Omnichannel vs. multichannel B2B marketing – what’s the difference?
These words are well known and widely used within several different industries, including consumer goods and life sciences, to name a few.
People might see “omnichannel” and “multichannel” and assume they mean the same thing. They both refer to the multiple channels a business uses to communicate with customers. However, they have important differences that give them varying functions.
In this blog, we aim to dispel myths, provide a definition of what each channel is, identify the key differences between the two, and crucially, state why these differences are important in the first place. Here, we’re talking about marketing and sales, as how the channel strategies work in the two are intertwined.
Let’s begin with some definitions.
What is a multichannel strategy?
With multichannel marketing, the brand or company engages with their customers on the channel the customers themselves prefer. How do we know which channel that is? Through data collection and analysis (with sales and marketing technology). This is why it’s so important to have a data-driven approach to both marketing and sales.
Once you’re clear on which channel(s) resonate best with your customers or prospects, you can optimize your marketing on those channels.
For sales reps, a true multichannel contact strategy allows them to continue deepening their relationships with their customers in between face-to-face visits.
Many companies today still use multichannel marketing as they can reach out to customers and send them information. However, this is not without issues. Even if they have the correct data to hand, they will often run into problems such as style inconsistencies between channels or even miscommunication between channels, which frustrates customers as they then need to use multiple channels (instead of just their one preferred channel). Phew – but what to do?
In other words, in multichannel marketing a company uses several channels to communicate the same message to customers. This puts the company at the center of the strategy, and the channels work to deliver that message manually.
Read this blog for more info on how you can use multichannel within the consumer goods industry
What is an omnichannel strategy?
Omnichannel marketing seamlessly integrates the different communication channels through which customers communicate with a brand or company.
Each channel works together to create a unified message, voice and brand for your company. There are no silos, meaning this approach creates a more consistent user experience overall.
We’re giving it away here – you can already tell what the difference is between the two. In omnichannel marketing, businesses can unify their style and the information that customers get, regardless of the channel.
As McKinsey has stated, “roughly two in three buyers prefer remote human interaction or digital self-service”. This confirms that “omnichannel is not simply a trend, nor a pandemic workaround – rather, it is a critically important fixture for B2B sales globally”.
So, omnichannel is here to stay for B2B sales and there is no question about it. Omnichannel creates a unified experience across all channels and touchpoints. So, regardless of whether customers move from one channel to another, the messaging throughout this journey should be seamless. That means that all your customer content and data capture should work across channels in a structured and coordinated way.
Now, just because you might be communicating across multiple channels doesn’t mean you’re providing a true omnichannel experience.
Read on to find out how you can do this and why you should.
What’s the difference between omnichannel vs. multichannel in B2B marketing?
The biggest difference is that, with omnichannel, the customer is at the core of your marketing strategy. Your communication needs to align with how and why a customer uses a particular channel. Rather than treating each channel as its own entity, omnichannel offers customer experiences in a unified way.
Really, the key differences lie in how channels are integrated. The customer has different ways to access information through the different channels, but if you use multichannel marketing, these channels don’t work together in a unified way. This is because each channel provides different services and runs separately from the rest (in a silo).
In omnichannel marketing, the customer is at the center. Here, the focus is on the needs of the customer, providing them with personalized messages in a seamless, unified experience. This allows them to easily access information from any of the channels, since they are interconnected. Plus, they get the same messaging on every channel! (They don’t, for example, see a promotion on a customer forum or Linkedin, but then no trace of it on the company website. Awkward!)
Today, customers do expect a seamless experience between channels, and nothing less. This means that the customer (regardless of whether in a B2C or B2B scenario) wants to buy from a company that maintains unity between their channels. They don’t want to be confused and left guessing – or worse, having to search for information in multiple places.
Why is this distinction important?
One word: personalization. Mainly. And once again, providing a seamless, consistent experience across all channels. Customers clearly like messaging and products that are personalized and tailored to them.
It goes without saying that customers like unity because it shows brand consistency, which helps customers know that you pay attention to small details. We all know that the devil is in the details. They also know that they can trust your business since it’s consistent, and consequently, they become loyal to a business they trust.
When you lack consistency, customers think that your business is unorganized. By keeping channels integrated and unified, people see that you care about your company (and ultimately, them). You pay attention to those small details to maintain a consistent style between your channels.
The image below is a good way to visualize the difference between the two types:
Pitcher, the difference between omnichannel and multichannel, 2022.
As you can see, with omnichannel, the customer is at the center of the strategy, and the channels they use to engage with the brand not only have a unified message, but a message that adapts to each touchpoint a customer has with the brand. So the messages the customer sees, regardless of the channel, will consolidate (if the customer has made a purchase, for example).
What multichannel marketing is inherently missing, then, is this level of personalized, unified content. This is a major factor. In multichannel, each channel functions separately, so customers need to go to that specific channel to find any information they are looking for. This can be irritating, and it’s understandable if they want to find a different company that provides better integration. This is the case for both B2C and B2B – customers and prospects have similar frustrations.
Naturally, the objective should be to provide customers or prospects with different ways to engage with your brand to make it as convenient as possible.
The fewer times a customer has to click, the better, as it keeps them satisfied and saves them time.
To summarize, the imminent future for B2B marketers and salespeople highlights an even bigger focus on omnichannel strategies to communicate a unified message to prospects/customers on the channels where they are.
B2B buyers expect an omnichannel experience that resembles what B2C shoppers get. As a business, you need to make this an easy and straightforward process, making every touchpoint coherent and consistent, and including personalized recommendations on the customer’s preferred channel.
If you’re not sure if your buyer’s journey has any of these qualities, or if you’re unsure of your barriers to purchase, go through the buying process yourself a few times. Interact with your company from start to finish, “pretending” that you’re a genuine buyer. You can have several members of your team do the same thing in order to identify barriers and any bottlenecks you weren’t aware of.
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