The Difference Between Omnichannel & Integrated Marketing

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Rion Haber | Feb 01, 2021

Omnichannel marketing offers communications leaders a powerful strategy for creating relationship-driven brand storytelling . It can be enormously effective at growing a loyal following, but delivering on that promise is often more complex than it first appears.

That’s because true omnichannel is more than the ability to publish a message over multiple channels simultaneously. It means creating seamless cross-channel brand experiences that reflect your audience’s real-world values through storytelling. Implementing it at scale is another matter.

Enter integrated marketing – an outcome-focused marketing operations framework built to deliver omnichannel strategies at scale. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between the two including how the terms came about, why they’re so often confused, how they work together, and where they part ways.

About Omnichannel Marketing

Humans are, almost to a fault, relationship-driven. We tend to trust the familiar. And, all things being equal, are far more likely to invest in people, places, and things that we have some type of emotional connection to.

It would be pretty rare, for example, to meet someone and instantly call on them for support after a hard breakup. While you may feel an immediate connection to them, the bonds that prompt you to trust them form over time, through many experiences.

Similarly, seeing a single communication and running out to buy a product is the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, a conversion is the result of dozens of micro-experiences through which we build a relationship with a brand.

Omnichannel posits that the pace at which that relationship is established can be accelerated when communications mirror the audience’s journey. Understanding that journey and shaping a path around it is at the heart of the omnichannel approach.

While the early 2010s saw us lean into the most programmatic definition of omnichannel possible, rapidly evolving data privacy laws are forcing change. That means that marketers will need to expand beyond paid media and deliver value-driven off and online experiences rather than automating them.

How does integrated marketing fit in?

The relationship-focused strategies that backstop both integrated and omnichannel marketing methodologies have garnered lots of attention in recent years. Adjacent names and definitions mean that they’re also often confused and misused though.

So, let’s start with a mutually understood definition: Integrated marketing (or the integrated approach) is an Agile marketing operations framework developed to deploy omnichannel marketing strategies at scale. It’s core principals are symbiotic, not synonymous.

Omnichannel marketing is the blitzkrieg of the communications world. It is outcome-driven and enormously effective, but requires a large volume of well-organized and integrated service-level expertise to pull off. That means that outcomes are based on operational planning as much as strategic ideation

Poorly conceived, it can feel clumsy and redundant, eating up huge amounts of resources for not much benefit. Done correctly, however, it feels like a purpose-driven story unfolding across multiple channels throughout the audience’s journey with your brand. Enter integrated marketing.

There are two common approaches to applying the doctrine:

The first is a “hub-and-spoke” framework that, while masquerading as omnichannel, emulates a traditional multichannel effort. It leverages commonly siloed groups of subject matter experts around a single project manager who directs each to achieve a unique set of objectives.

The second (integrated) is a “flywheel” approach that enlists an integrated project manager to facilitate direct collaboration between strategic, creative, and technical resources. Here, end-to-end integration between subject matter experts creates a range of value-added benefits.

They include:

  • Shared ideation and idea stacking
  • Increased visibility and team input
  • Conflict management and avoidance
  • Better control over project outcomes
  • Continuous iteration and improvement

While omnichannel campaigns that leverage the second integrated approach tend to be more efficient and well-organized, their true strenth derives from a critical mass of ideas having experts from every end of the marketing ecosystem providing feedback vs individual experts working in silos.

Building Omnichannel with Integrated

Amid an unending proliferation of new media, omnichannel marketing has become the standard bearer for communications strategy. It takes a wide range of integrated resources to implement, though. That means organizations with less robust budgets will need to find creative ways to replicate these tactics at smaller economies of scale.

The process starts with an analysis of your team’s composition and workflow. They should be aligned around your outcomes using an Agile project management framework, including daily standups, sprints, and burndowns to drive iteration.

Smaller teams sometimes succeed by embedding independent subject matter experts into their workflows. To make it successful though, they must become part of the organization’s collaborative workflow. Organizational leaders must also, have a comprehensive understanding of the Agile methodology used to drive the overall process.

A less commonly-used but growing solution allows you to tap into an already integrated agency. These small teams give growing organzations the capabilities as well as the operational backbone they need to implement an omnichannel strategy. They’re often able to do it for a fraction of the cost of building a similar in-house team.

Finding an Integrated Partner

If you’re looking for integrated marketing, remember to use these principles to guide your next campaign. Remember that integrated is a rapidly evolving discipline, and new technologies like artificial intelligence will likely make it simpler and more complex. Have fun, make mistakes and let us know if you have any questions.

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