Cross Channel And Multichannel: Fraternal, Not Identical, Twins

joannaoconnell6415Marketer’s Note” is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem.

This week it is written by Joanna O’Connell, Lead Analyst, AdExchanger Research

I was in a meeting with an ad tech company recently, listening to its executives pitch the company’s “multichannel” capabilities. Fair enough, I thought, their platform can execute buys in more than one channel. Pretty standard stuff. But as they described their capabilities in more detail, it struck me that what they were really talking about was their ability to find and target an individual user across a range of channels.

In using the term “multichannel” in this context, they were falling into a trap that many in the industry have been falling into for a long time now: incorrectly conflating multichannel and cross-channel. I have been arguing for a while now that they are very different things.


  • “Multichannel” is buying several channels concurrently to broadcast the same, or nearly the same, message.
  • “Cross-channel” is connecting with an individual across a range of channels to move that individual through the customer journey.

Why does this distinction matter? Because words matter. And in digital advertising, words are often used carelessly and interchangeably when, in fact, those words represent distinct concepts. This causes, at best, confusion (“Is a DSP the same as an ad network?”) and, at worst, meaninglessness in the eyes of potential customers (“What does a DMP even do anyway and why the heck do I need one?”).

The importance of language is not a new theme for me. A while back I wrote about the language chasm that exists between the worlds of digital advertising technology and more traditional marketing technology – think campaign-management and marketing-automation systems, for example – and how important it would become for those worlds to start better understanding one another.

I am picking up the multichannel vs. cross-channel gauntlet now because it is similarly important. When every CMO’s speech I listen to leads with, “driving seamless user experiences across channels,” it’s time to get serious about what marketers are trying to do – really – and what it will take to get them there.

In the case of multichannel and cross-channel:

  • Both are critical in connecting with consumers, but they can and should play distinct roles. A “multichannel” approach will work wonderfully for top-of-funnel activities, which are designed to create or build desire and aimed at broad audiences where unique reach is likely an explicit goal. For example, imagine running a digital video campaign in conjunction with a traditional television campaign where digital video serves as an efficient vehicle for gaining those last few GRPs that are too expensive to buy in television. A “cross-channel” approach, rather, should be used to create ongoing connection between a brand and individual target consumers or customers as they traverse the digital world. Think message sequencing across video and display in order to draw a consumer in to a storyline or complex offer over time.
  • The implications for each are different. They necessarily will have different business rules aimed at reaching different goals, such as reach vs. conversion. This means different degrees of user-level intelligence needed, different buying and targeting technologies in the mix (in spite of what every ad tech vendor will tell you) and different privacy considerations, organizing principles, organizational structure and skill sets.

Back in that meeting, I turned to one of my favorite movie heroes to drive the point home: “I do not think that means what you think it means.”

And an “a-ha” moment was had by all.

Thoughts, comments, send them my way.


Follow Joanna O’Connell (@joannaoconnell ) and AdExchanger Research (@AdexchangerRsch) on Twitter. 

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1 Comment

  1. Couldn’t agree more that “cross-device” and “cross-channel” are disserviced by those who lump “multi-device” and “multi-channel” in with those terms. I would add that “cross-device” is usually more about identity – leveraging data to deliver personalized or at least relevant content. Multi-device is more akin to spray-and-pray. It might get eyeballs, but tougher to measure without an identity solution behind it.