The words multi-channel and cross-channel are used interchangeably, and while from an outside perspective they seem to have the same meaning, there is a subtle but very important difference between them.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Multi-channel marketing means using multiple channels at the same time to push a single message to the customer. It’s an inside-out thinking paradigm: how can we (marketers) use all our channels to push something to our customers? For example, think of a marketing campaign that runs on TV, radio, websites and Facebook all at the same time -- this is called a multi-channel marketing campaign.

Multi-channel publishing is a more technical and CMS-oriented term, directly connected with the concept of multi-channel marketing. Multi-channel publishing means publishing one piece of content on all the available channels. This saves time and is more efficient because content can be reused over multiple channels. For example, an article can show up on the website, on an iPhone and in the company magazine. Thinking multi-channel is one-to-many: trying to reach your audience reusing content across as many channels as possible.

Cross-Channel Marketing

While multi-channel marketing is very powerful and should be used as often as possible, cross-channel marketing is even more powerful.

Cross-channel marketing is the inverse of multi-channel marketing. The customer is now central, not the organization, and he or she is followed and tracked while they switch from one channel to another. Listening to the customer and engaging with him or her at the right time with the right content on the right channel is much harder to do, but when done well is much more effective than just pushing the same content to all customers using all your channels.

A Cross-Channel Marketing Example

If this sounds abstract, consider the following situation where cross-channel marketing engagement could have been more effective:

Peter is reading a review about some hardware he wants to buy in the local newspaper. He remembers that he has received the hardware vendor’s magazine by mail and reads about the hardware he wants in that magazine. There is a QR code in the magazine and he uses the QR code on his iPhone to access more about the product online. After that, he walks to his laptop to find the same product on his laptop. However he can’t find the product on the company website. Therefore, he decides to send an email to the organization. Peter is an impatient man, so after 10 minutes he decides to call the helpdesk to ask for the code of the product. The next day Peter goes into town, explains what he wants to the local vendor and eventually buys the product.

Why is this case interesting and why is it hard to do cross-channel marketing correctly in this example?

Learning Opportunities

If Peter’s actions, behavior and intents were tracked across all channels, stored centrally and used at every touch point, the engagement of Peter would be much higher. If there were codes on the iPhone website, he could have found the product much easier on his laptop. If the call center already knew that Peter was looking for the product on the website or in the magazine, the call center employee wouldn’t have had to ask him the details and Peter could have been helped more easily. If the vendor employee already knew about his interests, he could have helped him a lot faster. Peter would be more satisfied, felt he had a good customer experience, which would have led to higher loyalty.

Final Thoughts

Doing cross-channel marketing by tracking a user across all channels, listening and engaging with him or her at the right time with the right content on the right channel is challenging. Every channel has its own characteristics, every customer his or her own profile and matching the right content with the right customers is not easy. Despite these challenges, cross-channel marketing can be a very effective tool, leading to much higher conversions and higher customer loyalty, and the end result is higher revenue, which is exactly what most marketers are working toward.

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