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Omni-channel versus multi-channel which is right for your business?

28 Feb 10:00 by Jon McNeish



Reaching customers through a variety of channels is no new phenomenon. New technologies and strategies have improved communications with consumers, with mutli-channel and omni-channel approaches being frequently debated.  Each is a unique approach with the same aim to use marketing channels to reach and influence consumers.


Multi-Channel Marketing

            Multi-channel marketing aims to communicate with customers through the maximum number of channels, both direct and indirect. This strategy has evolved from the recent wider resources available for consumers to gain information on products.

            Multi-channel combines old and new sources for marketing, from print sources to social media. Lindsay Tjempkema, Marketing Director from Emarsys defines multi-channel marketing as the “implementation of a single strategy across multiple channels or platforms.”


Omni-Channel Marketing

Omni-channel marketing aims to provide consumers with a consistent and integrated experience. The strategy is based on all engagement with the brand being seamless whether it be in brick-and-mortar shops or on a mobile app.

            Omni-channel marketing is best employed when paired with data. Darr Gerscovich, winner of Direct Marketing News 40 under 40, describes the process as collecting online and offline data to identify touchpoints, this data optimises communications to present to consumers at the right time, in the right place.

Communications reflect how consumers move seamlessly between digital and physical worlds, unifying the experience involves understanding that all marketing touchpoints contribute to conversions.


What’s the difference?

At first glance, multi-channel and omni-channel may not seem dissimilar. However, the two strategies can lead businesses down different paths.

Multi-channel strategies are organised like ‘swimming lanes’, optimised and focused for each channel- with individual reporting and goals. The structure of a multi-channel strategy aims to boost individual offline and online channels separately.

Omni-channel puts the customer at the core to its strategy, no matter where the consumer may be the experience is seamless. Omni-channel strategies align messaging, design and goals across channels, this is integrated throughout the entire business.


The distinguishing feature that separates omni-channel marketing from multi-channel is the depth of integration.


Multi-Channel Marketing Advantages and Disadvantages



Increased brand awareness and reach- digital customers utilise different channels. Using more than one channel reaches a larger portion of your market’s online interactions.


Technical capabilities- lack of personalisation in the digital era- consumers expect relevant and tailored messages


Consumer preference- consumers can connect with the brand at their own convenience, in a way in which they choose. This allows for more target market segments to be reached


Lack of buyer persona- by not targeting users, channels often all exploit the same message. This means that businesses produce a generalised marketing message.


Engagement- when reaching consumer through different channels, consumers are more likely to be more responsive. Contacting individuals in their preferred channels, response rates increase, by leaving no channel behind, engagement is expected to increase.


Cost- lack of persona’s and targeted messages can mean that budget is wasted by showing consumers messages that are irrelevant to them.

Increases Competition- Multi-channel marketing often increases internal competition between teams- based on who can drive the best results.

Maintaining consistent messages – consistency becomes more difficult due to the diversity of channels.



Topshop’s 2011 ‘Wish You Were At Topshop’ campaign utilised multi-channel marketing to connect the shop floor with online space, using Instagram and instore iPads.

The campaign aimed to offer customers in-store a free style and make up session following this, customers could create a digital ‘Wish You Were At Topshop” postcard. The aim was to increase engagement and content on Facebook and Instagram.

The campaign was covered by 640 blogs with a potential reach of 1.3 million users. Focusing on the one channel generated what would usually be a year’s worth of Topshop’s Facebook activity in four days.


Omni-Channel Marketing Advantages and Disadvantages



Increase Customer Loyalty- Personalised and relevant messages means that businesses are able to send the appropriate actions when needed. Aberdeen Group found that businesses with strong omni-channel customer engagement have an 89% customer retention rating.

Cost- Businesses will have to employ an omni-channel system to organise messaging, which can often be costly. Customer engagement hubs are systems designed to deliver the next best action available, regardless of channel.

Unified, compatible experience- by uniting data businesses can serve and integrate a consistent brand image across personalised channels.

Maintaining familiarity with customers improves response rate- for example, contacting app users via in-app notifications.

Complexity- Omni-channel marketing requires organisational alignment, from senior, to channel-focused teams to shop floor staff. Unifying teams throughout is down to adequate training to reduce the separation between digital and physical.


Customer centric- Omni-channel aims to reduce effort from the customer experience, by identifying it with data.

Data Silos- Raw data is often daunting and needs to be broken down to create a clear understanding of the consumer.

Both online and offline data is required to be unified to align with the customers preferences.

Diverse options- The process of creating different messages for different channels. This works best in keeping consumers engaged with marketing messages.




Starbucks, traditionally a brick and mortar business, employed an impressive tech-savvy omni-channel strategy. Using their mobile app, customers can view the menu, specify order customisations and receive a time to collect their order.

The app works alongside the Starbucks rewards system and updates in real-time, whilst locating nearby shops, allowing you to top up your card and more. Most notable is the ability to discover what song is playing in your café and save it directly to your Spotify account. Starbucks has re-defined its customers experience through the integration of its online and offline presence, and can even acquaint 30% of its US sales to its mobile app.


Choosing a strategy implementing various channels requires alignment with the goals of your business. Implementing a multi-channel strategy does not necessarily mean that your efforts will be omni-channel, however omni-channel is always multi. Taking a multi-channel approach allows different teams to showcase their own specialities and can create a level of friendly competition. Employing a multi-channel strategy allows businesses to reach a wider range of customers.

Omni-channel experiences have to be integrated and designed with a more holistic view on marketing. Omni-channel efforts are designed around reaching the right consumer with the right message, at the right time.


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Tjempkema, L. What is Multichannel marketing? Emarsys

Gerscovich, D., in Pophal, L., (2015), Multichannel vs. Omnichannel Marketing: Is There a Difference, and What Does It Mean to You?

Aberdeen Group, RedPoint Global, What is Omni-channel marketing?