What is Multi-Channel Marketing?
Multi-channel marketing can be defined in a number of ways, but at the most basic level it breaks down as follows:
Multi-channel marketing is the implementation of a single strategy across multiple channels or platforms, thus maximizing opportunities to interact with prospective customers. A channel might be email, a print ad, a retail location, a website, a promotional event, a mobile app, SMS messaging, a product’s package, or word-of-mouth.
The goal of multi-channel is to give consumers a choice, and allow them buy when and where they want to.
Simple, right? Not really. In fact, at Emarsys, we think “multi-channel marketing” is actually somewhat limiting. To help break down multi-channel marketing and provide more clarity around the term and the industry, we’ve outlined below the perceived benefits, challenges, common questions, resources, and more.
Perceived Benefits of Multi-Channel Marketing
There are a number of perceived benefits to multi-channel marketing, but as any marketer knows, there’s always more to the story:
- Increased Awareness. The multi-channel approach is about casting the widest net to get the maximum customer engagement. However, the multi-channel approach only accounts for number of touch points, versus trying to give customers the best holistic experience throughout all touch points.
- Consistent Messaging. One benefit of multi-channel marketing is the allure of a consistent brand message. It’s a challenge facing all companies, and one many are still trying to figure out. While a multi-channel strategy can help ensure your brand has a consistent message, multi-channel marketing itself usually results in siloed departments pushing their own messaging on their own channels.
- Channel Preference. Reach your customers on their preferred channel. Sounds perfect, right? Yes and no. For companies with a longer buying cycle, you need to hit potential customers more than once, and that means targeting them with the right message, in the right place, at the right time within their journey. Multi-channel marketing may allow you to reach customers on the channel of their choice, but it doesn’t necessarily move them along to purchase.
- More Data. More touch points means more data. However, since a multi-channel approach merely aims to get the word out via the maximum possible number of channels, the data provides more information about the channel itself than the actual customer (think email subject lines vs. customer behavior across channels).
Challenges of Multi-Channel Marketing
Every marketing strategy has its own set of challenges. It’s why we have jobs, right? The same applies for multi-channel marketing:
- Marketing vs. Strategy. The biggest issue with the term multi-channel marketing is that it doesn’t necessarily account for strategy. When people think about multi-channel, they simply think about the different mediums used to reach their customers. A multi-channel strategy, on the other hand, considers how customers move and interact across the various platforms. It may seem like semantics but it’s an important difference.
- More Touchpoints = More Complexity. Creating a multi-channel strategy means having a cohesive message across a number of channels, and a continuous evolution of that message as more data is gathered per customer. This often means new tools or data platforms are needed, someone has to be able to understand the data, and all departments have to be constantly aligned.
- Time & Resources. Just as new tools or software are needed, more time and resources are required to truly build a successful multi-channel marketing strategy. Something not all companies have or are prepared for.
- Attribution. Who gets the credit for leads and revenue? The email marketing team, the social media team, the search team? Multi-channel marketing without the strategy and right attribution model can lead to confusion, and make it hard for the marketing team to make informed decisions on budgeting and resources.
How to Create a Successful Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy
Creating a successful multi-channel marketing strategy is no easy feat, but there are certain considerations that come into play and some ways to get started:
- Integrate Marketing Departments. As mentioned previously, to run a truly successful multi-channel program, departments must be aligned. Break down existing silos to create an integrated marketing team.
- Understand Your Buyer. To create a multi-channel strategy, you first must understand your buyer. Create personas, talk to actual customers, and create tests on the various platforms, testing messaging, timing, sequences, and more.
- Establish a Multi-Channel Platform. The goal of your program should inevitably be to create a single customer view that constantly evolves based on data and campaign testing. To do this, you will need to have a platform that consolidates data and allows you to create 1-to1 marketing programs based on said data.
- Create a Unified Experience. Multi-channel marketing can’t just be about getting your message out there in as many places as possible. Give customers a unified and personalized experience across your various marketing channels. We know it takes work, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Multi-channel Marketing vs. Omnichannel Marketing
While multi-channel certainly has its benefits, it is only part of the picture. Yes, multi-channel makes it possible to interact with more prospective customers and at an increased frequency, however, brands must have a strategy to unite the customer experience across these various channels. Enter: omnichannel.
As noted above, multi-channel tends to refer to the simple distribution of messages across as many channels as possible, while omnichannel refers to the strategic establishment of a holistic customer experience.
We break down omnichannel as follows:
Omnichannel marketing is a multi-channel sales approach that provides the customer with an integrated shopping experience. The customer can be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, via phone, or in a brick-and-mortar store, and the experience will be seamless.
Omnichannel marketing focuses on the customers first. It watches their engagement with the brand, uses data to make informed (and often automated) decisions, and optimizes campaigns as they go.
Want more information? Check out our post 4 Important Differences Between Multi-Channel & Omnichannel Marketing.
Common Multi-Channel Marketing Questions
Multi-channel marketing can be complicated, and we often hear many of the same questions from our customers. We’ve outlined a few below to help you better understand the nuances of multi-channel:
- Why is multi-channel marketing important?
Great question! The bottom line is, customers are no longer on just one channel. We use our phones while typing on our laptops and watching TV. We ask our friends (both on social media in person) for product recommendations, and before we even think about contacting a company, we do as much research as possible. Customers are more informed than ever, and as marketers we have to make sure we are giving them the information they want, when, and where they want it.
- Which marketing channels work best together?
We’d love to give you a simple answer to this, but it will vary from business to business. We’ve seen an increase in offline integrating with online (think hashtags on TV shows) and online integrating with offline (car dealership ads on Pandora). The key is creating a strategy that allows you to track the impact each campaign is having, and start to measure which channels work best together.
- How do I measure multi-channel marketing efforts?
There are a number of steps that will need to be taken, but first and foremost, an agreed upon attribution model will be imperative. Most companies are moving away from first or last touch models and toward W- or U-shaped models. Along with attribution, you will also need to set benchmarks, and measure against those benchmarks until you have a clear understanding of performance.
- What’s the relationship between big data and multi-channel marketing?
We hear this question frequently enough that we decided to write a blog post about it. Big data became a major buzzword in the past few years, yet it seems many people still are unsure of how to use it. For marketers, big data can be a challenge, but with the right platform and the right knowledge, it can certainly work in your favor.
The Future of Multi-channel and the Shift to Omnichannel
As customer expectations rise and technology evolves, the shift from multi-channel to omnichannel will become even more important for brands. Customers want a seamless experience, and that experience has to be across multiple platforms.
As mentioned previously, while multi-channel allows businesses to reach customers on various platforms, it does not offer the unified experience customers expect. Omnichannel on the other hand, does just that.
It may take some time for brands to catch up and siloes to be torn down, but for businesses who want to succeed, they need to shift to an omnichannel strategy.