Multi-channel vs. Omnichannel: What’s the Difference?

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05/07/2019 in Blog

Let’s be real for a minute, can we? Discussing the difference between multi-channel and omnichannel may seem like we’re splitting semantic hairs, or honestly, trying to sound like the cooler kid on the block. Actually, there is a significant difference between the two.

  • Multi-channel is a marketing strategy.
  • Omnichannel is a consumer experience strategy.

With long-established brands like Toys R Us declaring bankruptcy following a nascent approach to digital transformation, I think it’s safe to challenge those healthcare organizations out there that are looking at omnichannel experience design as a luxury rather than a strategic imperative. As we cruise deeper into the era of consumerism, no major provider brand can truly afford to neglect implementing an omnichannel strategy.

How They’re Similar
There is good reason for some confusion between the terms multi-channel and omnichannel. Both involve a coordinated effort to engage customers using multiple channels. That’s about where the similarities end. As Hubspot says, “All omnichannel experiences will use multiple channels, but not all multi-channel experiences are omnichannel.”

How They’re Different
The biggest difference between omnichannel and multi-channel isn’t a hyphen, it’s a fundamental difference in philosophy. Multi-channel has always been about the channel – what’s the best CTA for Facebook? How often do we change out our Google ad copy? Do we put more budget for our New Mover campaign into direct mail or digital?

Omnichannel isn’t really about the channel or channels. It’s about the consumer and what the consumer experiences no matter where or how or when they encounter your brand. An omnichannel experience means that your brand not only has a presence across channels — but that all of those experiences are integrated in a way that improves the end-to-end customer experience.

Furthermore, multi-channel campaigns are often a collection of channels that are executed independently of each other yet are considered to be one campaign as they are tied together by messaging and a common goal. Omnichannel ties the channels together seamlessly and is triggered based on activity or inactivity of the consumer rather than a scheduled series of communications. By developing an omnichannel experience, mapping content across the entire consumer journey, the consumer receives exactly the information they need when they need it.

According to Marketo, omnichannel is “viewing the experience through the eyes of your customer, orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent. Omnichannel anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution. Making these complex ‘hand-offs’ between channels must be fluid for the customer. Simply put, omni-channel is multi-channel done right!”

Why Omnichannel Is a Strategic Imperative
Due to a phenomenon called liquid expectations, healthcare consumers’ interactions with other businesses and service industries have taught them to have high expectations for their providers and a low tolerance for poor service. Today, the majority of Americans are apt to switch healthcare providers when they aren’t completely satisfied, which equates to an overwhelming 91% according to this 2017 survey. Clearly, provider brands who take this seriously and tackle the experience challenges head on have a real opportunity to differentiate, but that requires thinking outside the box about more than phones, tablets, and the web. Now, omnichannel design should start to include technologies that are quickly transitioning from leading edge to mainstream, such as chatbots, wearables, and speech-driven apps like those for Amazon Alexa.

An Analog Outside Healthcare
The Starbucks brand has mastered omnichannel experiences. Their mobile app allows customers to order their favorite coffee drink from the location closest to them, stores payment information, and so much more. Plus, the emails Starbucks sends correlate directly with offers and information in the app, and their desktop website offers a seamless experience once users log in. What’s most impressive is how their games and challenges are personalized for individuals, with drink and food choices similar to favorites or items frequently ordered. The level of personalization and continuity is what makes these experiences omnichannel. No matter where a consumer might choose to engage with Starbucks – on mobile, in person, via email or website – the experiences and offers are highly relevant and personalized, which creates repeat customers and long-term loyalty.

Customer Data is the Fuel for Omnichannel Experiences
When delivering true omnichannel experiences, brands take what they learn from consumers engaging with them online and incorporate that data into a complementary offline experience, and vice versa. This has only become possible recently with the advent of customer data platforms (CDP) which have the ability to store, analyze, and manage vast amounts of anonymous and identified customer data and marry it together into a single customer profile. Without a single customer view (SCV), cross-channel personalization becomes incredibly difficult and seamless engagement is nothing more than a pipedream.

Forbes offers this advice about finding the right technology to support your consumer experience efforts: “If you find yourself creating that next experience based on what your technology will allow, the technology should be the thing sacrificed in order to move forward.” Even if you’re in the early stages of creating your consumer experience strategy, you need to be thinking about the limitations of multi-channel vs. omnichannel now, if you hope to scale in the future.

Measuring Success
With a multi-channel strategy, there is no cross-channel measurement, no ability to look at the multiple touchpoints where a consumer interacts with your organization and measure which ones were most effective at driving that person to choose your hospital or provider.

With an omnichannel strategy you can see all the touchpoints, every kind of interaction that consumer had with your brand, and then report on where your marketing efforts are most effective at getting them to click, call, or schedule. With the analytics capabilities of a CDP, you can look at your consumer base to determine which service lines to promote across all channels and understand how to personalize messaging to be more effective, then actually connect those downstream results to prove your return on investment.

Want to learn more about omnichannel marketing backed by CDP technology? Read our recent post.