The world of marketing has changed so much in the last decade. We have come a long way from sending “junk mail” via the postal service to try and entice prospects and customers into doing business with us. Door-to-door sales and cold calling are still a “thing”, but are not nearly as successful as they once were. The advent of computers and mobile phones has completely changed the climate in which businesses compete for customers.
As a society, we have evolved into an always-on, interconnected group with more choices and information than ever. This evolution has spurred a necessary change in our marketing tools and approaches because we, marketers, have a need to reach customers where they are, whenever they want to be reached. We always have to “be on” with interconnected networks using multiple channels to engage, communicate with, and attract our customers.
According to a 2017 article from Forbes, over 98% of customers are switching between multiple devices in a single day. In order to evolve and keep up with customers, three approaches to marketing have emerged: multi-channel, cross-channel, and omni-channel. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages over the others, but they are all able to reach customers somewhere on their customer’s journey.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about the approaches, as quite a few marketers use the terms interchangeably. However, they are quite different., and which works best depends what your company needs.
Multi-channel marketing involves using multiple channels to reach customers at some point on the customer’s journey. These channels can be direct, and several examples include in-person and phone sales, email, pre-roll ads on YouTube, and TV, mail, and online display ads. Companies can also use indirect marketing channels, such as online reviews, social media fan pages, news article, and press releases, websites with SEO, or word-of-mouth and referrals. Each channel has its merits, but none of them tie together for a seamless customer journey, which is a drawback to a multi-channel marketing.
In a multi-channel approach, the channels work independently of each other and there is no communication between the channels. The customer cannot move between the channels and continue seamlessly on with their journey. Moving from one channel to another means that the customer restarts the journey at each new touchpoint.
Take Lisa for example. She wants to purchase a pair of new running shoes that she saw in a catalog she got in the mail. She looks the shoes up online to find reviews and then realizes that she got a coupon in her email yesterday for a discount on the color she really wants. She starts her purchase online but realizes that she has to get ready for work and must abandon her cart before she completes the purchase. On her lunch break, Lisa decides to complete her transaction from this morning, but she has to start the process completely over because none of her shopping activity was recorded.
New businesses and those just beginning their marketing journeys can start with multi-channel marketing. However, this approach is very quickly becoming more and more obsolete. Customers and businesses alike need a connected approach that allows visibility of the entire customer journey for the marketer and provides a better experience for the customer.
Cross-channel marketing is very similar to multi-channel marketing, with one exception, that being that the marketing channels are connected. This allows customer interactions to be recorded and for the channels to communicate information about the customer between them. This also allows the customer to move almost effortlessly between the channels during their journey.
Remember Lisa? In a cross-channel journey, Lisa would have received a flyer in the mail that included a specific campaign URL for her to enter when she looked the shoes up online. In addition, not only would she have been able to retrieve her shopping cart at lunchtime, she would have received an email reminding her that she had left items in her cart and a link to the cart. After completing her purchase, she would have received a “thank you” email with a survey about her experience and a 25% off coupon for her next purchase. The coupon would have a unique barcode or offer number that was created for her. The coupon would be good for Lisa to use online or in-store when she makes her next purchase.
In Lisa’s example, the cross-channel approach allowed the channels (website, email, in-store) to communicate with each other to record Lisa’s shopping experience. This will help build a light profile on Lisa, based on her purchase and her feedback (or lack thereof) from the survey.
Most companies, large and small, have embraced cross-channel marketing in some form. Some organizations may opt to only connect online channels. Some may connect online to off-line channels to print and direct mail. The “best” option really depends on what the business’ marketing goals are and what channels their customers use.
Omni-channel marketing is the most sophisticated of all marketing types. It includes multiple channels, just like multi- and cross-channel marketing, but in a much better way. The channels are connected like in cross-channel marketing, but they are also interconnected and interactive, allowing for maximum engagement with the customer. The channels simultaneously exchange information about the customer and work seamlessly together to create a comprehensive user experience across all channels. The primary goal of omni-channel marketing is to remove all barriers between a customer’s online and off-line journey.
So, let’s return to Lisa’s buying journey. We already know that she was able to purchase her running shoes, but she received a “thank you” email with a coupon that has a unique code specifically for her due to her completing a customer satisfaction survey. On her next visit to the website, Lisa is met with a personalized dashboard that has current promotions and recommended items based on her past purchase. On the screen there is also running apparel that coordinate with the colors in her shoes and are from the same brand.
Lisa is so impressed with the selection that she requests the store closest to her house pull and hold three items for her to “try before she buys”. A few days later, Lisa goes into a brick-and-mortar location with her coupon to try on and purchase the running apparel she had chosen online. Not only does the saleslady know what shoes Lisa purchased, she recommends a better type of sock for Lisa based on the way her new shoes fit. The saleslady knows Lisa’s name and was able to email her a copy of the store’s return policy. Lisa is thanked again by the saleslady and receives a personal email from her with her direct contact information in the event that Lisa has any additional questions.
As you see, the many channels that Lisa touched worked together seamlessly to provide her with positive and engaging interactions. No matter what the goal is, omni-channel marketing provides the ultimate customer experience.
So, if being remarkable, constantly delighting customers with great experiences, and being seen as a tech leader in their industry are things that a company strives for, omni-channel marketing is well worth the investment. This marketing approach is growing in popularity as marketers see an increase in customer demand for transparency, accessibility and flexibility in how they shop.
In the end, most important thing is not which marketing approach a business chooses. The most important thing is to always put your customer’s experience at the center or your marketing strategy. As marketers, our job is to connect customers with products, brands, and messages. As such, we must avoid the temptation to market to “things” – channels, devices, and technologies. As technology becomes more advanced and the number and types of devices multiplies, the temptation to market to those things can become overwhelming. Nevertheless, by remaining focused on the people and the motivations behind the channels, devices and technologies, marketers can cash in on an extraordinary opportunity to connect with their customers.
Do not look at the different channels as challenges. Embrace them! More screens equal more moments that matter.