Want to build connections with your audience, drive leads and conversions, and maximize opportunities to interact with prospective customers? It’s more achievable than you might think — but it does take a multi-pronged approach to your marketing strategy. Here’s everything you need to know to get your multichannel strategy humming along so you can make your customers and your bottom line happy.
What is Multichannel Marketing?
Multichannel marketing is the process of promoting and selling your products everywhere your target customers shop. While it’s tempting to treat your website as your sole vehicle for conversions, multichannel strategies treat the website as one branch of a diverse tree. Depending on your target audience, the other branches may include:
- Amazon, Etsy and other online marketplaces
- Shoppable Instagram posts
- Native Facebook stores
- Buyable pins
- Niche ecommerce platforms like Houzz
- Brick and mortar shops
- Online communities
- Messaging apps
When you use these channels to bring customers to your website, you have a solid marketing strategy. When you design a unique customer journey for each channel independent from your website, you have a multichannel marketing strategy. It’s a subtle but important distinction, one that allows each channel to take on a life of its own and contribute to revenue growth regardless of where the journey ends.
Ready for an even more subtle distinction? The words omnichannel and multichannel are often used interchangeably, but they technically mean two different things:
- Multichannel marketing refers to the nuts and bolts act of selling and promoting your products on each platform.
- Omnichannel marketing refers to the integration of these channels into a single, consistent brand experience. In other words, a customer could move seamlessly between your Amazon store, Facebook page, retail store, and website without feeling like they’re meeting a new brand or encountering redundant information at every turn.
Why the distinction? As we’ll see later, one of the pitfalls of multichannel marketing is that each channel has a tendency to become its own silo, managed independently from the others. The word “omnichannel” is a verbal reminder to keep the experience cohesive, shifting your team’s focus from each individual branch to the tree as a whole.
That said, it’s rare to encounter times in the wild (read: not on digital marketing blogs) when people actually use “omnichannel” and “multichannel” to refer to different things. Colloquially, most people use the terms interchangeably.
The Importance of Multichannel Marketing
You can spot the most obvious benefits of a multichannel strategy right away: more channels means more opportunities to sell your products and engage your brand in memorable ways. So let’s start instead with cost/benefit analysis many marketers make as they consider a multichannel strategy.
The more channels you manage, the more you invest in each one (and the thinner you’re stretched). For the investment to be worth it, you need to be convinced that each new channel opens a pathway to a customer you wouldn’t otherwise have. For businesses with loyal customers who subscribe and follow on every platform, it can be hard to see each channel as an entry point for a new audience. While that’s logical, there are other benefits to consider:
Connecting to different segments of your target audience
While you might have a few die-hard customers who will hunt down your updates no matter what channel you post them on, it’s much more likely that different segments of your audience have different preferred platforms. That’s especially true if you segment by age; as the age of the average Facebook user grows older, younger demographics are increasingly carving out their niche on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and until recently, Tik Tok.
Even if you cater to a relatively homogenous audience, don’t rule out the need to diversify platforms. Like preferring apples to oranges, differences in social media usage often have less to do with demographics and are more a matter of personal preference.
Elevated and Consistent Branding
If you meet someone new and tell them about your best qualities, it won’t be as meaningful as demonstrating those qualities naturally and consistently through repeated interactions. And if you stay consistent in demonstrating those qualities in multiple settings and contexts, that’s even better. In a similar way, multichannel marketing gives your brand the chance to demonstrate its qualities consistently, meaningfully and memorably.
Increased Brand Recognition
We can use the people/personality comparison for this concept too. The more you interact with someone, the more like you are to a) remember who they are, and b) think about them when they’re not around.
More opportunities to connect with your audience and reach new customers lead to more conversions. Moreover, customers who do online research before making a purchase spend 9% more. Since online research often involves exploring the brand on multiple platforms, multichannel strategies are tailor-made for that lucrative target.
Better Understanding of Your Customer Base
Sales and branding aside, what’s the real benefit of being everywhere your customers are? Really understanding them. By participating in their communities and using the tools they use, you gain exposure to your audience’s concerns, values and even sense of humor. This, in turn, will help you anticipate customer needs, spot and prevent problems before they happen, and develop a sense of familiarity that will make every customer interaction as natural as greeting an old friend.
Challenges in Multichannel Marketing
If a multichannel strategy were easy to pull off, it would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the other side of the cost/benefit equation is, well, the cost. Here are the common challenges that can make fully-realized omnichannel strategies difficult to commit to:
No matter how you quantify your resources — time, people, or money — you’re going to need a lot of them to pull off a multichannel strategy. Social media strategy, email marketing, and Amazon optimization (to name a few) are all extensive enough jobs to warrant their own full-time specialists or even departments at large businesses and marketing agencies. For lean marketing teams or a team of one, that’s a daunting thought.
To give each channel a fair chance to thrive, it takes more than putting together a profile or setting up a shop and posting the occasional update. It takes active maintenance and management. Businesses with small teams or limited resources, then, are caught between spreading their resources too thin to be effective, or consolidating resources on one or two primary strategies.
Lots of Moving Parts = Tendency to Silo
More realistically, the businesses using multichannel strategies actually do have the resources to see them through. There’s just one problem: the division of labor. Since there are many different moving parts, multiple people need to manage the strategy. The most natural way to divide that labor up is to assign separate people to each channel.
Given the level of specialization each channel calls for, this division of labor makes sense. These specialized teams face the threat of a common pitfall, however, when they get so bogged down in their own strategy that they stop paying attention to what the other teams are doing. Rather than working on unified goals and amplifying one another’s results, siloed teams have a tendency to duplicate each other’s efforts, fail to apply each other’s lessons, and roadblock each other.
Creating a Consistent Experience Across Channels
Siloed teams don’t just step on each other’s toes; they also run the risk of creating a fragmented identity across channels. If your brand guidelines aren’t clear as a bell, each team will be left to interpret your brand identity as they understand it. This can result in inconsistent content, language and experiences.
Defining a Multi-Touchpoint Customer Journey
One of the toughest parts of going multichannel is rethinking your customer journey. No longer are you just concerned with your prospect’s journey across your site; you now need to consider the journey between touchpoints. How can you serve fresh content on each channel so customers that follow you on a few different channels don’t get bombarded with repetitive messages? How can you make sure that content doesn’t rely on another channel’s content to feel complete? It’s a bit like building a puzzle, except every piece on its own should feel as complete and interesting as the whole picture.
Creating an Effective Multichannel Marketing Strategy
Fortunately, all multichannel challenges can be tamed with the right strategy. Here’s how to keep your strategy on track:
Know Your Audience
How well do you know your customers? All of your customers? One of the great parts about a multichannel strategy is that it can help you embrace audience diversity in ways you may not have even been aware of.
According to Census Bureau data collected by Interactive Accessibility, 3.3% of the population is vision-impaired and may rely on a screen reader to browse the internet. Content-rich emails, detailed product descriptions, and (written) content-friendly platforms like Facebook or Twitter might be their cup of tea.
The one in five people with Dyslexia or another language-based learning disability, on the other hand, might prefer to watch videos or browse an image-rich platform like Instagram or Pinterest. And for the people with fine motor issues who struggle with cursors and keyboards, Amazon’s fast and familiar checkout process might be a necessity.
And we haven’t even scratched the surface of your specific audience’s needs and personality traits; these are simply groups that will most likely appear in your audience at a rate that reflects the overall population.
Do your research and learn where your current audience is coming from, the devices they use, and the keywords that brought them to your site (all available in Google Analytics and Search Console). Research the broader search volume and note the common pain points that come up, the qualities people search for, and the questions people have. Separate your audience into different groups and create a representative persona for each group.
Then as you explore each channel, ask yourself: why would my customer have a unique preference for this channel? This will help you tailor a unique strategy for each platform while showing you just how multi-faceted your audience really is.
Be Choosy About Platforms
That said, there is such a thing as too many channels. The number of channels you can dedicate time to will be governed in large part by the resources you have. If you’re torn between a few different options, consider your audience’s needs first; but also consider your team’s talents and preferences if you’re not ready for a new hire or an agency. All other things being equal, your most successful channels will probably be the ones favored by your team.
Eliminate Team Silos
There’s no bigger stick in the bicycle spokes of the multichannel strategy than team silos. Stay vigilant! Silos don’t happen because people want them; they happen because it’s the path of least resistance. The simple act of noticing when things are trending in an “everyone for themselves” direction and doing what you can to halt it can work wonders.
Without filling up team calendars with meetings, make sure your teams have a way to regularly circle up with each other and set common goals. Connect them to the same project management system so they have transparency into each other’s strategies and workload, and encourage people to collaborate across teams in goal-specific Slack channels.
By far, the biggest offender when it comes to silos is an overabundance of projects (especially if each team feels like they need to come up with their own separate initiatives). Not only does this create a perpetual time shortage, but teams will start to feel like their performance is tied exclusively to their own individual goals and initiatives. As time grows scarce, people will prioritize their own initiatives out of self-preservation, unwilling or unable to contribute to another team’s project when they’re needed. And that breeds resentment and needless competitiveness over the long term.
To combat this, set shared goals that will benefit from each channel’s participation in different ways. For example, the content on the Grow With Studio blog performs better when it’s shared on social media. The social media team performs better when they have interesting content to share. So why would our content and social media teams compete to hit separate goals instead of working together?
They don’t. And that subtle difference shifts the dynamic between the two teams from potential rivals to peanut butter and jelly (💗).
Focus On One Message at a Time
An easy way to get your feet wet with the silo-free life is to have everybody focus on a single message at a time. Get together and discuss how each channel will interpret this message and amplify each other’s efforts. Once you have that down, move on to specific target personas, promotions, and finally goals.
Create an Integrated Marketing Experience
When you’ve mastered collaborating across teams, start designing integrated marketing experiences. These are projects, again built around specific initiatives or messages, where the experience on one channel adds to the experience on another, but either one can also stand on its own.
This sounds more complicated than it is. When TV shows or conferences use hashtags to get users to engage with the content on social media, that’s integrated marketing. When a blog posts user-generated content from social media and expands on it with relevant information, that’s integrated marketing. Whenever brands take a single idea and really run with it, bringing a new and creative lens to the idea across every channel, that’s integrated marketing.
Old Spice masterfully deployed integrated marketing with their now-famous “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, which centered on the video while building a unique experience on each channel. Instead of just sharing the video on Twitter, for example, Twitter had the actor who played the “Old Spice Guy” answer questions in-character, in real-time, for 24 hours. That extra dose of creativity across each channel helped them transform a viral video into an iconic character who stood the test of time.
Invest In Retargeting
Regardless of where or how your audience finds you, invest in retargeting for that touchpoint. This is an easy way to keep your brand top-of-mind for your customers while making full use of the awareness-building potential that each channel offers.
Even when you’re working with a dream team, multichannel marketing is a complex process. Keep it scalable by never, ever denying yourself the chance to automate whatever you can. We might not have content-writing robots yet (fortunately, if you’re a content strategist) but there are plenty of ways to automate scheduling, posting, research, outreach, performance tracking, product updates, and much more.
Approach every task with an eye toward automation, asking yourself: is this grunt work? Does it require minimal creative effort? Are spreadsheets involved? Can a person learn how to do it in 30 minutes or less? Congratulations! Some of all of that work can probably be passed to a robot. Google “[your task] tools” and see what’s available.
Know Your KPIs
Last but not least, track each channel’s performance so you can make the right strategic calls in the future. That’s not the hard part, though — or the important part, at the end of the day. The trick is knowing which KPIs to measure for each channel. If you use metrics that aren’t appropriate for each channel’s goals (which would happen if you, say, make individual channel revenue the final arbiter of success across the board), you’ll end up making flawed decisions about which channels deserve your time and attention.
The easiest way to pair the right KPIs with each channel is to broadly sort your goals into the three categories that line up with the purchase funnel: Awareness, Consideration, Purchase. It takes all three to build a healthy stream of revenue, and different channels will shine in different areas.
Your social channels do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to awareness, so your metrics for success are heavily tied to engagement/traffic and loosely tied to conversions. On the other hand, your Amazon store does some very heavy lifting with conversions and isn’t great for awareness. It makes sense to tie your KPIs for Amazon directly to revenue and conversions.
Creating a consistent, positive customer experience across many channels is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business. With a strong brand voice and team cohesion, you’ll be reaching new heights — and customers — in no time.