Integrating Offline & Online Marketing
Television, print, outdoor, were once regarded as the triumvirate of marketing – predominant media channels that transmitted the brand to the public at large. The Internet challenged that paradigm and opened a ‘new frontier’ in marketing. Marketers jumped aboard the digital gravy-train, persuaded by its facility for real-time customer engagement and analytics. The pundits decreed it the dawn of a new era and the demise of traditional marketing.
‘Digital is king’, they pronounced. Numerous studies and surveys were published, ‘proving’ the superiority of online over offline marketing channels. Some experts even made the case for why businesses should invest only in digital marketing.
Alas, reality is seldom so straightforward.
Digital is a part of the marketing pantheon
Effective as digital marketing is, it is but one spoke in the marketing wheel. The proliferation of channels – television, radio, print, digital – has affected market fragmentation, and thereby, complicated the marketing task. The marketing challenge today, is harnessing myriad channels that abound with multi-pronged strategies and limited budgets.
Offline continues to dominate
True, television, print and outdoor are no longer the exalted triad of marketing. But these channels continue to garner the lion’s share of the marketing budget. Over 60% of budget allocation is directed to these channels. In fact, 89% of marketing spends are apportioned to offline channels (television, radio, print, OOH/POS, direct mail), where as online spends account for 11% of the total budget.
Television continues to deliver unparalleled reach, scale and brand visibility. Print is far from dead, contrary to new-age proclamations. The fact is that the credibility of print cannot be replicated in the digital space. A reputable newspaper or magazine lends gravitas to the brands that are advertised in the publication. Being featured somewhere in cyberspace, simply does not have the same kind of cache’. Radio still remains the best medium to reach commuters and local audiences.
New channels have created new marketing paths
The growth of digital is not the death knell of traditional channels. New channels have only created new paths to reach the consumer and these paths – online and offline- must work together to achieve the marketing objective.
Integration improves ROI
As the marketing maxim goes, consumers do not make purchase decisions based on a single ad or message alone. The marketing ‘rule of 7 ‘ states that consumers needs to be exposed to a message seven times, on average, before purchase. Buyers gather bits of information from various channels and piece them together, in making their decision. Data gathered, from multiple channels, through multiple stages of the buying process, are the building-blocks of sales. Integrated messages that build upon each other, make a compelling case for purchase. Consistency across channels, renders messages more impactful and increases the probability of conversion. As such, integration is not just about brand synergy – it is about improving ROI.
Marketing activities are siloed
Marketers understand the importance of a multi-channel strategy and employ dedicated teams for online and offline activities. But few pay sufficient attention to integrating the two streams.
Managed by separate departments, online and offline marketing activities are often siloed. The end result, is disjointed messages that confuse the consumer, dilute brand equity and diminish marketing efficiency.
Ideally, all activities should be housed under one function, so that there is alignment of channels, messages and brand identity. But this structure is not always practical. Market competitiveness demands functional specialisation, and specialists need latitude to deploy their skills.
To mitigate against brand distortion, it is prudent to develop a brand manual, prescribing the tone of voice, images and messaging for marketing activities. Guidelines should encompass brand and campaign level activities. The idea is to ensure that both the brand and campaign themes are carried across online and offline channels. Imagine the consumer disconnect, if the ad that appeared in the morning newspaper is not reflected on the brand’s social media pages.
Integration is not rocket science
Some marketers tend to relegate integration to the ‘too hard’ basket. The inherent precept of integration is simple, when you break it down: connect the dots between channels and point channels to each other.
Connect the dots
Connecting the dots implies visual and message integration, across online and offline channels. In practical terms, this means that the website should reflect the look and feel of the ongoing advertising campaign; the online newsletter should carry the theme of the marketing brochure and vice versa.
Point channels to each other
Channels pointing to each other denotes that the newspaper ad, should encourage the reader to visit the company website. Ideally, the consumer should see the ad on television in the morning, thereafter in the newspaper at breakfast, hear it on the radio on the way to work, see in online when logging on at work, and glimpse it on a billboard on the way back home.
The first step of integration is to publish the company website and email address on all marketing material – brochures, print ads, billboards, stationary, business cards etc. This has become a standard practise for most companies. Additionally, it is good practise to feature social media presence as well.
Synchronize offline activity and online targeting
The point of arrival in marketing integration, is synchronizing offline activities with online targeting. For example, a television campaign would be far more effective, if the marketing plan were to target those talking about the brand on social media. According to reports, over 30 million online users in India watch online videos in a month, representing 72% of the total online population. Airing the commercial on television and posting it to popular online video sites such as YouTube, would drive viewership and brand engagement.
Expand offline messages online
Online channels are not restricted by the space constraints of offline channels. Extending a 30 second commercial on television is an expensive proposition, purchasing an additional column for a print advertisement could dent the budget, but online real-estate is not constrained in the same manner as offline space.
Therefore, the messages that appear in print and television, could be easily expanded in the online world. A teaser campaign running in print, radio or outdoor media, could point to social channels where the story is unveiled.
Unique hashtags could be featured on offline marketing material -brochures, billboards, print ads- to bring the brand conversation onto social media forums such as Twitter.
Using keywords that appear in the print ad on the company website, or bidding for them in search engine marketing campaigns (which are at the heart of digital marketing activity) would enable campaign integration and drive traffic to the website.
QR codes, controversial as they may be, facilitate integration of print ads with online channels. Code readers are available on most mobile phones these days, enabling users to access product information from the company website. Incentives such as online discounts, would encourage consumers to use QR codes.
Align online to offline activities
Similarly, online channels can be aligned to offline activities. Social media could be used to ‘spread the word’ about an upcoming event. An online contest, webinar, twitter chat or Facebook Q& A could follow the event, to spur engagement and conversion.
Test online; roll-out offline
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the web is measurability – it can be utilized to measure both online and offline activity. For example, setting up a unique tracking link (URL) for offline marketing promotions, would facilitate quantification of the number of customers resulting from that activity.
Online channels can also be used for market research. Messages, offers, promotions, target audiences can be A-B tested online. Consumer feedback via polls and surveys can inform offline marketing activities and optimize spends.
No single channel rules
Going back to the rule of 7, consumers do not make purchase decisions based on a single ad or message alone. Therefore, no single channel is the catch-all of marketing. A multi-channel strategy, integrating messages across channels, is necessary to maximize ROI impact.
Think strategy, not channels
The proliferation of online channels and the frenzy around digital marketing, has created a chasm between offline and online marketing. Marketers would do well to remember that channels – offline, online- are nothing but mediums of communication. And that it all boils down to marketing.
Functional specialization has created a siloed, ‘channel’ oriented mind-set. The thinking ought to be rooted in marketing objective and strategy. From that perspective, channels are simple strategic options or conduits to achieving the marketing objective. And they must be integrated, so as to deliver consistent, coherent and compelling messages to consumers, in the multifaceted decision-making process, leading up to sales.
Before you integrate your online and offline marketing strategies, it is important to plan a profitable marketing strategy. This is essential as the distribution of tactics and plans depend on the mail strategy.
Moreover, it would be wise to say that Digital Marketing has already taken over the marketing landscape and proving to be an efficient platform for businesses.
Want to explore the field of Digital Marketing for your Business & Career Growth? Join our flagship Certified Digital Marketing Master Program.