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Battle of the “Channels”

Market too crowded? No problem. Create a niche or invent a new one.

This approach is one of the mainstays of marketing, especially in high-tech. It can be really annoying. Be unique, absolutely. But do it without adding layers of unnecessary complexity.

Let’s start with CRM. Quite a few years back, once the CRM field got super crowded (and before Oracle thinned out the market by buying half the major players), a mix of new and established companies tried to stand out by offering “new” tools or strategies for CRM. One was the “other CRM,” customer relationship marketing; another was “CMR,” customer managed relationships. It took forever for the industry to come to some sort of agreement as to what customer relationship management actually means (and, frankly, there’s still some disagreement; just get marketers and customer service execs in one room to discuss it and you’ll see what I mean), so can we please just leave CRM alone? If you’re still using the “other CRM,” or, worse, CMR, stop. It just confuses already flustered customers to have to keep up with the ever-changing customer relationship alphabet soup.

Same with customer experience management, or CEM. As execs finally started to get the hang of it what it means, someone came along and tried to swap “management” for “marketing.” Now, I’m a big proponent of change (and of marketing), but sometimes change is not for the better. It’s enough that we went from customer experience being CE to CX–one of the few that actually helps to clarify rather than confuse (on its own, CE could be mistaken for customer engagement). So, again, let’s just leave CEM as customer experience management and be done with it.

Sure, I get it, in both cases the key differentiator is “management” versus “marketing.” Perhaps the point of changing the M was to emphasize marketing. It doesn’t work. It’s just confusing. Marketing fits under the original CRM and CEM (M as management) umbrellas. I think it’s easier to explain that you focus on just the marketing aspect of CRM/CEM than it is to explain two definitions, the difference between them, and where you fit in. Simplify. Customers will appreciate it. And, besides, they don’t care about all these definitions; they just want to know how what you offer will benefit them, solve their problems, and increase their revenue.

The current renaming is a battle of the “channels.” The newest: omnichannel. What?! Is multichannel too straightforward? Too boring? Cross-channel was already taken? And don’t even get me started on the completely unnecessary cross-channel. Tell me, please, is there really any difference between the three that’s not just made-up semantics. They’re all about using multiple channels cohesively to communicate and interact with customers. Multichannel sums it up. Why do we need three ways to say basically the same thing? All it does is force us to waste time trying to explain invented differences.(Admittedly, we’ve written about them all, in our efforts to cover all the various aspects of and viewpoint on marketing.)

According to Merriam-Webster, multi is many, cross is across, and omni is all. In terms of marketing and commerce we have the following:

  • Multichannel  – Using more than one channel simultaneously. (TheFreeDictionary.com)
  • Omnichannel  –  A seamless approach to retailing across channels; “similar to multichannel.” (Wikipedia)
  • Cross-channel  –  The use of one channel to support another. (BusinessDictionary.com)

The only difference I see between multichannel and omnichannel is that vendors in the retail space decided to call out their niche with their own language. As for multichannel versus cross-channel, if you do multichannel correctly, each channel supports the other. In other words, using the term cross-channel–made up by vendors creating a niche–is superfluous. I’ve been told that cross-channel means that channels are actually connected, whereas multichannel simply means using more than one channel. Again, multichannel done well is synchronous.

If I’m wrong, now’s the time to call me out. Bring it on, but I’m an editor so be clear. If you can make the case that there’s some actual valid difference, I’ll admit my error. Otherwise, let’s just all agree–I’m talking to you, retail industry “omnichannel” vendors–to stick with multichannel and be done with it.

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