Is The Omnichannel Dream Over? Managing The Multichannel Reality

Omni-channel. It’s become a marketing buzzword almost overnight. You find it in retail manifestos and brand strategies the world over.

Digital technology has shattered media into myriad shards: consumers and shoppers now want seamless brand experiences in every channel. Makes sense, right?

However, I’ve been skeptical about the practicality and even the desirability of omnichannel for some time.

The recent announcement from Proctor & Gamble that the costs driven by this may not be sustainable goes some way to affirming that belief. Omnichannel might simply not be affordable. If that is true, then what of earth should digital marketers do about it?

Do brands or retailers really aspire to be omnichannel?

Omnichannel means all channels. Yes, you got it. All. Not ‘a few’, not ‘many’, not even ‘most’. All. Yes, omnichannel is an easy phrase to say, and yes, feel free to call me a pedant (you won’t be the first or the last!), but Omnichannel means all channels. As marketers, are we truly saying that we want our brand represented in every possible media channel? Doesn’t that feel rather inefficient? Does that include channels where our target consumers don’t go, or rarely go? Are we sure? And shopper marketers, should our brand exists in every single retail channel, be available to buy in every possible shop and store? If not, where do we draw the line? Omnichannel by definition doesn’t help.

Omnichannel is probably not affordable

As channels keep fragmenting, the race to keep up with the omnichannel mandate of ‘everywhere’ is becoming simply unaffordable. Even the massive P&G acknowledge that the costs of this strategy are taking their toll, and the returns they are getting simply don’t warrant the investment. According to P&G’s Marc Pritchard ‘the amount of content required and the fragmentation of media and the number of touch points where consumers were going and agency sub-specialization have created a lot of extra work and in some cases a lot of extra cost.’ P&G may be able to cover some of this off by squeezing agencies, but that will only go so far, and perhaps only work for the mega brands. How about smaller brands or smaller retailers? How are they supposed to pay for such an inefficient system, where new channels appear overnight, every night, and somehow the brand needs to be there, consistently, always.

Omnichannel no. Multichannel yes

Consumers would like everything, everywhere, all of the time. Yes, when asked, of course consumers say that they’d like a brand to be consistent and seamless in its presentation and experience across channels. Of course. Who wouldn’t? It’s a little like asking shoppers if they like a price discount, or free gifts. They do, but just because consumers and shoppers want something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Marketers, I posit, should get realistic. They must be multichannel, and they must ensure that their target consumer and target shoppers can get the optimal brand experience across the channels that they use. Note my use of language. Yes we should be where OUR target consumers and shoppers are: but not everyone, everywhere. There must be a need to prioritize, so that we can focus resources on the consumers, shoppers, channels and stores that really matter.

A seamless experience across important channels is more important than omnichannel

This is back to basics marketing. Brands must focus their time and money on the targets that they are most interested in, and then the channels which are important to those consumers and shoppers. Trying to win with everyone everywhere is the antithesis of good marketing. But once those channels are selected, then yes, that experience needs to be seamless and frictionless. Marketers, let’s not pretend that omnichannel is achievable of desirable. It’s a word which has a meaning which is a long way from what is practical, or affordable, or manageable. There is a danger in a word such as omnichannel in that it might make us forget those really important marketing principles of targeting, and prioritizing. Let’s focus on our target market, in the channels that are important to them, and let’s make that brand experience truly awesome!

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