The Omnichannel Trap

This post was originally published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.

No word falls more trippingly off the tongue in marketing circles than “omnichannel.” It’s the stated ambition of many a marketer, and taken as a given among the conferences and pundits beckoning to marketers. The need for brands to take an omnichannel approach is unquestioned, although there’s much to question about it.

That’s because an omnichannel strategy is overly ambitious and lazy at the same time. 

It’s overly ambitious because it injects complexity and strain into marketing systems that already require far more layers of infrastructure and effort than they did 10 years ago. 

On a purely practical basis, an omnichannel mindset is a game that can never be won. The new marketing ecosystem generates a constant introduction of new channels and subchannels. If marketers try to keep a hand in them all, resources will be stretched to the point of ineffectiveness. 



It’s lazy because it neglects the strategic effort required to understand what combination of channels are most essential to the audience and objectives of the brand. It takes work to understand the ways people come to a brand, and to prioritize where to excel, where to participate, and where not to play at all. 

So savvy marketers should think about their communications channels the same way they think about their new products. Nobody would seriously propose an “omniproduct” strategy.

In that light, it’s clear that omnichannel starts at the wrong end of a strategic marketing process. It’s like collecting as many tools as possible and then figuring out what to build from them. 

Strategy is deciding what you want to build, and then assembling the tools most critical to its construction. 

Several have tried coining the term “optichannel” to replace “omnichannel.” To the extent buzzwords are useful, optichannel at least implies the need for making strategic choices. It requires finding the balance between what a customer wants, what the brand delivers, and what your budget can afford. 

Consider these useful questions to develop more strategic channel choices:

  1. How well defined is my audience? Is it mass or niche? Is it easy to identify by demographic, behavior or location?
    • To gauge how much additional value you can derive from an addressable audience vs. a mass audience.
  1. What are the key elements of your customer Journey? Is it a high-consideration purchase? How often is the customer in market?
    • To weigh the relative importance of creating highly integrated experiences versus a breadth of highly visible touchpoints. 
  1. Are there common triggers to purchase? (e.g., a life event, a problem, a seasonal need, a cultural cue)
    • To identify the times and places most conducive to a brand interaction.
  1. What are the key consumer incentives and barriers to brand consideration? (e.g., understanding how it works, knowing what others think of it, seeing what it looks like, being easy to purchase)
    • To understand the channels that are best equipped to drive your strategic marketing challenges.
  1. What’s the value of a new customer? How frequently is your product/service purchased, and what’s the retention/loyalty rate?
    • To prioritize the channel spend based on expected ROI.
  1. What emotional reward are people expecting from the brand? (e.g., empowerment, connection, status, escape, etc.)
    • To align with the channel environments most appropriate to the brand.

It’s reasonable to suspect that the fervor for the omnichannel gospel comes less from marketers and more from those striving for the marketer’s budget. 

Omnichannel thinking drives a FOMO mentality that drives spending. More channels, after all, means more to buy: more media, more technology, and more services to execute across them all. 

The omnichannel trap is rooted in the notion that doing more things does better. The optichannel approach posits that doing things better does more.

1 comment about "The Omnichannel Trap".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, December 31, 2019 at 12:15 p.m.

    Excellent article with good, practical thinking. Marketers seem to be running to adopt conventional wisdom based on new buzz words without really thinking about their own special circumstances. Hopefully this article will give them reason to pause and think analytically and strategically. 

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