How to Find the Online/Offline Balance in Marketing

September 13, 2011
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Written by Ted Rubin

With the ongoing emphasis on maximizing marketing campaigns by using online communication and tools, we need to remember that consumers still exist – and often still operate in – the bricks and mortar world. Marketers/Brands must carefully blend both online (i.e. professional blogger) and offline interactions to effectively communicate on the path to purchase.

There is a great television bank commercial that highlights this issue. In case you haven’t seen it, it shows a couple approaching a roped off entrance of a bank building, where they are stopped by a gatekeeper asking what they think they’re doing.  The couple replies that they want to go inside and speak to someone… and the gatekeeper laughs and says something like “but that’s what the Internet is for!”

Technology is definitely becoming more integrated with our daily activities, but it has not replaced consumer’s needs for face-to-face interaction and bricks and mortar experience. The challenge then for marketers is to find the appropriate balance between online and offline channels for their specific consumers.

 

Chances are your consumers will use multiple channels and switch in and out of those channels several times through the purchase process.  They might see a television ad that references a social media channel for those with a specific interest or need.   They then spend time using social media to build connections with other people sharing that interest/need, and – if the marketers are wise — with brand representatives.  From there, they may take coupons, deals, or recommendations from brand advocates and purchase either online or at a physical location.   Follow-up might go back online to social media as consumers share their purchase experience.

There are, of course, many different ways to leverage both online and offline tools and interactions, so how should marketers decide what combinations to use?

Follow the “Lose, Gain, and Give” process:

1. LOSE your assumptions

You know what they say about assuming…. (hint: it includes the first 3 letters of the word).  Do not assume that you know your consumers’ preferences.  Assumptions quickly lead to marketers telling consumers what to do and even forcing them down a particular communication or action path – a sure way to lose the consumers you are hoping to attract.

2.  GAIN understanding

Without your assumptions, you can now pay careful attention to your consumers to gain an understanding of what they really want and need.  Build an ongoing relationship with them by asking them questions (social media is a great tool for this), listening to their answers, then asking more questions for clarification.  Not only will you gain understanding about your consumers, you will also gain trust – a key ingredient in consumer purchasing decisions.   When you give them the chance, your consumers can help you find the right online/offline balance for them.

3.  GIVE consumers what they need, want, and are asking for

Action is the external proof of understanding.  Consumers want to be heard and understood, and the way to prove that to them is to take their feedback and implement changes to your marketing campaigns, products and services accordingly. Consumer-influenced action quickly builds brand advocates who are so delighted by their experience of your brand that they can’t wait to tell their networks about it.

No matter what tools and tactics you choose, make sure your message and the consumer experience is consistent across all points of contact and interaction.  Your online customer service needs to be as good as your face-to-face customer service… and vice versa.  What you promise online needs to be the experience you actually give consumers offline…and vice versa.

Consumers’ online and offline worlds are becoming more and more integrated, and the purchase path they follow will be the one that meets them both online and off.  Where will your brand be when shoppers step on that path??

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