Omnichannel Vision, Multichannel Reality?

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Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News
Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News

Back in the day all the industry hype was around integrated marketing. The goal of integrated marketing—as you'll recall if you were in marketing at the time—was to connect your marketing channels to deliver a holistic customer experience in terms of offers, messaging, and the like. Orchestrating campaigns and communications across several channels enabled each channel to support the others—improving not only the impact and performance of each individual channel, but also the outcome of the integrated campaign overall.

Sound familiar?

Of course it does. Depending on your preferred jargon, you could swap the term integrated marketing for cross-channel, multichannel, or omnichannel marketing.

But, wait—before you rush to judgment, ready to debate whether these terms are actually interchangeable—let's review the nuances commonly cited for the three “-channel” definitions.


Although some marketing pundits say that the term multichannel marketing has replaced integrated marketing, others take the term at its most literal: simply using more than one channel to market to customers, no orchestration required. Some industry insiders claim that this somewhat disconnected approach is all too common today.


Similarly, while some marketing insiders consider cross-channel marketing a mere synonym for multichannel marketing, others define it as a basic integrated orchestration of marketing using multiple  channels where the sharing of data from each channel helps enhance the performance of the others and of campaigns overall.


Marketers who consider multichannel marketing to be the integrated marketing of today are exasperated by yet another new name for marketing via multiple channels in an integrated fashion. But omnichannel is far more than that to many other marketers, especially those in retail who have to deal with on- and offline integration. Indeed, some think that it's marketing nirvana, as it goes beyond a simple orchestration of multiple channels to a holistic, fully integrated approach that starts with shared data and ends with comprehensive attribution. Few have achieved this ideal state of holistic marketing, many pundits say.

Marketing and the technologies that influence and support it have evolved—and so has the terminology defining the many-tentacled outreach marketers use today to connect and interact with, engage, and inspire consumers across the multiplicity of channels those customers use to discover, research, and purchase. The current hype is around omnichannel. Considering the depth and comprehensiveness of omnichannel marketing as many marketers define it, you can see why. But is there substance behind the hype, or is the reality that all marketing today should be deeply integrated despite what marketers call it?

The fact is, marketers can't help but rename their approaches to show that they're keeping pace with change. Consider Pegasystems Founder and CEO Alan Trefler, who in discussing the benefits of real-time marketing said recently that “responsive channel engagement” is how marketers can interact seamlessly with customers across channels and in context. Another catchy new term for a new approach to the ever-evolving discipline of marketing.

Looking for the complete 2014 Essential Guide to Omnichannel Marketing?

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