What is Multi-Channel Marketing? Ultimate Strategy Guide for 2019

Patrick Foster
Patrick Foster  |  January 7, 2019

The festive merriment may be in full force as I type this, but any marketer with ambition has their eye on the new year.

After all, innovation and adaptation are at the heart of their industry. Today – more than ever before – marketing standards and possibilities are subject to change.

Over recent years, the internet has achieved an inarguable level of saturation (in the Western world, at least), and even those formerly reluctant to go digital have been forced to move with the times.

Consequently, as old marketing channels remain viable, new ones have emerged to work alongside them – hugely expanding the range of opportunities.

what is multichannel marketing

(Image credit: Pixabay) 

What is multi-channel marketing

Multi-channel marketing refers to brands participating in marketing activities and selling their products or services in more than one channel.

In short, unless your target audience has exceptionally specific habits, the options are far too extensive for it to be worth committing to a singular channel. Marketing has gone multi-channel, and it’s time that you follow suit. To that end, here’s a strategy guide to take you into 2019.

What multi-channel marketing means today

In the online age, multi-channel marketing encompasses both traditional marketing methods and their more advanced descendents. Instead of placing them in opposition to one another, it recognizes that they can have cumulative effects if used effectively.

multichannel-marketing

If you want to advertise over the radio, you still can, or you can find space on a TV channel, during a podcast, or in an online stream. You can email, text, and venture into messaging apps (even using notifications). To an increasing extent, you can take advantage of complex user data and IoT devices to create richly-targeted content and exchanges.

multichannel-advertising

Expect to see subsidized fitness trackers used for advertising. 

(Image credit: Max Pixel)

Multi-channel vs. omni-channel marketing

Something that people often struggle with is differentiating between multi-channel and omni-channel marketing. While it’s open to interpretation, here’s how I suggest viewing it:

  • Multi-channel marketing is seller-centric. Good marketing requires extensive work, including exhaustive research and consistent content production. Multi-channel marketing drives marketers to cast a wide net to earn as many leads as possible, encouraging them to allocate resources very carefully.
  • Omni-channel marketing is buyer-centric. This is more a matter of perception and continuity from the standpoint of a shopper. If you execute your marketing strategy to the point that a buyer will be unable to notice any friction between the multi-channel elements, they will view your business as omni-channel — accessible from anywhere.
omnichannel-marketing

In truth, there is no such thing as pure omni-channel marketing because there will always be new channels entering the mainstream, and you can’t anticipate them all. 

However, if you can cover the most important channels — those that your target audience cares about most — then you can achieve the appearance of being omni-channel, which is what really matters.

Benefits of multi-channel marketing strategy

Why is it so important — more important than ever before — to adopt a multi-channel approach to marketing?

The answer is simple: Consumer attention is incredibly scattered.

Decades ago, average TV ratings were colossally higher than they are today, all because options were limited: This made TV advertising immensely influential.

Since then, things have changed for the better (from the standpoint of the consumer, at least). We carry around smartphones capable of connecting us to the internet wherever we go, placing orders, presenting media, playing games, and helping us communicate effectively 24/7. For marketers, though, this presents a challenge: How can you invest entirely in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for Google if people spend so much time browsing Facebook?

The benefit of multi-channel marketing is that it takes the power away from any single channel, spreading effort across different channels to provide more opportunities to win qualified leads. If your audience’s preferences change in a short period of time, your tactics won’t be completely sunk — you’ll be equipped to pivot to suit the new platform paradigm.

How to create an effective multi-channel marketing campaign

Going into next year, you’ll likely want a fresh marketing strategy capable of taking your promotional efforts to the next level. Factoring in how you’re going to approach the various channels available to you will greatly facilitate this.

Here are five steps to follow that will ensure you stay on the right path:

1. Set out clearly-defined goals

If this seems insultingly obvious, keep in mind that there’s nothing so clear that can’t be overlooked in the haste to devise a fresh plan. Additionally, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in the creativity of marketing strategy and forget about the ultimate point: making money.

Will there be other objectives? Of course, both in service of that objective and entirely different, but you can’t keep your business going without revenue.

At this stage of the process, you should be asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do you want your brand to be perceived? Every day, we see brands thrive or fail based on how they come across through social media. That kind of consumer-focused transparency makes you vulnerable, but can also win you new fans if done well. What tone suits your business? Do you want to come across as funny, alluring, or emotive?
  • What will your unique selling point(s) be? In a heartbeat, a searcher can find an alternative site to visit and vanish – never to return. If you’re going to get and keep attention, you’ll need something unique to set you apart. What do you want this to be?
  • What type of ROI will constitute a success? A specific campaign doesn't need to be directly profitable if it achieves something notable that will (either directly or indirectly) lead to profit. Whether you intend to measure your return on investment (ROI) as a financial figure or some other metric, you need it clearly defined before you start.
  • How will you technically measure performance? It’s one thing to commit to a particular ROI, but it’s another to reliably track it — and, if you can’t do the latter, then the former is essentially meaningless. This is where complex analytics enter the equation. The broader your strategy, the tighter your analytics setup will need to be.

Once you’ve answered these questions, make sure those answers are written down clearly and used throughout your campaign as a reminder of what you’re trying to achieve. Consequently, it will actually mean something when you say that your campaign is successful.

2. Identify and prioritize popular platforms

No matter what you’re trying to market, you should have a strong understanding of your target audience. (If you don’t, then you need a more basic marketing guide before you try this one!) You must use that awareness to help you identify and rank (in order of need) the available channels.

You’ll invariably find that there are some channels not worth pursuing at all, but likely still end up with 5-to-10 channels to focus on – making for a lot of work. To choose your list and allocate your resources, take the following steps:

  • Consult your target audience. If you’ve been in business for some time, take advantage of established relationships to reach out to existing (or previous) customers. You can do so directly or simply release the occasional survey through your social media profiles. Ask relevant people what channels they use, how they spend their time, and what improvements they’d like to see in your service. Monitoring your social media mentions will be a big help for this.
  • Follow notable influencers. Every niche has its fair share of influencers: Members of the community who have enough popularity and sway to sweeten the perception of the products and services they recommend (or even just feature). If your business is fairly new, this will prove exceptionally useful. By seeing not only which platforms influencers favor, but what they say and how they recommend companies and products, you’ll get an idea of how you can meet (and exceed) expectations.
  • Learn about format requirements. If you want to post on Facebook, you’ll need different media resources than when you tweet and when you add in the prospect of detailed sequencing (triggered email chains, for instance, or chatbot strings). It’s abundantly clear that every channel has different demands. If you can’t fulfill the demands of a certain channel, it’s best to avoid it entirely and focus on the channels that can actually fit comfortably in your plan.
  • Assess likely costs. If you run paid advertisements, you’ll want to know how much of your budget they’ll consume, and the costs don’t stop there. Original content is expensive to produce. It needs to be researched, written, checked, and edited. Content for something like Twitter will be inexpensive because of the character limits, but coming up with a strong ecommerce chatbot sequence would take a long time (and a large investment).

Following this, you should be able to pick out the channels that deserve the bulk of your attention in your cross-channel marketing campaign. Then, you can move to the next step.

3. Cater your content to suit the context

If you’ve been in the marketing game for a while, you’ll have heard it said that, “content is king.” 

However, it’s just as important to consider that context is key — one piece of content can have a radically different effect depending on where it’s deployed.

Twitter is once again useful for the purpose of demonstration: A marketing email to an interested recipient can be lengthy and in-depth, but something of a similar length jammed into a Twitter post using a service like Twitlonger wouldn’t suit the fast-paced nature of social media feeds. Twitter is best used for snappy remarks and succinct actionable suggestions (despite its expansion to 280 characters).

Context goes beyond different channels, though, because you must consider the context of the recipient. What content are they interested in? What do they expect to see? Someone who searched for “multi-channel marketing” and found this post would likely want an explanation of what multi-channel marketing means and be surprised if they didn’t see it.

As such, think about creating a basic table with channels on one axis and scenarios on the other. For instance, mix and match “Facebook” and “Pinterest” with “Recent buyer” and “Totally unfamiliar” to think about what your copy should include when facing different challenges. As your campaign progresses, carefully devise your content to meet expectations in varied circumstances while adhering to your overall style.

4. Save time and effort with automation tools

It’s a monumental task to keep multi-channel marketing going – somewhat akin to keeping numerous plates spinning at once. So, everything you can do to lighten the load will make your life easier and leave things more sustainable. Automation tools will help you do everything from reformatting your content across channels to collecting useful feedback.

For advertising, try running through this roundup of cross-channel advertising software tools. If you can define the basic content for your ads (factoring in context), you can allow software to determine where, when, and in what configuration to display it. This will free you up to commit more time to elements that will benefit more from manual intervention.

Additionally, look into software that will help your content production process — you’ll find many suitable examples in the G2 Crowd marketing software section. The faster you can get content made (and the higher the standard you can achieve), the more effective your campaign will prove. The prevalence of cross-platform integrations today makes it easier than ever before to handle a wide range of channels from dedicated suites.

Finally, if you’re in the ecommerce industry, be mindful of the choices you make about hosting platforms and support systems. Some content marketing systems and providers offer multi-channel functionality once you reach the enterprise level (Shopify Plus being a prime example of this).

However, not all of them do, and you may find one system easier to work with than another when using your product copy to fuel various approaches to PPC.

5. Anticipate and adapt to upcoming trends

New channels can spring up and achieve cultural significance very quickly. Snapchat has only been around for seven years, and the rate of adoption is accelerating as internet infrastructure, social logins, and mobile software systems make it simpler to try new apps.

Add in the air of mystery that follows many of the top social media platforms and you have a pressing reason to stay flexible. (Many of the allegations about Facebook ad clicks being faked may have been debunked, but it’s inarguable that the lack of transparency makes it hard to trust that analytics data will always be accurate.)

Notably, think about a game like Fortnite. It has achieved a massive player base and become a cultural touchstone for a generation in less than two years. Now imagine that Epic Games opened it up for in-game advertising – virtual product placement and the like. In the blink of an eye, that advertising platform would be incredibly valuable for many businesses. And it’s not inconceivable — it’s already on the rise for more generic mobile games. There’s no telling when the right offer could come along to tempt the Fortnite makers.

Sustainable multi-channel marketing isn’t about picking out the best channels of today, taking full advantage of them. It’s about being ready and able at all times to adapt your marketing to suit your circumstances. To relate it to project management, it’s being agile, willing to stop something that isn’t working, and try something new based on a hunch.

An example of multi-channel marketing done right

Now that we’ve been through what goes into devising a strong multi-channel marketing campaign, let’s take a look at a solid example of how a brand can use different channels to great effect: Wendy’s acclaimed Twitter game.

Looking to achieve something different, Wendy’s let loose a team of creative social media employees, and it all paid off to the extent that people far and wide talk of how entertaining the Wendy’s account is. It’s even inspired other businesses to loosen the reins and show some personality.

Remember how I spoke about the prospect of advertising in Fortnite? Wendy’s didn’t quite do that, but it did stream its adventures of entering an in-game burger place and smashing freezers (it doesn’t like frozen beef), as shown above. This is masterful work because it reaches people across all forms of social media and gaming communities. It’s earning mentions in forums, subreddits, blogs, and entertainment sites.

Am I saying that you need to commit all your effort to being pithy on Twitter and investing in semi-controlled youthful indiscretions? No. What works for Wendy’s won’t necessarily work for another business.

Rather, it’s a perfect example for what I’m talking about. It shows a willingness to step outside of the status quo and embrace emerging platforms, such as Twitch. If you can do the same, you’ll have a substantial edge over your marketing rivals.

Ready to learn more about retail challenges in 2019? Learn how technology and online shopping has created a retail apocalypse.

Patrick Foster
Author

Patrick Foster

Patrick Foster is an ecommerce consultant at Ecommerce Tips, which is an industry-leading ecommerce blog dedicated to sharing business and entrepreneurial insights from the sector. Start growing your business today and check out the latest on Twitter @myecommercetips.