Blog post

Multichannel vs Omni-Channel Marketing

By Jennifer Polk | October 16, 2015 | 2 Comments

digital marketing

Do you practice multichannel marketing or omni-channel marketing? Is it merely semantics or is there a material difference? If there is a difference, then why should marketers favor one over the other? Maybe we’re talking semantics. Many marketers use omni-channel marketing and multichannel marketing interchangeably without giving much thought to the nuances. But, as the definitions above show, they are different. Intentional language can lead to more purposeful action.

Multichannel marketing vs Omni-channel marketingWhat’s the difference?

Omni- means “all things, in all ways or places”. When you apply this definition to marketing, it suggests that your brand and your message should be everywhere, all the time—omnipresent in the lives of your audience. And, in fact, that’s how many marketing teams operate. They approach marketing the way you’d tackle grocery shopping. Milk, eggs, social, mobile—checking each box and covering every conceivable marketing channel. On the other hand, multi- means “more than”. Applied to marketing, this means more than one channel, but it doesn’t necessarily mean marketing occurs simultaneously across all touch points. It allows for synchronization.

Multichannel Marketing vs Omni-channel Marketing 

Maybe you embarked on digital marketing by pursuing as many channels as possible, but, as your marketing matures, it’s time to evolve to a more carefully coordinated approach, based on data and driven by insight. Omni-channel marketing requires you to know your audience and which channels they use, but it ignores the distinct role that each channel plays in their buying journey. Multichannel requires context, specifically, a greater understanding of where your customers are in their buying journey or decision-making process, and the ability to apply that insight during planning and throughout execution to make sure your marketing is in tune with their needs.

For instance, is your audience ready to buy or simply researching options? Sending an email with an offer to someone who’s already on your digital commerce site or on the phone with your call center and ready to place an order shows you’re ignoring purchase intent, which can cost you the sale and margin. And sending an email, followed by an SMS, while retargeting them with ads can be downright annoying and alienating. But, how do you avoid these errors? How do you plan, execute and optimize marketing across channels—not all at once—but in harmony with the audiences’ needs, preferences and behavior?

In this week’s Analyst Picks, we highlight results from Gartner’s Multichannel Marketing Survey, which shows how other companies are investing and managing multichannel marketing and the role of key channels like mobile and social in the multichannel marketing mix. Our headlines show how marketers are integrating and optimizing digital and traditional channels, from direct mail to call centers, to achieve better results. Use our research findings, along with these examples to start an internal dialogue and determine whether omni- or multichannel fits your brand.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Excellent differentiation. I too find that words are being used loosely without understanding of the strategy. I like the way you have defined the terms. I would add that you need to tailor the message by media type to the market segment or individual

  • Lee Davidson says:

    These definitions are a bit off base. The author is taking “multi” and “omni” too literally and misapplying it in this context. Omnichannel (not Omni-channel) is about ensuring that the marketing message in one channel “knows” what the message was in another channel for a particular individual. Multichannel assumes that marketing is executed through multiple channels, but doesn’t necessarily tie one to another for a particular individual. The former is much more difficult to execute as it requires heavy analytics combined with some form of closed-loop feedback system; the latter doesn’t necessarily require that as it’s more concerned with multiple channels as opposed to a unified message for a particular individual.

    P.S. Can we please stop using a “-” I’m between omni and channel? It’s a contradiction in terms.