What is the difference between multichannel marketing and Omnichannel marketing? The subtle differences represent a distinction that are not so clear to many organizations from B2B brands, startups and even within large enterprise companies. Defining the differences between multichannel and omnichannel can be as challenging for many organizations as it is to focus on one of them effectively.

Let’s start out by trying to put some definitions in place that will help guide our omni and multi channel difference understanding. We will start out focusing on the later constructs of these two terms and then combine their definitions with the multi and omni components to complete the definitions and define the differences. I think using this kind of clarification is useful to understand the differences between similar or often misunderstood terms.

I will end the post with some additional insight on some of the implied or accepted meanings of these two channel marketing types as it relates to small businesses, startups, B2B’s and enterprise brands. So hang in there through the details and you will leave with some really powerful insights that can impact your marketing perceptions and provide you with some thought-provoking motivation that should aid your marketing results.

What Are Marketing “Channels”?

The definition for the word Channel in this context is “a medium for communication or a medium used for the passage of information”. Think of channel or channels related to marketing as the various pathways used to deploy your marketing messages and/or the locations, devices and platforms that you intend your audience to view, consume or discover your messages.

What Does “Marketing” Actually Mean?

Marketing can be described as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising” that is intended to cause customers to take action toward a purchase. Marketing involves actions that surround the research, strategy development, messaging and design components that convey desired information, using specified mediums and tools specifically designed for delivery on a certain platform. Yes, that was a mouthful!

Clear as mud on the words channel and marketing, right? I hope so. Let’s dive a little deeper then.

What is Multi-Channel Marketing?

By the very nature of the word construction multichannel marketing, we need to break down each component individually to understand it more clearly. First, the word multi is defined as “more than one; many or especially variegated”. It is not all-inclusive and certainly does not mean just one. Multi implies several components of whatever follows itself in both word and sentence construction.

Multichannel marketing then, consists of having a presence and conducting marketing efforts on more than one medium, channel or platform. It is understood or usually at least implied that multi-channel marketing contains at least some level of strategy and integration of its message, design and goal, though this is not often done well by many organizations.

What is Omni-Channel Marketing?

Defining “omni”, a not so common word component in the English language is important here. Omni means “all; of all things, in all ways or in all places”. In the context of marketing, omni focuses more on an everywhere and all the time position that is all-inclusive. Sound a bit daunting? It can be…

The word omni within a marketing context carries with it a connotation of combining actions, message and platform with deeper connectivity, process and thought. Omnichannel marketing implies that it is conscious throughout messaging, design and location, as much as it is embedded within an organization’s culture, staff, execution data. Omni-channel marketing is integration at the deepest of levels, including cross-channel marketing analytics and data resources.

What is “Uni” or “Silo” Channel Marketing?

I thought I would throw in a curve ball and include an important explanation of unichannel marketing. Most are aware that the word component “uni” means one, but how does it relate to marketing and what about the term “silo”?

Related to marketing, uni reflects the use of a single marketing method or channel for marketing. Call it putting all of your eggs in one basket, if you will. It is fairly common that a brand focuses their marketing on a single channel when they lack resources, expertise or finances to opt for multi or omni channel marketing efforts. Unichannel marketing is easier to manage and requires far less time and knowledge.

Having said that, I believe that uni-channel marketing has a broader definition that either includes silo channel marketing consciously or unconsciously. Most of you are familiar with the word silo related to “a tower on a farm used to store grain”. But in a marketing context, silo means “to isolate (one system, process, department, channel etc.) from others”.

marketing silo can be used consciously to separate a brand’s various products or services from each other to promote them individually as specific products on their own. This is often done by larger brands such as an automobile manufacture that silo’s their various car brands within segmented or “silo’d” marketing efforts.

However many not so large companies unintentionally silo their combined marketing effort or efforts by not unifying the messaging, branding, goal and function. Uni or Silo marketing embodies the most unconscious of the channel marketing types we are discussing and generally aren’t at all effective. Without strategic integration, having a presence on multiple platforms is simply unintentional uni or silo marketing.

What Are The Differences Between Omni Channel and Multi Channel Marketing

Now that we have defined some of the key terms, words and word constructs, we can make a clear line of difference between multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing. Muli-channel marketing differs from omni channel in that though it may use many platforms, channels and components, it does not use all channels, everywhere and all the time, whereas omnichannel marketing implies that it does. Additionally, though multi-channel marketing does often have a more unified or combined strategy across more than one channel, omnichannel marketing implies that it has a more company-wide, conscious, cultural and unified integration at deeper levels over multichannel marketing.

Is this more clear?

Users Of Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel Marketing

There are many accepted or implied understandings of omnichannel, multichannel and unichannel marketing, but I will focus out detailing where they “tend” to be implemented more frequently by the type and size of a company. Though I want to be clear that this is not an always thing for every company, but more of a tendency, so don’t get upset if your company size is doing something different and I am not recognizing it. I want to generalize here based on the typical company’s resources, talent and execution.

Unichannel and Silo Channel Marketing UseWho uses unichannel marketing or silo marketing? This is typically in use by very small, local companies or entrepreneurs. Most small or local businesses simply lack the experience and finances to execute more than highly silo’d or unichannel marketing.

Multi-channel Marketing UseWhat kinds of companies use mult-channel marketing? This one is a bit more detailed. Many companies of all sizes believe they are utilizing multichannel marketing, however though they are on multiple platforms, they lack the effective strategy and unification of goal and message to make it truly considered to be multi-channel marketing. Therefore it is just silo channel marketing that tends to lack the results that correctly executed multi-channel marketing can achieve. Companies that fit this scenario are typically small to medium-sized businesses, startups (especially in technology) and medium to larger businesses with little resources.

The companies that typically utilize multi-channel marketing extremely well are small to midsized companies that have experienced digital marketing talent on staff, or have committed to expending the resources to hire a highly qualified marketing agency. Experienced talent is what makes multi-channel marketing work. It requires an enormous amount of knowledge, resources and expertise to unify message and goals across multiple channels and platforms, then funnel traffic into conversions that result in customers and revenue. Don’t underestimate the complexities here.

Omnichannel Marketing Use – Larger enterprise corporations are just beginning to understand and implement omnichannel marketing within their organizations. The sheer complexity, amount of staff and resources required to make omnichannel marketing work well, is truly daunting. The infrastructure of a large corporation that decides and commits to implementing omni-channel marketing can achieve it, but only through top down leadership willing to make it happen.

I hope this helped you to better understand the differences between multi-channel marketing and omni-channel marketing, as well as the benefits and requirements for each to be effective. If you are using uni-channel or silo marketing, I highly suggest that you seriously consider doing things differently. Implementing an integrated multi-channel marketing strategy with effective execution is the lowest level requirement for digital marketing today regardless of your company size. That is what gets results. So get help if needed, but get it done!