Integrating Offline and Online Activities

Every time we approach the end of a fiscal year, I always find myself starting to think about trends. What are the “big things” that are currently occupying marketers’ mindshare? What are the top priorities that brand managers have been tasked with to enhance their marketing programs?

One of the most pervasive trends that I’ve been seeing is the increasing integration of offline and online activities.

I see this being done in three key ways:

  • Using offline to drive online engagement
  • Leveraging mixed-media materials
  • Cross-channel media measurement

Using Offline to Drive Online Engagement

Using offline to drive to online is not a new trend per se. Since the web was invented, brands have been listing their URLs on their print pieces. That said, only recently have they truly activated their print to drive online engagement. Historically, the call-to-actions have been rather weak and have relied on users remembering a URL to type into their browser.

New innovations are making it easier and quicker for consumers to digitally connect with the brands they view in the offline world.

Say what you will about QR codes, but they are now ubiquitous – you see them on transit ads, print ads, flyers, brochures, you name it. These scannable bar codes enable users to quickly be directed to an engaging digital experience. The only caveat is that certain devices do not have a native application built into the hardware that can “read” these bar codes, and therefore some users (e.g., BlackBerry users) are forced to download a scanner app to enable them to scan a QR code successfully.

Another incarnation of this idea is executed via web keys. Slimmer and more condensed than a traditional USB key, web keys, or “kyps,” enable a user to simply “plug and play.” These keys are typically attached to a direct mail piece and a user simply has to flip out the key and stick it in their computers’ USB port to access the content. The online destination is coded on the back-end so the marketer can direct the user to whatever page/content they want, which automatically loads in the browser upon plug-in.

Leveraging Mixed-Media Materials

While the above still requires a user to take an additional step to access digital content, new offline promotional materials actually embed the digital experience right within the physical piece.

Kyp, the company that brought you the iKyp and the Pico web key, now offers a product that embeds a digital experience within a print piece. Typically leveraged for direct marketing (sales force, direct mail, etc.), these products combine sleek printed materials with an embedded video player that features rich media content.

Digital screens in bathrooms or waiting rooms or standalone touch-screen kiosks in public places like transit stations and malls are also becoming pervasive.

Even transit shelter ads – which to me are the epitome of traditional “out of home” – are becoming increasingly digital. My favorite example is a German ad for Amnesty International on domestic abuse that featured an eye-tracking camera to switch the image when someone looked away. The tagline was “It happens when nobody’s watching” (you get it when you see the ad – number seven on Adweek’s “20 Clever Bus-Shelter Ads to Brighten Your Travels” list).

Cross-Channel Media Measurement

So if everything offline is either digital, part-digital, or driving to digital, can marketers continue to measure these two tactics separately as they have historically?

Many marketers have realized there is significant impact that both offline and online can have on each other – it is not a zero-sum game, rather 1+1=3. The modern marketer therefore requires a measurement framework that looks holistically at all tactics.

Channel attribution is an important consideration that marketers continue to struggle with – if my print efforts directly influence my online efforts, how can I separate the two to determine which is working better? How can I “give credit” for those upstream awareness activities (which often takes place offline) that ultimately lead to customer acquisition (that often takes place online)?

A holistic measurement strategy that is carefully developed can help marketers ensure they have the appropriate metrics and data points in place in order to truly analyze and understand how their various media tactics are performing. This approach helps marketers identify the best media mix (across online and offline) to achieve their objectives.

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