What is Omnichannel?




Definition: Based on a definition by Marketo, Omnichannel means orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent. Anticipating that customers may move across different channels as they progress to a resolution, Omnichannel ensures that the complex channel handoffs are not only fluid and customer-centric but productive–with each channel building on the next–ultimately working together to create a new source of revenue via People-Based Marketing.

Omnichannel has been a heavily used marketing buzzword over the past few years, but to this day, there exist few marketers who truly understand what is means to have an Omnichannel business. In concept, Omnichannel represents the much-needed shift in business approach — a direct result of the evolution of consumer behavior.

Prior to the internet, there were few ways in which an individual could engage with a business: brick and mortar stores, direct mail, and ads – whether print, TV, or radio. Each of these touch points represented a unique marketing channel, or any point of engagement (direct or indirect) an individual could experience with a business.

Due to the lack of data available within these channels, however, they remained limited in their strategic capabilities. Marketers would simply rely on the ‘Spray and Pray’ method.  They would funnel money into ads or direct mail with the expectation that it would lead to a certain amount of monetary returns.

Channels have since exploded, not only in their number but also in their data, their, reach, and their power. From social to search to email to display ads – there are an endless number of channels with which marketers can reach and engage with their audience.

What remains in question is the best way to approach incorporating all those channels into the marketing strategy. Today, the majority of brands take one of two approaches: the Multichannel approach or the Cross-Channel approach.

Graphic with 2 diagrams depicting the differences between Multichannel Marketing and Cross Channel Marketing
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Multichannel means maximizing the performance of each individual marketing channel, regardless of how it affects the others.  The state of many marketing teams and strategies today reflects the consequences of this approach. They’re siloed off into their respective channels, maximizing performance and engagement in that single channel regardless of how the same user may be engaging in another.

The resulting experience for the consumer is a disjointed one.  Sure, consumers may be seeing a brand presence on every channel, but the narrative that presence tells is either very different or exactly the same for each channel. There exists no integration between the siloed channels to create a continually engaging experience.


Cross-Channel, on the other hand, refers the use of one channel to influence the conversion in another channel. We see many examples of this on a daily basis, from Starbucks and their reliance on the in app loyalty rewards program to drive in store purchases to retailers like American Eagle and their email coupons which can only be applied in store. While Cross-Channel does represent a more integrated approach when compared to MultiChannel, it’s still limited in its impact due to the fact that it’s goals are limited – for American Eagle, the goal is to drive in store purchases, but what about the website?

Enter Omnichannel.

The Omnichannel approach essentially takes the breadth of Multichannel (including all relevant channels) and the depth of Cross-Channel (combining the strategy of channels) to create a marketing strategy that encompasses every channel a consumer may be engaging with at any given moment.

Graphic illustrating Omnichannel.
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To create an Omnichannel business, brands must first implement a People-Based Marketing strategy, in which the customer is at the center of everything — every channel, every device, every message and communication. In doing so, marketing strategies become unified, no longer siloed by channel, with each team working with the next to deliver a productive and motivating experience across every touchpoint.

She opens an email but doesn’t download content? No problem, show her an ad reminding her of that content. She abandoned her shopping cart on her mobile device? No problem, show her an ad when she’s browsing on her tablet that replenishes her cart and drops her exactly where she left off.

Ultimately, by combining all marketing channels under a single, cohesive strategy, centered around the consumers, marketers will create unique relationships with each of those individuals, unifying the otherwise disjointed customer journey and driving a new source of revenue in the process.

*In case you’re curious, here’s Marketo’s original definition.