Cross-channel, Cross-media, Multi-channel: Where’s the Difference

Multi-channel

Multi-channel is a way of delivering services that allows users / customers to interact with the system through a number of different channels: the peculiarity of multi-channel is that in any of these channels, you can perform a varying number of tasks from start to finish without resorting to any other channel.

Thus, for instance, you can perform a transfer using a home banking system via web, or a phone banking channel, through a mobile application, or walking to the closest branch. In each case you can complete the entire transaction inside one unique channel, without necessity to move toward another channel.

Cross-media (or transmedia)

Most of the discussion on cross-media we owe to Henri Jenkins. His basic stance is that cross-media products can be experienced as a whole (if ever) only across a number of environments, media, and channels. Contrary to multi-channel strategy, in cross-channel encourages or forces the migration from one channel to another — this is necessary to complete a task or experience a product.

Phenomena like Matrix or Lost are excellent examples of this strategy: TV or movie fictions, video-games, websites, spin-off and so on all constitutes a system where each part / channel is deliberately designed to allow only a partial experience of the whole. With constant and more or less explicit references and linked to the other channels. In other words, cross-media is expressly designed to be experienced fragmentarily: no single medium provides the full package. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on media-related experiences and consumption (movies, music, tv).

Cross-channel

Cross-channel offers a different stance from both multi-channel and cross-media: the single channel might or might not offer a complete entry point into the ecosystem, but the fact is that most of the users / customers will not stay in that channel from point A to point Z. In other words, in a ubiquitous ecology some channels do allow users to complete their experiential journey without resorting to other channels, in contrast to cross-media, but that is not going to happen very often (or at all, in contrast to multi-channel). This is where the specific nature of cross-channel lies, and where the challenges for design reside.

You can read more about this in a recent entry in Andrea’s blog.

Further readings

  1. Drew Davidson et al. 2010. Cross-Media Communications: An Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences. ETC Press.
  2. Jenkins, H. 2009. The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling. Confessions of an Aka-Fan, December, 12.
  3. Resmini, A. and Rosati, L. 2009. Information Architecture for Ubiquitous Ecologies. doi>10.1145/1643823.1643859. Also available at http://andrearesmini.com/blog/ia-for-ubiquitous-ecologies.