Arches is gearing up to launch a new multi-channel marketing planning tool, and occasionally in conversation, people ask if multi-channel is synonymous with omni-channel. I thought it would be good to clarify the difference, and then think about our industry specifically to see where we are in the context of these approaches. So first, what do each of the terms mean?
The multi-channel approach is about getting the word out via our world’s varied available channels. Companies and brands that want to cast a wide net in order to engage the most customers use more than one channel. For example, email-only campaigns will naturally send only to people that have an email address, and so on. To be considered multi-channel, it’s safe to say that there are more than two in the mix.
Differently, omni-channel marketing involves the inter-relationship between every single touchpoint a customer has with your brand or service. It’s focus is on making sure the overall customer experience is consistent. The omni-channel customer expects a seamless experience regardless of where or how they come into contact with your brand, and every touchpoint includes more than just promotional channels – it includes point of sale (or care – for healthcare), IoT devices, customer service hotlines, apps and more.
Delivering an omni-channel experience is a huge undertaking, and first and foremost involves a fundamental shift from thinking about delivering mobile first or channel first to consumer first. The modern person leads an omni-channel life, and so brands/companies need to consider all of the many points of engagement to be able to show up consistently and proactively. To really do this right, the focus will shift from channel to human – and that involves breaking the silos and fragments that exist within a broad ecosystem. Not an easy undertaking, especially in healthcare, one of the most fragmented industries.
Let’s go back to multi-channel marketing for a moment. In working with many companies and brands in healthcare, I see a heavy reliance on email as the primary B-to-B and B-to-C channel. Email has come a long way, and I think it still has a ton of power within the marketing mix.
However healthcare marketers are a bit skittish about incorporating additional (more than two) channels into their plan to create a truly multi-channel marketing strategy. Some of that has to do with lack of experience, data, budget, or management resources, plus the dreaded approval process which is not easy when bringing new channels to the table for review. Marketers want to use what they know works, and I totally support that idea.
I also see the opposite sometimes – a big soup of channels that are thrown into the pot because marketers want to be innovative and gain experience building and managing emerging technology. I’m all for testing and innovation in a measured way, but often marketers looks back and says “Wow that was expensive and hard, why did we do that again?”
How does this apply to healthcare marketing?
Multi-channel marketing is a must in today’s online/offline world – and healthcare marketers have yet to fully embrace a test and deploy approach that includes reliance on what’s known to work with measured testing of new-to-the-brand, and/or new-to-the-world channels. I encourage A/B tests, data analysis, and full roll outs with channels that deliver ROI positive initiatives.
As for omni-channel marketing in today’s healthcare world, we will need to work on bringing the entire experience together across providers, payers and the pharmaceutical industry in order to really focus on consumers first and create an amazing seamless customer experience. The touch-points are deep and ongoing in our field, and the ability to deliver highly personalized and relevant engagements will require that the silos be broken down. Payers and providers must enhance their ability to connect with the always-on, addressable consumer to reap the benefits which will include better outcomes and greater efficiencies.
Omni-channel marketing requires a ton of planning and strategy – especially when it comes to your content and messaging. Mayur Gupta says it well: “Brands need to develop a content strategy and framework that is channel-agnostic and driven by consumer behavior and inflection points through the journey. Once marketers have this data- and insight-driven content strategy defined, they need the ability to syndicate, distribute, measure and optimize the content seamlessly across channels wherever the consumer may be in an “always-on” way, breaking the traditional mindset of time-bound push campaigns.”
The bottom line
So the bottom line is that multi-channel and omni-channel marketing are unique strategies that both strive to meet the consumer where they are. If you’re taking small steps from a uni-channel approach, just incorporating a couple more channels to your mix (after testing of course) will help you cast a wider net and establish relationships with more consumers. And if you’re really comfortable with multi-channel marketing, perhaps it’s time to go broader and deeper to consider operations, customer service, delivery, and every touchpoint for your customer to see how you can make their experience with your brand valuable and seamless.