Omni-channel marketing, or simply omni-channel, refers to a holistic or integrated approach to companies’ engagement with their customers. When done right, the customer’s experience is consistent whether shopping on a desktop computer, tablet, smartphone or on the high street. The concept can be distinguished from multi-channel marketing, which employs various channels to market goods and services but says little about whether those channels manage to avoid coming off as non-seamless, inconsistent or even contradictory to the end user.

Recent data from telecoms specialist Telco 2.0 demonstrates that consumers will, for example, begin their shopping experiences on a smartphone, or on a smartphone in-store, only to go on to complete the purchase at home on their PCs. At a recent conference, Google’s VP of Display Advertising observed that ‘90% of consumers start a task on one device and finish it on another’.

Omni-channel vs multi-channel

Omni-channel is a direct answer to this insofar as companies succeed in implementing seamless connections between their organisational silos and thereby ensure that systems are consistent and coordinated. Whereas attitudes to multi-channel marketing have placed the organisation at the centre of the process, omni-channel considers the business as the set of experiences had by the consumer, and that from the consumer’s point point of view.

It’s more easily said than done, but rather crucially, the corporation itself must be integrated and agile enough to implement an omni-channel philosophy. Seeing things from the consumer’s varied and varying channel perspective requires the data that is gathered across the organisation to be collected and used by every business unit. Then, directing consistent, adaptive content and messaging to the customer is key, whereby in-store marketing and purchases are reflected in promotional email or on the website, all tailored to the customer who is logged in.

British clothing purveyor Oasis is frequently cited as having a handle on the omni-channel game. Its store associates are armed with iPads that provide instant answers about product availability and allow for the ordering of stock from other stores mere moments after the customer expresses their interest.

Data: the blood in the omni-channel system

Again, omni-channel marketing strategies are more fluidly implemented when underpinned by advanced data-capture and data-management systems. When a customer has a wish list or online basket with items for future purchase, such systems make it easier to notify customers when stock is running low on such items, inducing a purchase.

Thus, agile, data-driven businesses will be more likely to capitalise on customer acquisition and retention, but just as modern advances eventually become the stuff of ordinary expectations, omni-channel marketing will become integrated as an approach to marketing in general. Most retailers have a long way to go to achieve the basics just yet.