Ecommerce industry

What Is Omnichannel Marketing? Omnichannel vs Multichannel Marketing

Alexandra McPeak, September 21st 2020
Omnichannel vs Multichannel header

Digital marketing has a bit of a buzzword problem. But omnichannel is one that’s hovered around for the best part of a decade and shows no signs of flying away anytime soon—and for good reason.

A customer can start searching for something online and later scroll through a channel they log into every single day—and probably several times per day. Savvy ecommerce business show them relevant ads on a channel they are familiar with because they were able to track their behavior online.

This is powerful stuff—and omnichannel strategies like this work across every marketing channel you can think of.

Your customers today are more digitally savvy than they’ve ever been before and they use a whole array of channels when searching for new products, making purchases, and within their everyday lives. 

By using the power of omnichannel marketing, you’ll be able to show your products to potential customers who are most interested in them via the channels they use most—leading to better shopping experiences, greater conversions, and ultimately, more sales.

Omnichannel personalization to create a seamless marketing strategy

Read on to discover exactly what omnichannel marketing is, how it differs from multichannel, and why omnichannel is the queen bee of marketing.

Or just jump straight ahead to the section you’re most interested in reading:

What is omnichannel marketing?

Omnichannel marketing (sometimes also referred to as integrated marketing) is a marketing approach that provides your customers with integrated shopping experiences, such as by providing a seamless experience between desktop, mobile, and brick-and-mortar.

Alongside these channels, you may also be using email marketing, social media, SMS marketing, and paid advertising, among others.

The point of omnichannel marketing is to provide your customers with consistent brand experiences and messaging to make them feel like each interaction is a continuation of the previous one—regardless of which channel you use to communicate with them.

Creating an integrated marketing strategy for digital channels

Imagine omnichannel marketing is a circle and your customers are at the center of it:

Omnichannel marketing diagram
Omnichannel marketing diagram

Everything is connected and allows your customers to flow seamlessly from one channel to another. In other words, they have an effortless and cohesive experience. Customer data will also be shared across each of these channels, so you can gain a complete picture of your customers and what their buying behaviors look like.

Marketing automation platform for omnichannel marketing

Here’s another way to think about omnichannel marketing—this time with an example customer journey.

Example of a customer journey for marketing

Your customer, let’s call her Vanessa, looks for a new lipstick via a search engine on her lunch break at work and comes across a few different websites. Yours is one of them. 

Your website and products stand out the most to her, but she has to get back to work, so she closes the browser without buying anything. 

While browsing Facebook later in the evening, she sees one of your Facebook retargeting ads and checks out your page to find out more about your brand and to read customer reviews. 

Vanessa likes what she sees, so she clicks through to your website from Facebook, adds a few products to her cart, including the original lipstick she saw earlier, but gets distracted and closes the browser again without buying anything. 

Vanessa had created an account on your website before getting distracted, so your cart abandonment email series kicks off. This persuades her to finally buy her new lipstick alongside some other makeup lust-haves you’ve recommended in your email.

Her items arrive a few days later in your beautiful packaging. She’s blown away, so she shares her experience on her Instagram stories. She’s now one of your brand advocates and a loyal customer!

Omnichannel process diagram
Omnichannel process roadmap

The above journey is just an example. But I hope it shows how Vanessa can interact with your brand in many different ways—and across various channels—before she even thinks about placing an order.  Ultimately, what drew her in at the end was that at every touchpoint, she had a consistent brand experience. 

Creating social retargeting experiences with a lookalike audience builder

She was shown the same core messaging, tone of voice, product styling, and color palettes, which not only helped to guide her along her journey but also cemented why you were the ideal brand to buy from.

Pro tip: while your core message has stayed the same throughout Vanessa’s journey, your actual choice of words may change based on what stage of the journey she’s at. For example, you might include social proof in the form of reviews and testimonials when Vanessa is closer to clicking “buy” to help convert her into a customer quicker.

The importance of omnichannel marketing is elevated in a world where customers switch between devices mindlessly and who are always on—clicking, browsing, and buying.

Your brand needs to be consistently represented to stand out and be remembered by this heavily distracted group of customers. A great experience with your brand is what will attract them in the first place—and is also what will keep them loyal long-term!

User generated content for social validation of the brand

Omnichannel vs. multichannel marketing- the differences

To fully understand omnichannel marketing, let’s compare it to multichannel marketing and learn the differences between the two. The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing is where your customer sits within your strategy.

Customer focus:

In omnichannel marketing, your customers are at the heart of what you do.

In multichannel marketing, your brand and the channels you sell on are the focus.

The idea behind multichannel marketing is to market across as many channels as is relevant to your brand, but the focus doesn’t need to be on consistent customer experiences. It’s a much more transactional form of marketing.

Imagine that multichannel marketing is a series of disjointed lines that never meet and that act as a divider between you and your customer:

Multichannel marketing process, diagram
Multichannel marketing process

With this strategy, your channels often operate separately from each other, so data isn’t shared between them. You never get a complete picture of your customers and how they found your brand or decided to buy from you rather than your competitors. 

Your job is to remove friction and prevent any pre-purchase apprehension from customers’ journeys, which becomes far too tricky with a multichannel strategy in place—and the lack of data associated with it.

Multi-channel marketing strategies across digital channels and platforms

Say you sell on both your website and Amazon. 

While you have every ounce of control over what happens on your website and in emails, you can’t control what happens if your customer stays on Amazon. 

Amazon ships your products, handles all emails and communications, and even refunds. 

Often, your customer doesn’t even realize they’re buying from you. The brand experience is lost, and messaging isn’t consistent with your brand, but Amazon’s brand instead. 

Creating customer acquisition strategies that resonate with your audience

Multichannel brand example: Beardbrand takes control of its customer journey

This is just one of several reasons why companies like Beardbrand have chosen to stop selling on Amazon, and instead, concentrate on the channels they have complete control over—like their website and email marketing.

With this kind of change in focus, you can gain more control over the experience customers have with your brand, leading to happier customers and better reviews.

Beardbrand, for example, is seeing an increase in negative reviews on Amazon—not because of the service they were providing, but because of customers’ experiences with resellers selling Beardbrand’s products on Amazon. 

Items were taking too long to ship, or in some cases, customers were receiving the wrong products entirely! Yet it was Beardbrand’s profile that took the hit in star ratings—with one customer even writing, “Next time I’ll order directly from Beardbrand,” at the end of their one-star review.

Beardbrand negative review on Amazon screenshot
Beardbrand negative review on Amazon

Feedback like this indicated that Beardbrand would have greater success by owning the customer journey themselves—and especially if they approached it with omnichannel marketing in mind.

Unlike multichannel strategies that cause brands to think about buyer journeys in a linear way, omnichannel marketing appreciates that customers can go through a broad spectrum of behaviors and actions across different channels before deciding to buy.

Ultimately, omnichannel marketing offers a much more holistic view of customers than multichannel marketing ever could. 

Omnichannel marketing the pros and cons

To help you compare the two strategies, here are the pros and cons of omnichannel marketing:

Pros of omnichannel strategies

  • Your customers are at the heart of your strategy, which helps to build strong relationships and brand familiarity.
  • Your data is shared across channels, so you can gain a complete understanding of your customers and how they buy from you.
  • You’ll have more control over your channels and how you use them, leading to better customer experiences, stronger relationships, and positive reviews.
  • Omnichannel marketing more closely aligns with how today’s digitally savvy customers hop around from channel to channel without even thinking about it (the average is six different touchpoints per customer!)
  • Customers will likely want to have even more touchpoints with your brand, helping you to gain more data to personalize their experiences further.

Cons of omnichannel marketing

  • Omnichannel marketing requires a dedicated strategy and potentially a different organizational structure if you need to merge marketing teams or coordinate other departments around your consistent brand messaging.
  • While you’ll have access to better data and a more granular understanding of your customers across platforms, you’ll also need to invest in more sophisticated segmentation tools to help you send relevant messages to your different audiences on the channels they use the most.

Personalizing the omnichannel experience through segmentation tools

Multichannel marketing- the pros and cons

And here’s a summary of the pros and cons of multichannel marketing:

Pros of multichannel marketing

  • A multichannel approach is simpler to set up and think about than omnichannel.
  • Analyzing individual channels and touchpoints is easier.

Cons of multichannel strategies

  • Multichannel marketing rarely results in the best customer experience.
  • Data isn’t shared between channels, so while you can analyze individual channels quickly, you won’t be able to gain a deep understanding of your customers.
  • This lack of data also hinders business growth because you’ll be slower to adapt and change business models or strategies when needed—such as when a global pandemic hits—as you’ll be wasting time analyzing separate reports rather than centralized ones.

Omnichannel marketing in action

Hhere are a few examples of how it could look in practice.

Example 1: Advanced personalization in omnichannel tactics

Once upon a time, personalization in marketing meant including customers’ names within email subject lines, and sometimes also the body of the email.

But today, we’re far beyond just knowing customers’ names. Following advancements in modern technology, customers now expect even more personalized experiences—especially if they’re permitting you to use their data to create memorable experiences for them.

Within emails, you could show customers personalized product recommendations based on what they’ve bought from you in the past, or what they’ve been browsing and clicking on your website and in emails.

But thanks to an array of website integrations, you can now go one step further and display these same recommendations across your website to give your customers more tailored shopping experiences.

Brand Example: REN Clean Skincare—experts in sustainable cosmetics.

When browsing their homepage, new website visitors will see a selection of bestsellers under the heading, “Everyone loves these…”

Ren Skincare product shot
Ren Skincare product reviews

At this early stage of the customer’s journey, REN doesn’t know anything about them, so they show their website visitors some of their bestsellers in the hopes of enticing them to buy while learning what they’re looking for.

Once this same visitor has had a look around REN’s website and products—and perhaps adds some of them to their cart—REN can start to show them personalized product and content recommendations.

Naturally, I wanted to give this a bit of a test. 

I have to be up quite early every morning to walk my dog before work, so I prefer to have a short morning skincare routine and a longer pampering session before bed. That’s why I was only interested in seeing what products REN Clean Skincare offered that could be applied at night and left to do their magic while I get some much-needed beauty sleep.

I had a look at a couple of their night-time products but left the site to see what would happen next.

The next time I was on their website, I saw an updated section on their homepage, which had replaced the “Everyone loves these” messaging. 

I was now seeing new product recommendations under the heading, “These are waiting for you”—and sure enough, there were the products I’d been looking at earlier, plus some other top-rated products that can be applied at night!

Ren product recommendation screenshot
Ren product recommendation

This was great because it not only felt like I had my very own personal shopping experience online, but it also showed me some products I might not have discovered otherwise while making it easier for me to buy, buy, buy!

Creating omnichannel and multi-channel attribution

Example 2: Using online quizzes and advanced segmentation to gather data

This omnichannel strategy is closely related to advanced personalization—but with a difference. 

By asking your website visitors to complete quizzes so you can learn more about them, you can use this information to improve your email segmentation strategies while providing your customers with something of high value—personalized product recommendations and experiences.

Brand Example: Spoke London, a popular menswear brand

Their online “Fit Finder” test helps customers to find their perfect fit for trousers and tops by asking them questions about their body type and personal fit preferences. 

Spoke email for a quiz and calculation of size
Spoke fitfinder test for the perfect fit

After answering the quiz and giving Spoke their email address, customers are shown their ideal sizes and a selection of products that they would be suited to wearing.

Customers are also sent their results via email, which include “shop now” buttons that link to products on Spoke’s website that are already filtered by the customer’s unique measurements.

Spoke apparel product images for men

Spoke can then highly segment future emails and show particular products to specific groups of men based on how they each like to wear their clothes.

Ecommerce quizzes that help you scale your business

Example 3: Cohesive online and offline strategies between channels

As omnichannel marketing calls for seamless brand experiences across channels, the lines between websites and brick-and-mortar stores also become blurred within the customer journey.

As far as your customers are concerned, they want to feel like their online and offline experiences are consistent with what they expect from your brand—and that they can easily move between the two without affecting the experience they might receive.

If I think back to the first time I saw this strategy in action myself, it was the day I popped into my local cosmetics store to buy some luxury bath and body products. My birthday was coming up, so I was in the mood to treat myself!

When I went to pay, the shop assistant asked me if I wanted to sign up for their loyalty program for exclusive discounts and even a £5 gift card on my birthday! I agreed and gave her my email address. 

She then asked if she could send me an e-receipt. I was happy for her to do so as it would be saving some paper and also give me one less receipt to lose in my bag. I’ll admit, I was also intrigued by what follow-up emails I would receive!

True to their word, I had an e-receipt waiting for me when I checked my emails, which also contained a discount code I could use either in-store or online. “Great,” I thought, “Looks like I’ll be using my birthday gift card and this discount within the next few weeks!” 

It also meant I was probably going to spend more than usual so I could make the most of this special discount.

I loved that it didn’t matter how I chose to shop either—especially as I was unlikely to be back in their store for a few months yet—so I used it online.

Thinking about this example, though, this shop could probably have taken things one step further to make the experience even more cohesive. 

What if they’d promoted their curbside pickup or Click & Collect / Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) service to me via email? 

To achieve this, they could segment their customers based on postcodes and how far they are from their physical stores. 

Using this data, they could then send emails to encourage people like me to come back to their stores—where they could offer even more product recommendations in person.

After all, I’ve made two purchases by this point, so they probably have enough information about me by now. One to think about, right?

Multi-channel tactics and omnichannel strategies

Example 4: Social commerce to gain brand validation

Your customers are likely to be using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram regularly throughout the day. 

They might not necessarily be logging in to make purchases or to hear about new brands, but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to it if they see something they like. 

The world of social commerce can work in a few different ways. 

Brand Example: Skinnydip London’s

Use shoppable features on social media, which works for a few different platforms—Facebook and Instagram included. 

Skinnydip Instagram feed for product line
Skinnydip Instagram feed

This strategy involves sharing photos of your products—whether taken in-house or by your customers—which link to the same items on your website. 

Alternatively, customers can even go ahead and buy directly within the social media app if you have this set up within your account.

You could also use these same social channels for retargeting customers who have either browsed your website or bought from you in the past. Try tempting them with a relevant sale, discount, or another juicy offer that’s too good to miss!

Skinnydip London Instagram feed advertising
Skinnydip London Instagram feed advertising

What Or if you really want to stand out from the crowd, why not use retargeting on social media as a way of thanking your customers for their purchases? 

My colleague, Louise, experienced this recently when buying a new dog bed from Not In The Dog House. Later, when Louise was scrolling through her Instagram Stories, she saw this ad:

Not In The Doghouse sponsored ad on Instagram
Not In The Doghouse

This is such a nice touch and Louise was clearly impressed as she’s since told me about it, helping to spread the word about this luxury pet store. 

Now imagine how much more Louise would have raved about them if the brand had also offered her a discount code or other special offer when thanking her? I think we can be fairly sure that she’d be talking about that experience many weeks later.

Social commerce strategies that build your brand across channels

Omnichannel is the future of marketing

Omnichannel marketing—aka the art of providing your customers with integrated shopping and brand experiences across channels—is the queen bee of marketing.

It has the power to help you build stronger customer relationships and brand familiarity because you’ll have a more holistic view of your customers—regardless of how they heard about you or arrived at your store.

With an omnichannel marketing strategy in place, you’ll not only gain access to more valuable data, but you’ll also be able to use this to personalize your marketing messages even further—ultimately, persuading your customers to stick around for longer.

Want to level up your omnichannel marketing

Alexandra McPeak
Alexandra McPeak
Content strategist
Alex McPeak is a Content Strategist at Klaviyo. She helps entrepreneurs and small businesses grow. Before joining Klaviyo in 2020, Alex spent several years writing, editing, and podcasting throughout the Boston tech scene. Alex graduated from Emmanuel College. Outside of work, Alex enjoys traveling to warmer places, reading mystery novels, and eating sushi.