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Just because there’s a digital/social frenzy surrounding business communications these days, it doesn’t mean that traditional channels are dead and we should no longer use them. Are they still viable? Absolutely! With the ongoing emphasis on maximizing marketing campaigns by using social tools, we need to remember that people communicate and build relationships with brands in both the brick-and-mortar world and the digital world—often at the same time.

Gone are the days of limited channels. We watch television, listen to the radio, correspond with emails, consult Google or Siri from our mobile phones, browse our Facebook newsfeeds, and even call 800 numbers to talk to real human beings. Marketers often get excited about digital technologies (and with good reason—there’s a lot going on out there!), but we mustn’t forget to blend both online and offline interactions if we want to stay in tune with customers and prospects.

There’s an old television bank commercial that highlights this issue. It shows a couple approaching the roped-off entrance of a bank building, where they are stopped by a gatekeeper asking what they’re doing. The couple replies that they want to go inside and speak to someone, whereupon the gatekeeper laughs and says, “But that’s what the Internet is for!”

A great example of how some small businesses are integrating channels is 5411 Empanadas, a startup founded by three guys who love making delicious empanadas. Watch the following small business tip video for their take on how they integrated their marketing strategy.

Technology is definitely becoming more integrated with our daily activities, and automated interaction is replacing much of the human touchpoints in business operations. However, in spite of all the hype you hear about automation replacing everything, people still crave face-to-face interaction and real-world experiences, like meeting your friends at 5411 for an empanada tasting and talking to the guys who made them. Sometimes we don’t want to push a bunch of buttons or listen to another “menu of options.” We want to get out there and experience something!

The challenge for marketers is to find the appropriate balance between online and offline channels for your specific consumers. What products and services do they want? On which channels do they prefer to communicate? Where do they spend most of their time? How do they search for information?

How do you find out? By getting to know them as people, of course. And lucky for you—there’s a ton of data at your fingertips to help you discover all manner of things about your audience, including where and how they find information.

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 might then spend time using social media to build connections with other people who share that common interest, including brand representatives (if you’re wise enough to be there and open to the connection). From there, your consumers may take coupons, deals, or recommendations from brand advocates and purchase either online or at a physical location. Follow-up might go back to digital channels as consumers share their purchase experience, or offline to a call center to ask questions of a human being.

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? I suggest you follow what I call a “Lose, Gain and Give” process. Here’s how it goes:

  1. LOSE Your Assumptions: You know what they say about assuming (hint: it includes the first 3 letters of the word).  Too many times get in our own way and don’t see things from our customer’s point of view. We assume that we know his or her preferences when we’re really just reflecting our own. Just because you would prefer to do something a certain way doesn’t mean someone else will (remember, you are not your own customer). 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 very people you’re hoping to attract.
  1. 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. Don’t depend on generalized demographics. Talk to people. Ask them questions (do you prefer chimichurri or tamarillo sauce with beef empanadas?). Then listen to their answers and ask 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.
  1. GIVE What They’re 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 with your brand that they can’t wait to tell their networks about it.

No matter what tools and tactics you choose to implement this three-step strategy, make sure your message and the consumer experience is consistent across all points of contact and interaction. What you promise online needs to be the same quality experience you actually give consumers offline…and vice versa. Nothing turns off a prospect or customer more than inconsistency in message and action.

Your customers’ worlds are becoming more and more integrated, and the purchase path they follow will be the one that meets them both online and off.  

*This post was written in partnership with Progressive Insurance. I have been compensated, but the thoughts and ideas are my own. For additional small business tips, check out Progressive’s Small Business Big Dreams program.

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