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Integration: Bridging the online/offline gap

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Everyone talks about it, strives for it and is convinced it's the way to go. But let's face it, the integration of online and offline direct marketing isn't where it should be. In fact, the oft-heard rallying cry is, "Can't we all just get along? 

 "The signs that we're not quite there yet are both evident and subtle-direct mail campaigns that don't include effective online components, list overlaps, inconsistent messaging, structural silos and channel biases.

The online/offline disconnect isn't as much a chosen path as an expedient one. Online grew up as a separate marketing tool. It was new, cool and exciting. Driven by a skewed reality of online's cost-efficiencies and its ability to deliver radically new customized experiences, its practitioners had hopes of leaving old-school marketing in its wake, of putting print out to pasture. Online thought it was on its own.

But online wasn't perfect either, and a funny thing happened along the way: Old-school marketing practices became mainstream online practices. And print direct marketing didn't wither away.

Today, the marketing tenets of segmentation, customized messaging, and measurement and testing remain as vital as ever for both online and offline direct marketing.

Despite growing up apart and now growing in different directions, both channels need each other and share a common focus to succeed-the customer.

The challenge is to bring the messaging together by looking at communications from the customer's standpoint. Online is ideal for engaging customers and facilitating direct sales, while off-line is well suited to developing emotional bonds and delivering a call to action.

When both channels working together lead people to engage, and the customer experience is consistent across all one-to-one marketing channels, businesses can realize the power of an integrated strategy.

Hallmark, for one, has found success through such efforts, effectively integrating communications to its Gold Crown Club members. Once signed up, customers receive a quarterly newsletter/catalog and reward certificates by mail, a dedicated toll-free phone number, password-protected access to a related Web site and regular e-mail updates. All communications are consistent and leverage customer data. Measurement is at the customer level, not channel specific.

Marketers must break down the silos that exist between key advertising, online and customer relationship management groups and ensure a consistent experience for customers through all communication media. Results have to be measured across all channels and by customer ROI (return on investment) rather than channel ROI only.

So, can't we all just get along? The answer is yes. Integration can happen. And it's all about the customer experience.

Chris Batchik is director of direct marketing at T3. He can be reached at chris.batchik@t-3.com.

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