What Is ‘Omnichannel’? And Is It Different From ‘Multichannel’?

This is the year of “omnichannel” based on the amount of occurrences that I’ve heard this term. I’ve never been a fan of jargon—but I sure use it enough in some of my clients’ communications, often at their request. When I comply, I usually advise that a short explanation may be in order upon first reference to help define whatever the term is and to set a marketplace expectation. So what does “omnichannel” mean to me?

This is the year of “omnichannel” based on the amount of occurrences that I’ve heard this term.

I’ve never been a fan of jargon—but I sure use it enough in some of my clients’ communications, often at their request. When I comply, I usually advise that a short explanation may be in order upon first reference to help define whatever the term is and to set a marketplace expectation.

Often enough, analyst firms rush to fill the void too, explaining such terms as “big data,” “customer experience,” “customer engagement” and the like.

The good thing about being marketers and communicators is that we are all also consumers and business people and are able to put our own perspectives on the customer side of the equation. We all recognize we have more power now as consumers (though we’ve always had ultimate power in the wallet), and that what was once pure hit-or-miss with advertising (the consumer side of spray-and-pray) is more often, today, data-driven dialogue with the many brands we use.

So what does “omnichannel” mean to me, as a consumer?

  1. That a brand that I choose to use—and possibly have a data-based relationship with—will recognize me uniquely as a customer, no matter what the channel.
  2. That the data such brands may have about me is shared throughout the organization, so that all parts of the organization—sales, marketing, customer service, finance, in-store, Web, mobile, social, partners, service providers—can act in coordination.
  3. That I am respected as a customer and treated royally. Of course, this is about the products and services I buy and use. It is also about extending to me notice and choice about channel preferences, and possibly subject preferences, and that all data about me is secured.
  4. That I actually expect (and in some cases, demand) that brands actually use data about me to make brand messaging and content more relevant to me. If you collect or track information, please use it—wisely!
  5. That if I’m not yet a customer—that is, if I’m still a prospect—that points 3 and 4 still apply from a prospect’s perspective. I understand points 1 and 2 are about customers, but even here, some elements of prospecting require careful coordination to respect my time.

On a practical level, this “omnichannel” expectation requires brands to remove channel and function silos on the brand-side and walk the talk on customer relationship management, customer-centric marketing, customer experience, lead nurturing and other advertising and marketing processes that reflect today’s brand-customer dialogue.

It also requires that marketers invest in data governance, data quality, data-sharing technology platforms, analytics, preference centers, multivariate testing, employee and partner training and strategies to work toward this omnichannel vision, that is, from this consumer’s perspective.

Suffice to say, multichannel—interacting with customers in multiple channels—is a journey stop to omnichannel. Omnichannel is smart marketing, realized—and very hard work. As a communications professional, I’ll be attending several omnichannel learning venues this Spring to see how brands are trying to make this vision happen.

For those in the New York area:

On April 23: http://www.dmcny.org/event/2013-breakfast-series-3 (Direct Marketing Club of New York)

On May 22: http://www.dmixclub.com/CMS_Files/index.php (Direct Marketing Idea Xchange: This is an invitation-only event for qualified senior-level marketers. Please reach out to me if you would like to be invited.)

On June 10: http://www.imweek.org/ (Direct Marketing Association, in cooperation with eConsultancy)

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

3 thoughts on “What Is ‘Omnichannel’? And Is It Different From ‘Multichannel’?”

  1. There seems to a fundamental confusion here as to what a channel is.
    Who is the vendor – the retailer or the "brand"?

    If I buy a book from Amazon, I neither know nor care who the publisher is. So am I an Amazon customer, or a Penguin (let’s say) one?

    If I buy an iPhone am I an Apple customer or a Verizon one?

    And if I buy a 99c hamburger do I really expect to be treated "royally", just as if I’d bought a $100,000 car? Or do I really expect the basics – that it is fit for purpose (i.e. edible in the case of the burger) and that, if I have a complaint, it is dealt with quickly, courteously and effectively?

  2. Informative article, Just came across a very interesting audio cast and whitepaper on multichannel marketing, it also discusses the importance of technology in retail, readers will find it useful @ http://bit.ly/10XoIQa

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