What is omnichannel?

Omnichannel is the unification of engagement and communication strategies so that they complement each other – rather than run in parallel – to give the audience what they really need. That means orchestrating experiences across multiple touchpoints and aligning content, design, governance, and systems around people's journeys.

What does omnichannel mean to your strategy?

Omnichannel means treating the sum of your channels like a product. This means

  • establishing how you’ll support user requirements instead of focusing on your own publishing goals
  • supporting users on their journeys instead of a singular buyer’s journey or funnel, and
  • measuring the value-add that your overall cross-channel experience brings to your audience versus measuring each touchpoint in isolation.

Optimising within individual communication channels, or even for multiple channels running in parallel, is like all the members of an orchestra practising to be excellent musicians, but never practising together. Each individual may be great, but the collection of parts makes something that is greater than anyone could do alone.

An orchestra* is coordinated, connected, unified by a common purpose, and works within a shared set of principles: Things like the musical key, feel, and speed are set for the group, even though each artist is contributing their part in their unique way.

Omnichannel is content and experience orchestration, where channels share with, complete, and enhance each other, creating a superior overall result.

Ensemble Music Played

Building better relationships

The term “omnichannel” has been around for several years, but it is often confused with “multichannel” and similar concepts. While “multichannel” means that a company or brand is represented across a wide array of touchpoints (websites, social media, advertising, product packaging, physical locations, etc.), messaging is rarely coordinated effectively to present consistent facts, design, or a uniform brand personality. “Omnichannel” is about coordinating activities across departmental silos to achieve a consistent message to customers wherever they meet you.

Omnichannel helps build a unique brand personality that distinguishes one company from another, reduces customer frustration when receiving conflicting information from different channels, and helps optimise company resources across the entire organisation.

In short, it’s about building effective, personal relationships with your customers using the best available channels and technologies.

An omnichannel strategy seeks to…

  • Contextualise and personalise across the entire user experience or customer journey, taking into account all channels, deliverables, and touchpoints
  • Speak with one voice so communication channels work in harmony to mutually reinforce each other
  • Align, unify, and integrate everything that supports individual experiences. Systems, knowledge, data, and content should tie back to a common base of standards, guidelines, and facts that keep the conversation going smoothly and consistently

Applicable to any industry or department

Although often associated with retail, shopping, or B2C (business-to-consumer) industries, aligning your organisation around the customer is something relevant to every modern business. Marketing and service departments have been leading the recent wave of interest, but designers, technical communicators, and even data professionals are often important players in an omnichannel initiative.

In the expert’s words

Our definition of omnichannel was written by OmnichannelX founder Noz Urbina, but has taken input and influence from the brilliant minds we have in the OmnichannelX community. Here are some definitions from some of our favourite contributors.

Ryan Skinner
Ryan Skinner
Forrester, UK

Omnichannel refers to experiences that correspond to the needs of the user, not the brand. That means flipping the script from what the brand wants to say or do in the channel where the brand planned it, to what the customer wants to see or do in the channel he or she wants to use.

Read or watch Ryan’s interview about Omnichannel

A seamless, data-driven, personalised experience that allows customers to engage with a brand how, when and where they want, regardless of channel (live experiences too!) and device.

Read 10 questions and answers on omnichannel success with Jenny

Content that can be coordinated and delivered across not only multiple channels but across any number of channels simultaneously. Omnichannel is multichannel that scales.

Read a quick interview on omnichannel with Michael.

* Thanks to Governance Guru Lisa Welchman, our opening keynote speaker, for this wonderful metaphor.