Omnichannel and multi-channel marketing strategies share many commonalities, but they create vastly different experiences for tourism consumers. To reach potential visitors, both use multiple channels, including:
- Brick and mortar locations
- Mobile sites
- Social media platforms
- Online chat services/platforms
- Print media
However, the customer journey within multi-channel marketing is siloed and the journey in omnichannel marketing is unified.
In a traditional multi-channel scenario, DMOs create a separate plan for advertising, content or services on each channel. So, for instance, the social media marketing expert on your team may have created a social media contest that offers followers a chance to earn a free night’s stay at the city’s newest hotel if they share photos on Facebook or Instagram. This contest does not extend to print media or the website and exists as an independent social media campaign. At the same time, the website expert focuses on promoting the destination’s summer activities, while the ads specialist focuses on advertising upcoming festivals, concerts and related vacation packages.
All of these marketing efforts operate independently of each other and help to promote the destination in various ways on the different channels. The potential visitor may experience and see all of the ads and content simultaneously, but none of it is explicitly related and if the user bounces from one channel to the other, they don’t receive messages, ads or content that moves the journey forward cohesively.
With an omnichannel approach, the goal is to reach the user on multiple channels as well, but each channel is used a stepping stone to part of a larger, single experience and goal. So, in comparison, the social media campaign works with website content, online ads, email campaigns and messaging services to ensure the user finds timely conversations and content that bring them one step closer to their goal, whether it’s booking a hotel stay or buying a vacation package. In this scenario, all these channels have worked together to convert the user, creating one experience.
Assessing Both Strategies in Our Modern Day
To be fair, with so many promotions linked on all channels these days, the line between omnichannel and multi-channel strategies isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be, and that’s because most modern brands promote a single campaign across several channels—but the real difference maker is the extent to which the journey for customers is customized and cohesive throughout the campaign.
So, in both cases, you might have re-marketing or retargeting ads that aim to get a potential visitor to come back to your site after they’ve abandoned a purchase. However, in a true omnichannel approach, the retargeting ad will be highly customized to the channel and step than the user is at. The individual might receive a mobile ad about hotel discounts that is geo-targeted to their physical location, and if they click on that ad, they receive an email a few hours later featuring content promoting weekend activities at or around the hotel along with discounted rates and promotions.
With a multichannel marketing approach, the user might also receive a mobile ad about discounted hotels and then an email a few hours later, but in this case, the mobile ad and email content are identical—making the experience feel less customized or, worse, annoying.
An easier way to conceptualize omnichannel marketing is with the famous movie, Minority Report. There is a scene where Chief John Anderton walks into a GAP store and a virtual employee reminds him of what he bought last time and then offers some timely suggestions of similar items to purchase on his current visit. This experience is completely customized, aware of which stage the consumer is at in his buying journey and offers a timely message that is both relevant and useful.
Needless to say, this is an extreme example that depicts the future of omnichannel marketing, but with each passing year, brands are getting closer and closer to achieving it.
So Why Not Implement an Omni-Channel Strategy Now?
For most brands considering omnichannel strategies, the biggest concerns are budget and resources. It’s expensive to implement the technology, and also requires infrastructure changes to ensure all departments can communicate effectively to track, personalize and modify the customer journey as it happens.
Additionally, there are many critics who feel the method has little return for all its hype. An article by Steve Dennis in Forbes declared that ‘omnichannel is dead,’ stating: “…it’s increasingly obvious that omnichannel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many of the retailers at the forefront of omnichannel evangelism—Macy’s being the most glaring example—have only delivered quarter after quarter of disappointing performance.”
Still, in an ideal scenario, it’s hard not to see the benefits of a highly customized experience can bring to a digital-savvy DMO.
How DMOs Are Using Omni-Channel Strategies Now
According to the blog Customer Engagement Management in Tourism, VisitBritain has implemented a real-time omnichannel strategy that lets users easily switch from one social media channel to another while continuing their encounter seamlessly. This effort, combined with larger scale strategies has earned the DMO several awards and nominations over the years, in addition to over 13 million website visits annually.
Similarly, though not a DMO, Virgin Atlantic has used omnichannel marketing to ensure customers have more personalized interactions. In particular, according to HubSpot, a prolific customer detailed how Virgin used an omnichannel strategy to rectify poor service. This particular customer complained on Twitter about a missed engineer appointment and was immediately contacted by representatives on social media who eventually directed him to personalized phone support from a Virgin representative. This representative took immediate action to rectify the customer’s situation and gave him a direct phone number to use in case there were other issues in the future. This wasn’t a generic support line either; it was a direct number to the same agent promising personalized support whenever the customer wanted. The customer even went so far as to deem the representative his ‘personal Virgin concierge.’ This interaction was personalized, timely, and progressed the journey forward—though, in this case, it was the journey was to retain loyalty, which is exceptionally valuable too.
Should DMOs Choose One Strategy over the Other?
Both multi-channel and omnichannel marketing strategies can be beneficial for DMOs, and deciding which strategy to use is largely a question of timing, budget, resources and follow-through. As the digital landscape evolves swiftly, which one will reign supreme remains to be seen.