Unless you’ve been living under a rock or woke up from being cryogenically frozen (I’m looking at you Han Solo), you have probably heard about multichannel marketing, and in turn, omnichannel marketing. Is there a difference? But what’s the difference? Yes, and I’ll give you some examples.

Think of multichannel marketing like a big-box retail store. You have cashiers, managers, custodial staff, customer service, etc. All of them play a part, work together towards a common purpose, and work in tandem with one another. But they don’t necessarily make each other stronger. Just because the cashier (say, email marketing in this example), rings up the customer and is the forward-facing element of your campaign, there are many other background elements going on that led up to that moment, the stocking clerks (social media and online video) makes sure the products are on display, and the on-floor customer service staff (we’ll call them mobile and online advertising) help guide you to purchase.  All of the pieces play a part in the path to purchase, but once that customer gets to the finish line, there is little way to tell what channels got them there. There is no 36oº view of the customer.

In the past, I’ve referenced omnichannel marketing as a rainforest, and ecosystem with symbiosis between individual elements is not only important, but necessary for each piece to continue to grow. I’ll use a very literal example of how omnichannel marketing works in real life. Your bank knows pretty much everything about your financial goings on (if they have you as a credit card and a checking/savings client, at least). If they see a trigger that you are ripe for an equity line, they can employ omnichannel marketing to make sure they know that every element of the campaign is aimed at you as an individual. You see the same messaging on email, targeted banner advertisements, in the mailbox, on the ATM kiosk, on your banking app, when in person with the teller, and with consistency across landing pages, advertisements and social media. Omnichannel hits you from all angles, but knowing that you are prime for a targeted offer, rather than just knowing you are a customer. And best of all, the process is seamless for the customer.

As you can imagine, this sort of marketing has the potential to be much more profitable, as well as much more in-depth. Kyle Gallary, VP of Corporate Strategy and Digital Commerce at Cole Haan noted: “We’ve seen the economics at play, and we can verify that the customers who engage with us through our wholesale partners, in our stores and online are nearly twice as profitable.” Both sorts of marketing should be rooted in the database, but omnichannel marketing takes it one step further, with predictive modeling, next-best-offer algorithms, and big data analyses to better guide the customer throughout the journey to purchase.

So what should you use, multichannel or omnichannel marketing? Considerations like budget and breadth of data come to the forefront, but it is undeniable that you have to start somewhere. If you aren’t ready for a full omnichannel plan yet, multichannel marketing might be the best bet for your business, and it will allow you to collect the data to one day execute on a full-blown omnichannel strategy. One thing is certain – a singular channel is very difficult to operate on without the support of other marketing elements if you want to succeed against your competition. An interesting article to get you started in omnichannel marketing is “6 Steps for Making Omni-Channel Marketing a Reality.” What successes have you seen with multichannel or omnichannel marketing? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!