In the context of the generic term “digital transformation”, new terms are emerging in many places. A common understanding is helpful to ensure that you are talking about the same thing.

The same applies to the terms cross-, multi- and omni-channel. The user requirements for the channels and the possibilities have changed. Channels evolve from one tier to the next to accommodate these diverse needs. So they go through an evolution and the terms single-channel, multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel are the individual stages of evolution or expansion.

Transport and connect channels

First of all, what is a channel anyway? When one speaks of a channel, one usually thinks of a connection between two points. Something is flowing in on one side (in whatever form) and something is coming out on the other side. Connecting and transporting channels. Of course, this can also work in both directions, because otherwise it would only be a one-way street. An irrigation canal would be such a one-way street. Or the earlier, classic marketing or sales channels from the very beginning. Advertising in the "Television" channel, for example, would be a kind of "irrigation channel". The commercial is published on the one hand and reaches the consumer on the other. So that the viewer's interest and attention arises, a desire for the product arises or continues to grow and thrive - until the purchase.

In these one-way streets, the interested party can only change, ignore or switch off the channel. Advertising is not played out 1:1 for the individual interested party, so the wastage is high. An evaluation and analysis does not take place after delivery and audience figures - at best one can still observe how the playout of an advertising spot affects the usage figures of other channels and purchases - this is associated with a corresponding number of interpretation possibilities. The courted person cannot directly interact through this channel in order to fulfill their desire directly. He cannot buy the product immediately or find out more about the product without leaving this channel. This is where a media break occurs, which represents a hurdle for the interested party and does not allow the advertiser to connect to the next channel selected and used by the user. In this respect, success analyzes or user behavior are also very difficult for the advertiser to bring together.

My channel - your channel

Marketing channels are primarily of interest for marketing; for the sales manager, it is usually the sales channels that he focuses on. The buyer, in turn, has his own channel view – he purchases goods via “his channels”. And what about the prospect? He now chooses his channels independently. He has the choice (and often the agony) and uses those channels that seem to him to be the most sensible, most informative, simplest, fastest, most beneficial, most honest, safest and cheapest. He changes channels in any order. He touches analog channels and digital. For example, he buys or obtains information locally and analogously on site and buys in the digital online shop. It is therefore important for companies to know and follow these different paths - the customer journey - in order to optimally coordinate contact points, target group addressing, offers and services. For this reason, it is too short-sighted to locate channels in departments and to speak of purchasing, sales or marketing channels. The common denominator results solely from the target groups, personas, customers and business partners. The mixture of sales channel and marketing channel is already more than clear in the online shop. There are no pure sales channels that are not also relevant for marketing - and vice versa. Based on consumers, their use, interests and behavior, wishes and requirements, channels should primarily be considered, designed and connected by companies.

First the channel, then watch and then watch – is that the right approach?

Jain: Yes, because trying things out and having your own experiences is always better than studying. No, because a vision and realistic goals are still required, from which concrete measures can be derived before you tie up resources in any form for a long time. First, get rid of the so-called “channel thinking”. The channel is a means to an end. Think of the benefit first and then look for suitable channels. Break free from your ego or politically motivated decisions. You don't need an iPhone app just to "do something in the mobile channel" and because your competitor now has "any app". In doing so, you initially only open up a channel front (namely your iPhone app), which is particularly expensive, with extensive follow-up work, without even checking the purpose or more practicable alternatives in advance. Apps that are only created out of such a "motivation" are exactly those that nobody needs and uses because they make no sense to the user. This also cannot create any sense for your business – on the contrary.

These questions and tips will help you to consider whether and which channels are relevant for a company:

  • Is my target group represented here at all and if so, how relevant is this channel for my target group? Evaluations of user numbers and frequency of use, type of use, etc. help here. This gives us information about the relevance of this channel for the target group

  • What do I actually want to transport and achieve? For many companies, the channel is in the foreground, which is then usually taken over by the individual departments as “their” channel. However, it is better to think of target groups and their needs and pain points first. Then you should think about content, subject areas, customer benefits and how you can combine your business goal and customer needs. Only then should you think about channels and consider which ones can transport the goals and connect them with your own business. Does the channel even fit? Can I expand existing channels? Do I have to build new channels?

  • If you proceed in this way, you quickly realize that channels not only offer equal advantages for several departments in the company, but you also start thinking about how to create structured synergies between the channels and how to optimize and integrate existing channels.

  • What does the competition do? Any ideas for success here? Are there good examples that I can emulate and even improve upon? Learn from those who are already using your opportunities within the channels and see if this idea could be similarly applicable to your business. But don't just copy! Firstly, it doesn't make you unique and innovative, and secondly, what's copied doesn't necessarily have to work equally well for your business, your industry, your customers, target groups and partners.

  • Get to know your target group and their needs. What does your customer want? What does he need? What upsets him? What pleases him? At what point does the applicant get stuck? What is relevant for my respective target group? What can you do better than your competition at this point? In one sentence: How can you reconcile your business goal with the reality of your customer's life and thereby offer him a benefit? Because what comes out of this question is always relevant for you and your target group.

  • Always think of a return channel. For the user and for yourself. Communicate. Provide feedback and feedback options. Provide answers to questions. Analyze your channels and get to know your target group better - you will be surprised what you can find out here. Get insights and build your own data for future decisions and optimizations.

  • Can I use this channel in the long term at all? Think of resources. Can I do this at all or is the benefit disproportionate to the effort?

  • Think of suitable staff. Today, you come into contact with the public through many channels. Consider whether it really makes sense, for example, to hand over social media management to interns and to locate a "digital transformation" or "digital evolution" only in the IT department, because everything has something to do with "digital". Involve multiple departments and different people and take their needs, knowledge and ideas into account.

  • Don't close yourself off and try it out. In the long term, of course, they need a strategy. But it never hurts to try it out and you will receive direct information and objective insights. Use these channels yourself as a decision-maker, because it helps to make more objective decisions. Otherwise everything remains just theory and hearsay.

  • If you are still in the channel testing phase, start small and don't commit directly to long-term investments. Try to manifest ideas, visions and goals step by step and develop them further. Look for synergies in between. Build individual, smaller use cases. Don't be afraid to fail, because practice makes perfect. Even setbacks are to your advantage: after all, you know how to do it better next time and have overcome a learning curve that your competitors may still be facing. Do not dig up several construction sites at the same time without completing previous ones as working.

Functioning means: Firstly, that you have the necessary data, content and information in suitable structures and scopes. Secondly, that you provide and use suitable and required resources and technologies. Thirdly, that you have set up resource-saving and collaborative processes on this basis. Fourth, that you connect channels and information for everyone involved and offer meaningful added value, especially for your customers. Fifth, that you can evaluate the success, and also be able to feed back and use additional information about your customers in the best possible way. Based on analyzes and behavior, marketing automatisms can then be set up. You can then always improve and optimize individual points in detail.

The Canal Evolutions

single channel

As already read above, there are no more channels to be considered individually. Online in all its forms, on-top is indispensable, connecting other channels or even making them obsolete. Individual channels became many that support each other. Do you still believe in single channel and that the annual customer event is enough? Then ask yourself how many channels you really use when you invite your business partners to this event, for example. Do your customers really only buy via the annual print catalog and the sales representative because other, digital sales channels don't work for you? How do you know that? And does it make sense to block the entire marketing department for a whole year for that one catalog issue that, hardly printed and distributed, is already out of date? And if that has always worked great: Why did your biggest competitor on a growth course just open a B2B shop?

How channels are used has also changed, because vice versa, nobody talks about single-source publishing or databased publishing anymore. Nowadays, one source should no longer serve just one channel - several must be served directly, each with a wide variety of requirements. Conversely, this has direct consequences for the software systems used up to now. But the underlying data and data structures and processes must also be put to the test, because the amount of data increases exponentially with each channel and the respective characteristics. In principle, data is no longer only formed for the print catalogue, which is to be created automatically, but is modeled directly for many channels.

multi channel

Multi - the first term of compound adjectives - means that what is denoted by the second term is of high number or encompasses many things. Many channels and channel characteristics means "multi-channel". You don't have to use all possible channels - but you should know which channels are used by your target groups and are therefore most relevant to you. The customer, in turn, has many options - he is "multi-optional" and switches between end devices, channels and formats and between online and offline. The word "channel" is used in a very inflationary way and the "online" channel is arbitrarily fragmented and further broken down by its options. For example, one no longer only speaks of the online channel, but also of the social media channels, mobile channels or the website, the online shop, the Amazon marketplace or corporate blog. Depending on the respective level of detail, one also speaks of the Facebook channel and Twitter channel.

A multi-channel strategy is the approach taken by retailers and service providers to reach (potential) consumers through several different communication and sales channels. So can one speak of a multichannel company if the company already serves several communication and sales channels? Many companies classify themselves in this way, but that is only partially true - both from a marketing perspective and from a sales perspective. Although several channels are offered, this information often comes from several sources with single-publishing processes, which increase the costs exponentially for each individual channel. – so that multichannel can work at all and remain practicable, a master data strategy is required.

One can only speak of multichannel publishing when a company uses an underlying master data management strategy or product information management strategy to serve several channels from one source. And only when this information is also used for sales - for example product information for an online shop that is also available for several marketplaces at the same time - can one speak of multichannel online sales.

From the customer's point of view, this means that you can contact the same offers and information from a company via various channels and shop via several channels. With multichannel sales and multichannel marketing, however, the channels remain largely separate from a commercial, organizational and logistical point of view. And this is precisely the change to the next stage of evolution: the cross-channel strategy

cross channel

With multi-channel, we offer consumers various contact points across multiple channels – with cross-channel, we connect these with each other in a way that makes sense for the consumer. The aim is to pick up, retain and further qualify consumers on their preferred communication channels with tailor-made messages, offers, information and services.

Aspects such as the customer and product life cycle, different requirements within the purchasing process and the needs of consumers in the different purchasing phases should be better addressed. This can work in cohorts, as well as 1:1 and personalized for each individual consumer.

For marketing, this means that a message is not only communicated via campaigns that are each delivered via multiple channels, but that a message is delivered in different campaigns appropriate to the respective channels in order to lead to a more consistent experience for the consumer . At this point at the latest, an underlying content strategy is also mandatory.

In terms of sales, this means that the consumer can not only initiate a purchase via the individual sales channels, but that he is qualified across channels during and after the purchase and that suitable services can be offered to him across channels. For example, the consumer could buy a camera through one channel, and through other channels he could receive personalized up- and cross-selling offers that match his purchase, which he can also use directly. For example, in contrast to multichannel marketing, the user does not receive any further multichannel advertising from the campaign about the new camera model, but instead receives tips, tricks, services and accessories to make more of the camera model he has just purchased.

In order to make this possible, cross-departmental marketing and sales strategies are required in harmony. Just like a content strategy, centrally available data and networked systems. For example, it is no longer just product information data and automated publication processes that are required, but also centrally available customer master data, traffic data, social media insights, as well as behavioral and transactional data, which come structured and unstructured from the different channels and are meaningfully combined Need to become. This enables profiling, which in turn forms the basis for cross-channel activities and campaigns.

omni channel

This is the logical progression of the cross-channel approach. All physical channels, every physical contact point (offline) and all digital channels are really integrated and networked here. For example, the saleswoman in the shop knows about your customer history, your interests and purchases across all of the company's media, just as the call center employee does when she has a support request for a delivery. In addition, digital services are also available for the customer in the retail store, while interactive services are available in connection with local shops in the online shop. For example, the customer could choose his goods online, reserve them and pick them up in the shop and possibly complain in another branch.

Digital technologies in the retail store increase the degree of networking and information and offer the customer an extraordinary shopping experience. For example, beacon technologies, digital VIP and value-added services, virtual reality, POI systems or augmented reality can be used, which on the other hand can also enrich the customer information collected.


In the future, there will be more and more extensive technological innovations and services for consumers. Companies need to gain experience and reposition themselves on many fronts. You have to adapt to comprehensive changes and often try completely new ways. Buzzwords such as noline commerce and everywhere commerce continue to support the trend, but only mean that offers and customer services that are connected to each other can be used seamlessly across all relevant consumer channels. The future will show which offers will be accepted and used by consumers. However, everything is getting faster, better and easier. But also safer? In all projects, companies must keep an eye on data protection for consumers, because this is not just about acceptance by consumers. Today, more than ever, entrepreneurs and companies must not only take on data protection law but also ethical responsibility due to the fundamental networking of things. The new EU data protection regulation shows how serious this topic is in networked times. With every channel and degree of integration, it is always crucial for success that the focus of all activities is always on people and their needs.