No matter where you are in your marketing career, you’ve probably heard the term ‘omnichannel’ thrown around quite a bit over the last few years. In this post, we’re going to break down this term and explore how and why it’s such a challenge for marketers to incorporate into their strategy.

Let’s start with the basics. The word ‘omnichannel’ really means “all channels” (think: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent). A channel is a method of distribution or a customer touchpoint. It could be on social media, your website, or – for retailers – a physical store or print catalog.

Marketing’s scale problem

The past was no doubt a simpler time for marketers. A campaign could be as simple as a TV spot coupled with a print ad – a communications plan was choosing between two or three networks and a few major magazines. But, for marketers at global brands, those days are long gone. Marketing complexity is increasing exponentially with the emergence of new channels for content to live on.

The tricky part is that marketing budgets aren’t increasing at the same rate, meaning that the demand for content is outpacing marketing budgets. So, marketers are required to produce more and more content with comparatively fewer resources. In our annual study of content creation costs, we found that the costs of creating content are not only the largest drivers of marketing costs but also that marketing budgets aren’t keeping up. And, 77% of marketers expect this disparity widen in the future.

Why omnichannel and multichannel aren’t the same  

So, since marketers have to activate across multiple channels, that means they’re doing omnichannel marketing, right? Not so fast. We’ve run into the subtle distinction between “Multichannel” and “Omnichannel”– a subtle difference in terms that actually makes a world of difference to your customer’s experience. Multichannel is merely the existence of activations across more than one channel. Pretty much every brand operating today is multichannel – even if all your company has is a website and Twitter account, you’re still activating across multiple touchpoints.

Omnichannel is coordination

Most brands don’t have an effective strategy or system to align the brand experience across those channels and leverage multiple channels in tandem. Unsurprisingly, this gets more complex as the brand gets larger and more global. According to one study from McKinsey, the best way to predict customer outcomes (correlated with increased revenue) is to measure satisfaction on the entire customer journey – rather than a single interaction. Thus the key to satisfying customers is “consistency, consistency, consistency” across channels, touchpoints, and journey stages. This is the essence of omnichannel coordination.

“It’s not enough to make customers happy with each individual interaction…satisfaction on customer journeys is 30 percent more predictive of overall customer satisfaction than measuring happiness for each individual interaction.” –McKinsey & Co.

So, the key to achieve omnichannel excellence is to align experience across customer journey stages and touchpoints. But this is not as simple as it sounds. Today’s customer journey isn’t the linear purchase funnel of the past. Consumers are more self-directed in their habits and educated about the products they buy than ever before — and they are already mixing and matching channels and touchpoints to get there. This trend has created a more empowered and less loyal consumer, meaning that the most successful brands are the ones that are best able to market to omnichannel buyers and leverage their ‘disloyal’ behavior.

Omnichannel Loyalty

In many ways, marketing at most brands hasn’t quite caught up to this aspect of customer behavior: the way that marketing teams often produce content is linear, siloed, and channel-specific, but the way customers experience brands today looks more like a nonlinear mosaic of interactions. Take this example of a customer journey map from Ikea, organized into three categories of channels – all of which interact to form various customer-directed paths to purchase.

Omnichannel Customer Journey Map

Not just a retailer’s problem

Retailers are at the forefront of the discussion about omnichannel – but the same challenges exist across all brands regardless of whether your selling environment is a store. Retail poses a special challenge when it comes to omnichannel because a) the format of physical stores versus online environments is so different, b) so much of what makes up the in-store experience may not be under the direct purview of marketing (i.e. merchandising, store operations, customer service). But other types of companies have similar challenges. For instance, if you’re B2B, how do ensure your customer has a cohesive, on-brand experience, when meetings with sales are the most influential touchpoint for your business? Or, how do you make a live event align with  the tone and aesthetic of your digital content?

Here’s the big challenge for all brands – omnichannel marketing is fundamentally a coordination and alignment problem that actually gets more challenging as your brand gets bigger. It’s unlikely to be best solved by throwing manpower at it. So even if you had ever-increasing resources to match the pace of marketing complexity, without making your operations smarter, more connected, more organized, and more efficient, omnichannel excellence could still be a roadblock to your brand’s growth.

Assess how close your brand is to achieving omnichannel excellence: take our marketing maturity assessment to receive a full evaluation and resources for up-leveling your digital sophistication.