In this space, we often chat about differences between multichannel marketing and cross-channel marketing. However, I often find myself trying to reference the distinction between cross-channel and multichannel directly. Hey, that sounds like a great idea for a blog post right? Well then:

Definition: 

Multichannel marketing refers to individual marketing channels and subscriber data working working in tandem. Cross-channel refers to integrated marketing channels and subscriber data working together.

How about an analogy? 

We’re going with super heroes since it’s the summer and I’ve got movie blockbusters on the brain. You can see a multichannel approach at work in the final fight of the First Fantastic Four movie and cross-channel marketing at work in the final fight of the second Fantastic Four movie. Granted, we’re getting deep here as I am not sure that tons of people saw/remember either Fantastic Four film, but here’s the idea:

  • In the first movie, each of the four fantastic four heroes fought alongside each other to achieve a common goal (defeat Doctor Doom).
  • In the second movie, one individual received the team’s combined abilities so that he could take a more integrated approach to achieving a goal (surprise, defeating Doctor Doom).

The key distinction being alongside vs. integrated.

How about a real life example?

If you haven’t been to Waterfall’s Art of the CTA site yet, please take a look as it’s helps when answering mobile marketing questions of this sort. Have a look at this call to action from the AIDS walk versus a second call to action from Krave Cereal.

  • In the AIDS walk CTA, it’s clear that interested folks can scan a QR code or call a number to get more information.
  • Contrast this with the Krave CTA, where multiple calls to action seem less like two different routes, and more like two different access points for the same type of information (Krave Nation in this case).

How do they compare from a data perspective?

Perhaps the most powerful distinction, but a multichannel marketing approach has multiple subscriber bases, one for each channel. A cross-channel approach has one, centralized subscriber base, with each channel adding input and updates. The obvious advantage of cross-channel being that the same subscriber uses many channels, providing an opportunity for a more holistic subscriber view.

Any pet peeves at play here? 

In my mind, the biggest advantage of cross-channel over multichannel is avoiding the dreaded double contact by the same brand. When I get a text message and an email with the exact same information, I’m not usually super excited by this multichannel approach. With cross-channel I will get an email that’s a continuation of the information or update I received in my text message, effectively continuing a conversation.

How do they compare from a communication perspective? 

For those more graphically inclined, have a look at the below representation of brand/consumer communication from a multichannel (left side) and cross-channel perspective (right).

The idea being that multichannel relies upon disparate channels to simultaneously push a brand message to a consumer. With cross-channel, consumers receive information at the center of multiple, integrated inputs.

Which is better? 

I would argue that one is not better than the other, rather cross-channel is the evolution of multichannel for a more experienced marketers. Think of the following differences:

  • Customer engagement improvements: multichannel optimizes a channel’s features to improve engagement, cross-channel optimizes a database to improve targeting.
  • Adding new channels: we all know that technology changes rapidly. For multichannel, bolt on a new way to interact. Cross-channel marketers integrates another touchpoint for the centralized database.
  • ROI Measuement: Multichannel draws on channel metrics, such as clickthrough rates. Cross-channel draws on customer-centric metrics such as lifetime value.
  • Results understanding: multichannel provides ideas for improving a channel’s success. Cross-channel provides understanding for better engaging with customers.

Don’t think there’ much debate. But as for getting there – multichannel is way easier than cross-channel. But that’s the cost of doing business. Gotta give to get.

If you want ideas for how to get from multichannel to cross-channel, here’s a decent place to start. Have other thoughts? Please share them to the comments.