The Offline Connection to Online Marketing

Looking for a way to boost your online marketing results? Take a look at the offline experiences your customers talk about, the experiences that form the basis of what your potential customers consider when evaluating competing options. The experiences you create in the actual delivery of your product or service drive the online conversations that are increasingly a factor in purchase decisions.

Case in point: Last week we flew into Providence, RI, for our annual summer trip to Cape Ann, Massachusetts. We arrived in Providence and headed for the Hertz counter to rent a vehicle. We were promptly given the keys to our car and headed off to throw the bags in and travel to the beach house. Walking over to the car, I noticed a dent in the side. Hmmm. As an ex-insurance guy (I was a product manager at Progressive Insurance for a number of years), I always do the walk-around before putting our luggage in the car. The dent wasn’t bad, but I don’t drive a car with a dent in it at home, so why would I while on vacation? It wasn’t like I’d chosen Rent-A-Wreck. I looked closer. When opening the car door, all I could smell was stale cigarette smoke. With an hour and a half drive coming up, I really didn’t want to start the vacation this way. I’m a pretty easygoing consumer and, to be fair, understand that mistakes happen. No one expects — though we all strive to deliver — perfection at every turn. At the same time, we clearly had a situation here.

I took the keys back to the counter. The gentleman at the counter apologized, gave me an alternate car, and asked me to check it out. The substitute was a clean car but was about the size of a golf cart. This was an airport, we are a family, and families have luggage. Luggage calls for real trunk space. This car didn’t have a trunk. Not wanting to choose between taking my family or our luggage to the beach house, I went back to the counter. No cars in the class we’d rented would be ready anytime soon.

At this point, the amazing experience happened. The Hertz agent, empowered by an effective corporate policy and culture of ensuring satisfaction, handed me a new set of keys, and said, “Go look at the car in number 37.” I walked over to a bright red VW Jetta, spotless inside and out, with plenty of trunk space. I walked back to the counter, smiled, and said, “37 rocks.” The agent smiled back and said, “That’s a free upgrade. Enjoy your vacation. Again, we apologize.” We had a great drive up to the house, are enjoying our vacation, and have retold the story more than once.

Ten years ago, that’s about as far as this would have gone. The people we come into contact with and who ask about our vacation might get the story. We’d maybe tell one or two people. Now there’s a much wider audience and a set of tools that makes it easy for a large number of potential customers to find these conversations. Searching Technorati or, even better, using BlogPulse as a consumer, you can quickly find the conversations that matter to you.

On BlogPulse, search for “hertz rental.” You’ll find posts like one from last week that recounts a similar experience to mine. This other case involves a customer who actually switched on the spot from Dollar to Hertz because of the difference in customer service. That post, like this column, is now part of the online conversation the next round of customers will use when choosing a rental car company.

As a marketer, how do you systematically ensure the retelling of favorable experiences? More to the point, how do you prioritize your efforts and focus of the things more likely to generate a beneficial online conversations that favorably influence purchase decisions? Touch-point analysis, a technique that you may have used long ago, is perfect for online marketers seeking to get the most out of the offline experiences that involve their brands, products, and services.

Touch-point analysis involves identifying all the experiences that connect your customers with your product or service, online or off-.

Each touch point is then evaluated in terms of its performance. Does it generate a negative experience, such as a dent and the smell of stale cigarettes? Or does it generate a positive one, like being offered a sincere apology and the keys to a snappy, clean rental simply because both were the absolute right things to do at that moment? Contemporized touch-point analysis goes a further step: each touch point is also ranked according to its likelihood of generating a conversation.

Now you’ve really got something: your performance score on the specific points where your customers have actual experiences, ranked by how likely each is to generate a conversation. Prioritizing your next steps — fixing the negatives and accentuating the positives that are generating online talk — is straightforward. Best of all, by using platforms like BlogPulse and Cymfony or basic tools like Technorati, Google Alerts, and Blog Search, you can track and monitor your performance on these touch points quantitatively over time. This gives you the data you need to engage customer service, human resources, operations, and the rest of your internal constituents who are essential in bringing about changes that drive beneficial word-of-mouth online.

Add touch-point analysis to your marketing toolbox. Combine it with conversational analysis and focus your efforts on the touch points that matter. In a marketing world increasingly driven by social media, what goes around comes around. With planning and effort, it can come around in a good way. Put that cycle to work building your business.

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