Consumers increasingly expect that retailers have a holistic view of them, regardless of how they're interacting with the brand.

Are you multichannel or omnichannel? Don’t know? Well, one thing is certain: You’re definitely not both.

Although marketers often use the terms interchangeably, multichannel is not the same as omnichannel. Both use multiple channels to reach potential customers, but each has different goals.

SRAX CEO Christopher Miglino

SRAX CEO Christopher Miglino

What’s the difference?

Multichannel marketers use various platforms, such as social, email, and web to engage their audience. If you’re multichannel, then your goal is to get your brand on as many channels as possible to reach as many people as possible. But, while all channels are available to your customers, they are not all unified. In fact, many companies manage each channel separately–with separate reporting structures, revenue goals and processes.

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A multichannel approach is based on the view that every customer has his or her own preferred way of interacting with a business: e.g., Katie prefers to shop in a store, while Ben prefers to shop online.

In contrast, omnichannel marketers have a holistic view of the customer experience regardless of the platform used. This approach is based on the understanding that most customers have an overextended path to purchase as they navigate multiple channels before they make a single purchase. In this case, a seamless customer experience depends on brand image and messaging that are consistent across channels and devices.

Why take an omnichannel approach?

The fact is, a multichannel approach is outdated. Today it’s easy for marketers to place their content on various platforms. The real challenge is tailoring content to each platform while still keeping your brand and messaging consistent across channels.

So, if you’re already using multiple channels to engage your audience, you’re on the right track to becoming omnichannel. But as we believe Forrester Research Inc.‘s February 2017 “Transition from Multichannel to Omnichannel Digital Media Buying” report concludes, it can be a long road to reach omnichannel mastery. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a three-step checklist of key components that can help retailers successfully transition from multichannel to omnichannel marketing.

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1. Start by embracing data

The first thing you need to unify the customer experience is to integrate data across channels. Unlock a real-time profile of your audience by combining demographic and interest-based data from various platforms with contextual signals, such as location, time and activity (running, walking, driving). This will give you a deeper understanding of your audience, which will allow you to deliver more timely and relevant messages.

Also, use the wealth of available data to predict your audience’s next move and to make strategic decisions on spending and messaging. Predictive models integrate data, statistical algorithms and machine learning to attempt to anticipate customer behavior. It allows you to “create connected ad experiences that are aligned with the customer lifecycle,” according to the Forrester report. This is especially helpful in industries where the purchase frequency is low, such as the automobile and travel industries.

Consider a dealership that wants to determine which customers will make a purchase in the next 90 days. A predictive model can crunch the data (number of sales, repair orders, browsing behavior, etc.) and assign a value to each prospect based on how their actions correlate to those of previous buyers. The highest-scoring segment has the greatest probability of purchasing a car within the next 90 days–and are good prospects for a campaign.

2. Connect data to the customer experience

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Customer-centricity is nothing new. But lately, businesses have started to shift their focus toward technology and innovation. Granted these are important building blocks for business development, customers’ needs cannot be ignored.

A customer-centric strategy involves customer listening and personalization–and putting it all together to deliver timely and relevant messages that resonate across every communication channel.

For example, Vince Camuto released a trench coat that was a big hit with customers, but there was one problem: buyers kept losing the belt. In response, the marketing team launched an omnichannel campaign that spanned email, social, web, and in-store promotions. It featured content from three fashion bloggers, a “create a trench look” sweepstakes, and suggestions for how to style the trench coat with other accessories. The Camuto Group listened and responded, turning a problem into a style opportunity.

A customer-centric strategy also includes using data about your customer’s likes and interests to personalize the experience. 86% of consumers report that personalization plays a role in their purchase decisions, according to data from Impact. And 48% said they buy more when marketers use their interests and buying behavior to personalize experiences. As Johnson & Johnson’s Luke Kigel explained to Forrester, “The minutia of data that was overlooked by people five years ago will be an important part of marketing. Analyzing and using that data at speed will be critical for success.”

3. Deliver a consistent customer experience

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Today, customers expect an individual experience. It’s no longer an option or “nice to have” item. It’s a must. 53% of consumers said it’s important that retailers recognize them as the same person across all channels and devices they use to shop, according to a survey by MyBuys conducted by The e-tailing group, an Astound Commerce company. And the Forrester report urges marketers to “focus resources on components like customer identification and recognition… which refine their ability to recognize customers and tie digital touch points to business outcomes.”

One brand leading the way in consistent customer experiences is Starbucks Corp. The retailer’s fully integrated mobile app comes with a free rewards card that consumers can use whenever they make a purchase. But unlike traditional customer loyalty programs, they can check and reload their card via phone, website, app, or in-store. And any change to the card is updated across all channels in real time. Starbucks makes it simple and easy to collect reward points, it’s no wonder their customers are so loyal.

Bridging the customer experience gap

Multichannel was the right approach for a world where customers were increasingly present on multiple devices and platforms. But now most marketers have developed a branded presence on multiple channels. The next challenge is to integrate these separate channel-specific interactions into a cohesive experience that builds better customer relationships. By focusing on data, customer-centricity and consistency, that’s exactly what an omnichannel approach can enable marketers to achieve.

Christopher Miglino, CEO of SRAX, an advertising technology company providing the tools to automate digital markets and content owners’ campaigns across digital channels. Follow him on Twitter @chrismiglino

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