Learn the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing

A man in an office uses his phone to learn the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing.

Your customers aren’t using just one channel — they’re switching between their social media feeds, email inboxes, SMS messages, and countless other channels while online. To make sense of the madness, your business needs a unified marketing strategy for all of the channels that customers use to engage with your brand.

Chances are, you already use email, social media, and other channels to interact with your buyers. But the way you operate and integrate these channels can have a tremendous impact, not only on the customer experience but also on your marketing ROI. Many businesses invest in either multichannel or omnichannel strategies to rein in their disparate channels as a way to improve the customer experience and boost sales.

Omnichannel and multichannel marketing may sound similar, but they have several key differences that can affect your marketing performance. By learning the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing, you’ll have a better understanding of which strategy will work best for your business.

In this article, you’ll learn about:

How omnichannel is defined

Omnichannel marketing is when businesses integrate multiple channels to create a seamless purchasing experience for their customers. Omnichannel ensures quality no matter where, when, or how customers interact with your brand.

This marketing strategy integrates all of your customer-facing channels, including:

With omnichannel marketing, you create unified messaging, promotions, and campaigns across all channels at the same time. No matter where and when customers interact with your brand, they’ll have a consistent, frictionless experience. Done right, omnichannel ensures customers receive relevant, useful offers based on their interests and history with your company.

For example, a customer visits your website and adds a product to their cart but doesn’t finish their purchase. Instead of letting that lead disappear, your ecommerce store automatically sends that customer an email with a discount on the item in their cart. You also serve retargeting ads to that customer on social media and search engines with the same discount. If the shopper does buy something, they automatically receive an email thanking them or requesting them to review the product or purchase experience.

Omnichannel marketing gives brands multiple opportunities to interact with shoppers across different channels. For example:

The best thing about omnichannel is that you have multiple, consistent touchpoints with shoppers. If the customer doesn’t engage with you, your funnel can offer other incentives — or pursue other tactics altogether — to convert more shoppers. You’ll need an omnichannel marketing platform to do this at scale, but it can lead to tremendous growth for your business.

With omnichannel, there’s no single way for customers to interact with your brand. Buyers pick up and drop off in different places and still have the same experience, which works wonders for customer satisfaction and brand consistency.

With omnichannel marketing, you create unified messaging, promotions, and campaigns across all channels at the same time.

The benefits of omnichannel

Omnichannel marketing might sound complicated, but this sophisticated strategy can help your brand stay top of mind for shoppers. Omnichannel marketing benefits your brand by:

  1. Unifying your brand presence. Since 90% of customers expect a consistent experience across all channels, omnichannel marketing helps you meet customer expectations. Omnichannel ensures consistency across all touchpoints in the customer journey. For example, the promotion you promise shoppers on Google Ads should match the promotions on your social media, website, and in-store signage.
  2. Encouraging conversions. When you integrate marketing channels, customers have the freedom to complete their purchases from anywhere. By removing the need to buy through a particular channel, you allow customers to check out immediately via their smartphone, an ad, or your website. Campaigns using three or more channels have a 287% higher purchase rate than single-channel campaigns, so omnichannel is a great way to boost conversions across the board.
  3. Increasing sales. Increased conversions lead to more sales, and omnichannel customers spend more than any other type of customer. For example, Target realized its omnichannel shoppers spend four times more than in-store shoppers. If you want to increase customer lifetime value and average order value, omnichannel is the way to go.

How multichannel is defined

With multichannel marketing, a brand sells its product or service via multiple channels. However, these channels are segmented and operate independently of each other.

Multichannel campaigns allow for each channel to operate using separate strategies. This means you might have different promotions on each channel, so cross-channel promotions are less common — and so is consistency across channels.

For example, a customer visits your website and leaves an item in their shopping cart. They opted in to receiving emails, so your system sends an abandoned cart message. However, the customer receives an offer targeted toward first-time buyers, not for customers who have an item in their carts. The person might still choose to check out, but the language in the email could be confusing.

Because they’re more siloed, multichannel marketing campaigns allow brands to experiment with different strategies for each channel. Unlike omnichannel, multichannel doesn’t encompass every channel. With this approach, you focus on your most effective channels.

The benefits of multichannel

While multichannel isn’t quite as integrated as omnichannel, it still offers benefits to brands including:

  1. Channel prioritization. Multichannel marketing allows brands to focus their time and energy on their best-performing channels. Instead of diluting your resources across all channels, you prioritize the channels that make the most sales. Since 52% of marketers use three to four marketing channels, multichannel allows you to focus only on the channels that bring in the most results. This is why multichannel is ideal for companies with limited time or resources.
  2. Product focus. While omnichannel focuses on the customer experience, multichannel puts the brand’s product front and center. This is why multichannel is a popular option for ecommerce brands that sell on their website, Amazon, eBay, and other platforms. Since you can’t feed these separate platforms into each other, multichannel is a boon to product-focused ecommerce brands. Multichannel removes distractions so you can concentrate on what you really want people to do — buy your products.
  3. Simplification. Multichannel marketing removes complexity from your business and simplifies your strategy. Multichannel isn’t as complex as omnichannel, so it’s an easy first stepping stone for brands that eventually want to embrace omnichannel. If you want to dip your toes into integrated marketing, multichannel can give you early wins and help you troubleshoot before you invest in a resource-intensive omnichannel strategy.
Because they’re more siloed, multichannel marketing campaigns allow brands to experiment with different strategies for each channel.

Omnichannel vs. multichannel

Now that we understand how these two marketing approaches work, we can look at the differences between multichannel and omnichannel marketing. In practice, they’re two very different strategies.

Omnichannel marketing is very customer-focused. It integrates multiple channels into a single, harmonious shopping experience. It adapts to where customers are and how they want to interact with your brand. Promotions are usually identical or very similar, so shoppers see the same offer on all channels at the same time.

Multichannel marketing segments every channel into its own experience. Instead of focusing on the customer experience as a whole, multichannel largely centers around your product or service.

Multichannel strategies include multiple channels, but they don’t include all channels and devices. This means the channel experience is static rather than integrated. Because of this, the experience shoppers have on your website will be totally different from what they see on your social media feed. The upside is that multichannel does a great job of providing the right information to the right person at the right time. Instead of investing in every channel like you would with omnichannel, you focus your time and money on channels that bring in the most sales.

With multichannel, you invest in multiple channels, but they aren’t woven together as tightly as they would be with an omnichannel approach. Omnichannel, on the other hand, includes all experiences, devices, and channels in one strategy. With omnichannel, you create a seamless experience for shoppers, regardless of where they find you.

While it might sound like one strategy is superior to the other, it isn’t that simple. Choosing between omnichannel or multichannel comes down to your business model, resources, customers, and goals.

Examples of omnichannel vs. multichannel strategies

Now that we know the main differences between omnichannel and multichannel, let’s look at a few examples to better understand each strategy in practice.

Omnichannel strategies are more homogenous, which means the customer will have a similar experience regardless of where they interact with your business. For example:

Multichannel, on the other hand, allows each channel to operate independently. The brand itself is the focus of the messaging, not the customer. For example:

Choosing between an omnichannel or multichannel approach

The difference between two business woman, one choosing multichannel and another choosing omnichannel.

After learning about the differences between multichannel and omnichannel, you might wonder which option is right for your business. It really comes down to your brand’s available resources and flexibility.

While it isn’t the ideal way to embrace cross-channel marketing, multichannel marketing is a better option for some businesses. Multichannel marketing might be a fit for your team if:

However, if you have more resources and want the benefit of consistent messaging across your channels, omnichannel is ideal. Keep in mind that you need support systems to make omnichannel a reality. It requires IT infrastructure, a large and experienced marketing team, and alignment across departments. It might even require internal restructuring to pull off.

But omnichannel has a tremendous upside, which is a streamlined customer experience. This alone can help you:

Overall, both strategies offer advantages to your business. If you have the budget and the infrastructure to support the complexities of omnichannel, it can offer more long-term benefits than multichannel marketing.

But there’s nothing wrong with embracing multichannel right now. From there, you can gain experience and embrace an omnichannel approach once you have more resources.

Developing the right strategy for your business

Knowing the differences between omnichannel and multichannel marketing can help you choose the best strategy for your brand’s needs.

Omnichannel offers an integrated, seamless experience across all of your channels for a better customer experience. Consumers can interact with you on different platforms, effortlessly continuing the conversation regardless of the channel.

Multichannel funnels marketing resources to your top-performing channels. It might not be as holistic as omnichannel, but it allows smaller brands to achieve early wins on their way to full omnichannel implementation.

Both multichannel and omnichannel strategies encourage brands to create content on multiple channels, but they differ in terms of:

When you’re ready to get started, think about which strategy you want to pursue. From there, examine your available resources to figure out if it’s feasible and what it would take to get started. If integrated marketing is new for your business, or you have limited resources right now, consider opting for multichannel first. You can always upgrade to omnichannel strategies once you have more experience.

Whether you opt for omnichannel or multichannel, you’ll need the right tools to make the most of your marketing campaigns. Adobe Marketo Engage allows you to track touchpoints and engage customers across channels to deliver an excellent customer experience.

Take a product tour of Marketo Engage to see how it can help you manage your omnichannel or multichannel strategy.

Adobe Journey Optimizer uses real-time data to help you segment your audience and manage your omnichannel campaigns.

Get a demo of Journey Optimizer to explore how it can help your omnichannel campaigns succeed.