Omnichannel, or omnichannel marketing, is an approach that provides customers a seamless and integrated experience across all channels.
For instance, a customer can be shopping online from a desktop or a mobile app, or in a store. An omnichannel marketing strategy ensures that their experience is seamless and frictionless. This also means the experience is personalized to that particular customer, irrespective of the channel. Frequently, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are used to deliver these seamless, connected one to one marketing experiences across multiple channels.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s get some confusing items out of the way.
Since digital marketing is so fast-paced and all of these technologies are quite new, there isn’t really a unified set of terminology for all digital marketing terminology.
Terms like “omnichannel” and “multichannel” which sound quite similar actually have pretty powerful distinctions that need to be understood.
The purpose of this article is to help spell out everything you need to know about Omnichannel marketing in plain English. So without further ado, let’s dive in.
Let’s start with defining multichannel marketing, which will help clarify the differences between it and Omnichannel marketing.
To get very basic, a marketing channel is simply a platform or medium for communicating with customers. For example, television, radio, mobile apps, website, emails, a sales associate in stores, mobile ads, Google ads, etc… are all marketing channels.
When a brand communicates to its customers across multiple different channels, which they usually do, this is referred to as Multichannel marketing.
There is typically more to it than just communicating across all of these channels. There is the strategic element of targeting specific customer segments based on known interests, demographics, psychographics, etc.
All of this could be referred to as multichannel marketing. You as a brand have particular customer user types you are trying to target and are strategically targeting them across multiple channels.
In many ways, this has been going on for years, and with the advent of modern technology, this has been done to a greater degree.
How is omnichannel different?
Omnichannel marketing enables enterprises to connect the channels with which they engage consumers to keep the customer experience frictionless from one channel to the next. When it comes to the customer, each channel is a seamless extension of a brand and they expect to have a cohesive experience when they switch from one channel to the next.
In today’s world, omnichannel marketing is also personalized so that every customer’s experience across all channels is truly cohesive and relevant to them. Basically, omnichannel marketing or omnichannel personalization uses AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) to deliver one to one experiences to customers at the exact moment in time they are most relevant in a way traditional multi-channel marketing could never accomplish.
Multi-channel is push-based marketing. It is a one-way street to get your message to as many people, or the best-targeted group you can get to.
Omnichannel is able to establish a customer’s digital identity and track it across all marketing channels. More than that, it uses the behavior of the customer to help inform about the offers and communications it gives to that customer. And with the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is able to determine the highest engaging actions it can take with each customer.
In this interwoven world of digital and physical channels, a brand needs a customer experience strategy where stores and digital channels coexist and complement each other. As a result, marketing teams need a cohesive, real-time view of customer activity and context that can drive seamless, omnichannel personalization and customer experience.
To illustrate, let’s give you an example.
In scenario one we have a person being marketed to with traditional multi-channel marketing.
Brand X is a banking institution looking to target first time home buyers. Through their marketing research and strategy, they have determined their ideal customer type are newlywed couples with college degrees earning over $100,000 a year in household income.
They develop a multi-channel marketing strategy to deliver highly targeted offers to their target audience across multiple channels such as Facebook advertising, radio commercials, banner advertisements, and even direct mail.
Every couple of months the marketing team analyzes the results of their efforts and makes adjustments to their strategy and messaging to better target their customers and hopefully, improve results.
Now, let’s look at scenario two.
Brand X has now decided to incorporate omnichannel marketing into their strategy. Again they start with an ideal customer type along with strategic messaging and offers to best communicate with their target market.
The brand is able to identify each customer across the various marketing channels they engage with, using browser cookies and mobile device data. With machine learning, the brand is able to test thousands of different offers and messaging permutations across a wide array of scenarios and make insightful connections based on user behavior that no marketing team could ever devise. Delivering key messaging and offers at exactly the right moment in time to exactly the right people, giving the brand the very best opportunity to convert.
In some instances, like in the case of Session AI’s in-session marketing, its ML models analyze and predict while the customer is on the channel, which is in real-time, to make adjustments on the fly based on customer behavior at that moment.
These are very broad and generic examples, but the point is to illustrate the profound difference between multi-channel marketing and omnichannel marketing.
As you can see by the above example, omnichannel offers an unfair advantage to competing brands that target the same audience in the same channels.
Essentially it’s like the difference between firing rockets and heat seeking missiles.
A rocket shoots in the direction in which you aim. If the target moves, the rocket won’t hit.
With a heat seeking missile, the target can zig and zag the heat seeking missile will zig and zag along with it until it reaches its target.
Omni channel marketing is intelligent marketing. It ties your digital identity across multiple platforms and channels and delivers a custom, one-to-one marketing experience based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The key benefit of omnichannel is the ability to use this wide net of data to feed an ever-improving AI to optimize tailored marketing experiences to ideal customers.
What AI does, is it helps to scale and automate. What we are talking about is a one-on-one interaction, at scale. Artificial Intelligence learns your behaviors and anticipates your needs. But in a helpful way. Not in an intrusive way.
Imagine you have a favorite coffee shop you go to. And the staff knows you so well, the barista has your drink ready before you’ve even reached the cash register.
Now imagine doing that for thousands of people at the same time.
That’s where the AI comes into play. It helps you scale your digital interaction with your customers, at times in-store interaction as well. You can’t do this in real-time without artificial intelligence.
ML or machine learning, which is a part of AI, helps understand the behavior of the customer and discover patterns in their behavior. It then creates improved experiences based on these insights.
As we talked about earlier, there is a lot of confusion between the different terminology used for these new digital marketing technologies.
So are omnichannel and 1 to 1 marketing the same thing?
Nope. Not exactly.
One to one marketing is a personalized marketing experience but it does not necessarily take place across multiple channels.
For example, if you are on Facebook and are served a personalized advertising experience based on your general interests along with your recent behaviors on the Facebook platform, you could say you received a 1 to 1 marketing experience.
But this marketing experience cannot be characterized as omnichannel because it was confined to a single platform or channel. In this case, Facebook.
Omnichannel uses the information and behavior across multiple channels to broaden the data sets related to the user and then leverages the delivery and timing of these multiple channels to deliver an optimized marketing experience.
This personalized marketing experience could be said to be a 1 to 1 marketing experience but because it uses the broader context of multiple channels to both receive data and deliver experiences, the overall marketing experience is best characterized as omnichannel.
When it comes to retail sales, Omnichannel personalization is a trend itself.
Omnichannel personalization represents the next level in customer engagement and the future will be clearly defined by those who use the latest technologies to compete in the modern arena of digital marketing.
So we’ve gone over the differences between omnichannel and multichannel and 1 to 1 marketing. But how about the differences between omnichannel itself? The truth is, not all omnichannel marketing solutions are the same.
In all cases, there will be the use of multiple channels, artificial intelligence and machine learning. There will be targeted customers, behavioral learning and custom experiences.
Some omnichannel solutions go a step beyond.
For example, ZineOne offers real-time machine learning (ML) where the AI (artificial intelligence) actually learns about customer behavior in the moment and delivers real-time adjustments based on customer interactions.
How do marketers deliver a one to one experience that customers desire, while protecting sensitive data and staying in compliance with security and privacy regulations?
Millennials trust brands less with the ethical use of their data compared to older generations, yet they are more willing to exchange personal info with companies for the benefits of convenience and personalization.
If this seems like a paradox, it kind of is. However, the solution is for companies to prove they are using data ethically, keeping sensitive data secure, and are driven by creating a better customer experience.
There are a number of ways that companies can use omnichannel personalized marketing while staying in compliance with regulations, and reassuring their customers it’s for their benefit.
Platforms can present customers with consent opt-ins before showing them personalized content. The problem is, often the consent forms need a team of lawyers to understand. When companies make their consent pop-ups clear, concise, and transparent, ensuring customers that no personally identifiable information (PII) is stored, they can stay in compliance with regulations and ease customer concerns.
Companies can let customers know that their data usage is to only provide them with pertinent and relevant information that will help them and make life convenient for them. For example, letting them know how many loyalty points are available to them when they enter the store, that the sale on the item in their cart is about to get over, or that they have an incomplete loan application that needs to be finished.
Make it timely
Interactions based on customer’s real-time actions are a great way to serve them when they need it most, while not storing their information.
The main thing to remember about omnichannel marketing is its ability to create frictionless and integrated customer experiences across all customer touchpoints.
Omnichannel builds off the value multichannel marketing brings and takes it further. Using AI technology and machine learning, Omnichannel learns from customer actions on one channel and presents relevant content on the next.
For example, say Anna is shopping on her laptop for a wedding she will attend soon. She has all of her items in her cart, but gets interrupted and forgets to check out. Later that day, she gets email notification on her phone from the brand reminding her she has items in her cart, and they offer a discount if she submits her order.
Anna completes her order at a discount, has what she needs for the wedding, and the brand has a new loyal customer because they provided a seamless, personalized, and value-added experience.