I am frequently asked about the difference between “multi-channel” and “omnichannel”. And typically my nutshell-answer is …
‘multi-channel’ provides you an increased toolbox of channels for telling your story (=unidirectional),
‘omnichannel’ additionally allows you to listen and getting closer to a conversation (=bidrectional)
Please don’t see this as a dictionary definition. The statement is certainly oversimplified. But for me personally it is really close to the core difference between both how I experience it in real life. Certainly is not the only difference. So, let’s have a closer look … (you may also jump directly to the overview table further below)
I need to disclose a long-term relationship with ‘multi-channel’, which might have accidentally added some bias in the past. Back in 1999/2000, I had developed and managed one of the first online magazines for biotech & life sciences industries in my home country, together with a specialized publisher (read the full story in English/in German).
This online publication was following the emerging ‘multi-channel’ concept already. News and stories were published in parallel on a website version, via an email newsletter and two mobile channels based on pre-smartphone technologies which today nobody knows anymore. The editorial content was created in modules and auto-compiled by the underlying tech system, customized to each channel.
Our users had the choice to read the publication via their preferred channel(s). For us, it didn’t really matter … except that we had metrics in place to watch the reach of each channel and the acceptance of content pieces. Both allowing us to adjust editorial direction and investments for each channel (where the beauty of the system was that it allowed to integrate new or switch off unused channels any time with nearly no additional costs).
The approach was highly efficient and allowed to us to serve a series of touchpoints with a small team, maximizing reach, use and value of the content created.
The following picture shows the same multichannel principle but for a pharma industry example of comms & engagement with their professional customers (HCPs, health care providers).
Today, ‘omnichannel’ took more the lead, even provided you will still find ‘multi-channel’ set-ups that perfectly suit their business cases. But the advantages of ‘omnichannel’ are too evident to be ignored.
Omnichannel is much closer to CX principles and approaches, as it puts customers (and listening to them) more in the center of the whole system. You may now ask, where is the story? It is still there, and you can still tell your story. But data and feedback will tell you very quickly if it is the content the customer is actually interested in. In a way, the customer becomes the story.
The following picture illustrates an omnichannel approach for the same pharma example used before …
There are also features which both have in common …
- Both aim to increase reach by opening additional channels as touchpoints.
- Both aim at providing a consistent and fluid experience across channels and touchpoints.
- Both require to smartly select a channel mix that follows customers’ preferences and fits to their day-to-day reality.
- Both require modularized content as “food” (which also impacts ways of working of content creators).
- And both are based on data streams generated. Not only to follow the customer and what he is doing, and to always have a full picture view on all interactions and status of the relationship. But also allowing to further adjust and optimize the system, to better and better provide the customers with what they need and expect.
This table is nicely putting it together …
So, I hope you feel now having no more excuse being tempted to airily use ‘multi-channel’ and ‘omnichannel’ synonymously. 😉