Why Online Must Lead Offline Campaigns

The push for integrated on- and offline communications is as strong as ever. Yet integration still usually means all campaign components are managed by one firm and the integration occurs on the creative level.

The next level of integration will be with data, where integration can truly have the most effect. In the spirit of the hottest buzzword craze, I call this “Integration 2.0.”

I’m amazed when an online campaign’s creative is simply an extension of the offline creative. Agencies and planning departments spend enormous amounts of resources and research hours on developing brands and messaging for massive campaigns from what are usually small sample sizes. From there, a campaign theme is often selected from what the client liked or chose.

That’s a lot of eggs in a single creative basket. Worse is the online portion of the campaign, despite all of online’s buzz, is typically a very small piece of the campaign budget. After launch, results come in too late to influence the offline campaign. Instead, they’re simply used to optimize the online campaign.

In too may cases, the offline campaign — and the thinking behind it — drives the online component. It should be the other way around. Click rates, action/conversion rates, and interaction rates from online media and search campaigns yield super-accurate, real-time data. These data accurately reveal what messages and offers resonate with different groups of people in different regions. An online campaign literally interviews the biggest focus group in the world. Therefore, online campaigns and results should drive offline creative and media rather than following or complementing them.

Imagine testing a series of concepts or offers on a particular population segment or in a certain region to see which ones resonate most with your target audience. Now imagine using that information not just to optimize your online campaign but to influence the offline campaign, too. We know the beauty of online is you never hit a point of no return. But once the print ads are printed and the billboards are up, there’s no turning back; the trigger has been pulled and no cancellation clause or creative swap can get your media dollars back.

Sadly, online results rarely cross the online/offline chasm that divides so many agencies and corporations. Every day, I see data yielded by our tracking systems that could be used in broadcast, print, direct mail, outdoor, general site content, even collateral materials, call scripts, and product development. My suggestion is always the same: take the time to launch online first (at least a test) and incorporate that data into offline campaign development.

Am I oversimplifying? Perhaps. But if a message or offer doubles a banner’s click rate, is it possible this information would also be valuable in media channels such as direct mail and broadcast? Absolutely. And I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking these thoughts. When the process catches on, f online media and search will experience real growth in the value to clients. You’ll see more campaigns premiere online (perhaps in local pockets) before breaking out offline on a nation- or worldwide basis. The granular report results (not just high-level dashboard views) will be heavily scrutinized by more people in the organization.

That means we online marketers must yield more actionable offline recommendations from our data and be capable of presenting data in ways that are digestible for offline creative directors, planners, and marketers. Generating offline recommendations based on online data will mean we’ll have to break out of our shells, too, and not limit our thinking to online (as many on the traditional side still limit their thinking to offline). As offline people embrace our data and learn our processes and terminology, we must learn theirs.

As a pure online agency person, I hate to ask (and answer) this question, but who will be the biggest beneficiaries of these new data processes? Big, traditional agencies. They’ll be best able to apply our data to huge, multi-million-dollar campaigns where the information will truly have the most impact and yield the highest ROI (define).

Meet Harry at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

Related reading