimes each department’s agenda gets in the way of the big picture goal for the company or campaign.”

Consider the Felix Gray example above, where many teams were responsible for the touchpoints that led to a sale:

  1. Technology and product teams worked together to create website filters relevant to customers’ preferences.
  2. The customer service team was responsible for the personal shopping experience that attracted the customer to the store (and finalized the sale).
  3. The marketing team analyzed customer interactions and delivered personalized offers through thoughtful copy and design.

Before you begin to sketch out your omnichannel marketing strategy:

  1. Schedule conversations with key members from other teams.
  2. Ask questions about how each department interacts with customers.
  3. Use each person’s responses as a basis for your customer journey audit (see next tip).

2. Use customer data to understand your buyer’s journey

While everyone contributes to an omnichannel strategy, it is the marketing team’s responsibility to understand the customer journey inside and out.

Your conversations with key team members and (hopefully) customers will give you the qualitative data you need to map your customer journey—but you’ll also need some quantitative data to complete the picture.

For example, you’ll learn a lot from your customer service team about what your customers want—but you won’t be able to learn whether your abandoned cart email series is actually leading to significant sales.

Use first- and zero-party data to map your customer journey. You’ll need to look at data points like:

  • Lifetime purchase history and predicted CLV
  • Email, SMS, etc. subscribe and engagement rates
  • Website and in-store activity, and sources of that activity
  • User location
  • Product preferences
  • Enrollment in loyalty programs, and specified tiers
  • Individual birthday and the anniversary of first purchase
  • Product reviews and other customer-generated content
  • Other data collected through surveys or quizzes

Depending on your tech stack, you may be limited in the kind of data you can access to learn about your customer journey. This is why new technology is crucial for an omnichannel strategy that reflects your customer’s real, non-linear path to a sale.

3. Make sure your tech can deliver omnichannel experiences

According to internal Klaviyo research, 55% of enterprise brands say it’s important to centralize customer data in a CDP. That being said, most of these brands are also operating on outdated tech stacks that don’t have the functionality to stitch together all their customer information—which is crucial for an omnichannel experience.

In a recent survey, ecommerce executives said they would need the following from their tech stacks in order to create an omnichannel customer experience:

  • Clean data on customer behavior
  • Real-time, cross-device data from their API
  • Transaction data captured on site
  • Synced data across content and commerce channels
  • Unified customer profiles

The biggest problem standing in the way of any omnichannel marketing strategy is siloed data within legacy tech platforms. Make sure to invest in a CDP so you have the tech you need to execute your ideal omnichannel scenario.

4. Use segmentation to create personalized omnichannel experiences that boost customer retention

Let’s say you have the technology you need for unified customer profiles. What do you do with the data?

Personalized omnichannel experiences are built on segmentation—the process of categorizing your customers based on a set of behaviors that anticipate how customers are most likely to buy from you.

Your customer segments will look different from another company’s, but here are a few examples and their corresponding experiences:

  • VIP customers → Early promo access
  • SMS opt-ins → Location-specific event/pop-up announcements
  • Cart abandonment → Custom product guide based on what they viewed

5. Commit to A/B testing

As you begin to run your omnichannel marketing strategy, some experiences will resonate with customers more than others. To maximize your chance at success (and protect your business against colossal failure), A/B test new experiences to see if they’re worth continuing.

A simple example of an A/B test is the way you build your email list. It’s common knowledge that most ecommerce businesses build their email lists by offering a discount in exchange for subscribing. But is it really true that you need to provide a discount?

Brava Fabrics was curious to see if they needed a discount code to build their email list, so they came up with an alternative. They tested a 10% discount against a contest that entered people to win €300 in free products for signing up. The two options performed identically, so they went with the more budget-friendly contest option.

3 strong examples of omnichannel marketing

If you’re stuck on where to start with your omnichannel marketing strategy, here’s some inspiration from other brands that have started to see real success:

With Graza, not everyone gets the same email

Graza makes olive oil that’s actually olive oil, for an affordable price. What’s interesting about Graza is that they’ve built a successful DTC business without any paid ads.

Instead, the team spends a lot of time on email segmentation, which usually gets them a 50%+ open rate with each send.

“We have flows going out to just 200 or 300 customers,” founder Andrew Benin says. For example, regulars who buy once every 2-3 weeks get different emails from regulars who buy every 4-6 weeks.

Image shows an abandonment email from Graza.

This segmentation allows Graza to create different experiences based on how much each customer is spending. From there, they can separate VIP customers from the rest and create offers specifically for them.

Nomad capitalizes on a post-purchase survey with a 48% completion rate

Nomad, maker of electronic accessories, is obsessed with self-reported data. The brand boasts a post-purchase survey completion rate of 48%, so they don’t need to rely as much on data from Google and Facebook.

Chuck Melber, marketing director at Nomad, says the survey has surfaced channels they didn’t know generated revenue for them. With this knowledge, Nomad is able to double down on new areas of success they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

For example, 12% of Nomad’s customers find out about the brand from friends and family—a metric that justified the creation of a referral program.

Nomad also collects zero-party data through email and SMS sign-up forms, as well as a gear picker survey on the website that helps customers build their Nomad collection. The survey results feed data back into Nomad’s CDP so that the brand can segment email and SMS subscribers by product preferences.

Now, when a subscriber who’s taken the survey receives an offer, it’s customized to their product preferences. They’re getting information that’s relevant to their own needs—not just the information the brand wants to communicate, which over time can grow customer loyalty.

Sanzo: from the red carpet to VIP customer list

Sanzo’s partnership with Disney-owned Marvel started as a celebration of Asian culture in film that ultimately became a co-branded, limited-edition lychee drink collection featuring characters from the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on the can.

Image shows a limited-edition lychee drink from Sanzo, featuring characters from the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Since 2018, Sanzo’s sales had been growing by at least 400% each year. But the month of the Shang-Chi sparkling water launch, Sanzo saw 6x growth in ecommerce revenue. This is because Sanzo was able to extend their reach with the Disney-Marvel name in a way that made sense for both brands.

But the new exposure also meant Sanzo’s name became recognizable, and the brand could justify direct communication with customers rather than relying on relationships through wholesalers. This is when Sanzo invested in customer data collection, so they could nurture long-term relationships through storytelling, discounts, and feedback requests.

Today, Sanzo has a VIP email list for subscribers, who get free shipping and 15% off recurring orders. “We’ll also do some special swag drops for that group,” founder Sandro Roco says—like giving them early access to Sanzo’s Shang-Chi sparkling water when it dropped.

Learn more about omnichannel marketing tech requirements

If omnichannel retail and marketing is so effective, why isn’t everyone doing it?

The answer is because personalization at scale is hard. According to research by Gartner, 63% of digital marketing leaders still struggle with personalization. At the same time, 58% of those marketers say they lack a strong customer data foundation.

This is why a CDP should sit at the heart of an omnichannel marketing tech stack. A CDP is used for collecting data from a lot of sources, then merging that data into one customer profile. It’s responsible for making sure that data is clean, de-duplicated, and ready to use, without massive IT resources most marketers don’t have.

CDPs gather information from:

  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Websites
  • Social media
  • Loyalty programs
  • In-store transactions
  • Other internal systems, like ERPs, CRMs, or DMPs

They also integrate with other software that can communicate with customers and facilitate buying across all those same external channels. This is the data feedback loop you need for an omnichannel experience—and a CDP is what it sits on.

Omnichannel marketing FAQs

How is omnichannel marketing different than single-channel marketing?

Omnichannel marketing enables businesses to reach out to customers via multiple channels, while single-channel targets customers using only one communication channel (e.g., only email or SMS). Whether omnichannel is better depends on various factors, including business goals, target audience, and resources available. If the customer journey involves multiple touchpoints, an omnichannel approach can allow businesses to engage customers at different stages and provide consistent messaging and experiences.

How can businesses streamline customer support in omnichannel marketing?

Providing effective customer support is a critical component of omnichannel marketing. Here are some ways businesses can streamline customer support in their omnichannel marketing strategy:

  1. Centralize customer data to gain a complete view of customer relationships.
  2. Implement a unified communication system to provide a consistent experience across channels.
  3. Offer new customers self-service options like mobile apps, chatbots or knowledge bases for quick issue resolution.
  4. Train agents for omnichannel on customer needs and support to provide personalized assistance.
  5. Monitor customer feedback to identify areas for optimization and address issues.
  6. Utilize marketing automation and AI tools to handle routine inquiries and improve response times.

How can businesses integrate online and offline channels in an omnichannel marketing strategy?

To effectively integrate online and offline channels in an omnichannel marketing strategy, businesses should focus on: 

  • Creating a cohesive brand experience
  • Collecting and sharing customer data
  • Enabling cross-channel communication
  • Leveraging digital tools in physical stores
  • Offering click-and-collect or ship-from-store options
  • Bridging online and offline promotions
  • Providing personalized experiences
  • Monitoring performance
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Tiffany Regaudie
Tiffany Regaudie
Tiffany is a writer and content consultant who specializes in marketing, health, and the attention economy. Before devoting herself to freelance writing full-time, she led content teams at various startups and nonprofits in Toronto, Canada.