In the relatively short time that human beings have been on this planet, we have seen a lot of things fall to the wayward and into extinction. In some cases, it was animals like the Dodo bird, the Caspian tiger, or the Baiji dolphin; in others, it was our creations that became outdated like dial-up internet, 8-track cassettes, or what’s even more relevant today, the Single-Channel experience.
Anyone in the world of tech, retail, sales, marketing, or digital business is familiar with the buzzwords Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel experiences, except, these should no longer be considered as buzzwords. Yes, both of these strategies have stood the test of time and have proven their value in improving revenues and customer experience, especially in comparison to the ones who are still hanging on to a Single-Channel strategy.
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. First, allow me to establish what exactly these two strategies are because I have entered many discussions where differentiation of both is completely misunderstood.
Two Strategies - One Customer
A Multi-Channel strategy is what the vast majority of companies today are practicing. Much like the name suggests (multi, or “more than one”), it means employing catalogue, social, online, marketplace, and retail, ultimately providing the consumer with a choice of multiple channels to engage with a brand. In this scenario, each channel operates independently, with its own native goals and tactics, to drive the customers' journey.
On the other hand, Omni-Channel strategy (where omni represents “all”) also utilizes multiple channels to interact with customers just like multi-channel; however, it is here that the similarities end. An omni-channel experience is one that “unifies” all channels to provide a continuous experience for the customer.
Unlike multi-channel, which is very channel based in its individual efforts and strategy, omni-channel is more cohesive in nature, with the ultimate goal of providing a seamless experience, no matter where or when the customer chooses to engage and/or convert in their journey.
So now that I’ve established what both multi-channel and omni-channel strategies are, let’s see them in action.
Mark’s Multi-Channel Journey
While out for drinks one night, Mark notices his friends' watch and is quite taken by it. So much so that he decides to take out his phone and look at the manufacturer's website. While scrolling through their product line, he is met with a pop-up that offers him a 10% discount on his first purchase if he subscribes to their mailing list. He enters his email, and even goes as far as selecting a watch to purchase, however, realizing he is at a bar with friends and it may not be the best time to buy, he abandons his cart and puts his phone away.
The next day Mark receives a welcome email from the manufacturer with links to their social pages and product catalogue. He decides to visit their Facebook page, and upon arrival, he is greeted with another offer for 10% off his purchase through the Facebook Shop if he “Likes” their page. As he scrolls through he finds the same watch he likes and again, puts it in his shopping cart. However, still a little groggy from the night before, Mark isn’t quite ready to commit, so he closes his computer and decides to get on with his day.
A few days later Mark is walking through the local mall when he comes across a retail location of the watch manufacturer. To his surprise, he notices the front of the store is covered in signage indicating that there is a sale and all watches are 20% off. Taking this sale and his unexpected arrival at the physical store as a sign, Mark decides to enter the store and buys a watch.
By the time Mark gets home, he receives a “Thank You” email from the manufacturer on his recent purchase. A few days after that, and still very happy with his new timepiece, Mark is a little disappointed to see his social media feeds continuing to be retargeted with ads for the same watch he just purchased.
As you can see, Mark’s Multi-Channel journey took him across different opportunities to not only interact with the brand but to purchase from whichever channel he felt most comfortable with. For Mark and his journey, it was all about choice, one that was ultimately his to make as to when and how he would purchase. Unfortunately, some of the other channel teams never received the data about Mark, and thus, valuable resources were wasted trying to retarget him.
Mark’s Omni-Channel Journey
Now let’s take a look at what that journey would have looked like if it was through an omni-channel strategy, and I’ll start right after he puts his phone away at the bar.
The next morning Mark is awakened with a welcome email from the watch manufacturer. The email reminds him that his 10% discount offer is still valid and also provides a quick link to his abandoned cart if he wishes to complete the purchase right away. However, he chooses to ignore this email and gets on with his day.
After a few days of Mark’s inactivity, the manufacturer's preset tactics switch gears. Instead of sending Mark the same discount offer that he seems to be ignoring, they display a mix of retargeting ads and customer testimonials on his Facebook feed, a tactic they hope may give him more confidence in making a purchase.
Three days later and still unmoved, the offer gets amped up. They send Mark a personalized email invitation to experience the watches first-hand and take advantage of the special 20% discount at one of their retail locations. He accepts the invitation, visits the store, and ends up making a purchase.
By the time Mark goes home with his new watch, there is a “Thank You” email waiting for him. Soon after, the manufacturer reaches out to Mark on social media, requesting a product review, which he responds to positively. In the meantime, ads across all social media for the watch have stopped; only to be replaced by watch accessories made by the same manufacturer.
How Do You Decide Which Strategy is Right for You?
Before choosing between multi-channel and omni-channel, it is important to acknowledge a couple of things. First, and as should be clear by now, they are not the same. Secondly; and this one may come across as a bit abrupt, but, omni-channel is a superior experience.
Reason being, that omni-channel strategy provides the customer with a consistent, intuitive, and personalized experience that they expect but (with a capital “B”), choosing an omni-channel experience also means - investing heavily in your organization’s capabilities. What does that look like? Well, for starters you’ll need a deeper understanding of your customers, an enhanced technical infrastructure, advanced employee skillset, and most of all, a shared vision to not only kick off the initiative but to fully realize its potential.
In a multi-channel initiative, all channels work independently of one another, allowing for modular implementation and upkeep. This can allow organizations to get their feet wet first, so to speak, and prepare them for an eventual shift to omni-channel. The major downside with multi-channel is that consistent branding and communication can prove difficult with so many disconnects between channels; often leaving customers feeling unhappy through conflicting experiences.
While both have their benefits and challenges, it is up to you and your objectives to determine which strategy is right, and in some cases, even feasible, to implement. Remember, a non-functioning or disjointed omni-channel strategy is essentially the same as having no strategy at all. So if you are looking to make the leap towards omni-channel, ask yourself:
- Do we have the vision and team alignment to make this successful?
- Do we have the required talent, skillsets, and compensation model?
- Have we identified the right mix of tools to support our transition and implementation?
- Do we understand the implications of data integration?
What to Remember
The channel strategies have evolved alongside customer expectations. Today, customers are empowered to do more, and as such, expect more from their brands in the channels and avenues they can interact with them. In the journey of digital transformation, we already know that the future lays in experiences; however, the only question left is how seamless, intuitive, and memorable will yours be?