It seems like almost every day brings a new opportunity to discuss exciting developments in your business’s online presence. Everyone wants to discuss Twitter strategies, Snapchat ideas, internet lead generation enhancement—the list goes on.
What no one gushes about is offline branding and operations; instead, it’s treated like yesterday’s news that no one wants to talk about.
And that’s too bad, really, because nine out of 10 retail sales transactions are analog. They don’t happen virtually but in brick-and-mortar stores. Sure, 45 percent of purchases can be traced to a smartphone component, but a large proportion of them wrap up in a screen-free, face-to-face, traditional retail environment.
The problem here is that everyone has been taught that ecommerce is the way of the future. While the big Fortune 500 companies do have a significant percentage of their customers buying online, in the typical business, most interactions are offline. Because these offline interactions aren’t as sexy, most people don’t give them the attention they deserve, which has caused a huge disconnect in most businesses between their online and offline branding and service.
So, before your company forks over tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars on a slick new website, you’d better be sure that you can back up your online persona with an equally impressive offline one.
Online and offline: Siblings that deserve equal time
You’re reading this article online, so you’re comfortable with the internet. But a huge percentage of the population isn’t. They’re not operating in this pond, so while you’re perfecting your online endeavors like it’s the Triple Lindy dive, they’re missing your moves because you’re not even on their radar.
It’s time to get serious and recognize that unless you have an online-offline balance, your reputation and profits will suffer.
A fascinating case study into a company that “gets” this reality is Zogics, a 30-employee organization that does more than $10 million in revenue per year. Its top-selling product? A decidedly unsexy one: antibacterial disposable cloths to wipe the sweat off gym equipment. Spas and health clubs need the functionality of Zogics’ products, but what they get during their online and offline interactions are memorable synchronized experiences.
When a business orders a box of Zogics wipes, it gets a standard confirmation. The very next day, it also gets an email from the Zogics team members that includes a link to a video. That video is personalized with one of the employees holding a clipboard that says, “Thank you [customer’s name].” Do you think recipients click the link and watch the whole thank-you video after seeing their name on the preview image? You bet they do. In fact, the watch rates on this video are almost 20 times the industry average.
But Zogics doesn’t stop with these stellar online portions of the customer journey. They continue through the offline portion by enclosing their products in boxes with funny sayings and images. Each box is a work of tongue-in-cheek art, right down to the underside that asks, “Are you checking out my bottom?” It’s edgy, it’s playful, and, most importantly, it’s memorable. That’s the Zogics mindset, and they top it all off by adding an organic, locally made lollipop inside its unique box.
Hold on to your treadmill, though, because it’s not done yet. A few days later, Zogics sends a follow-up email, bringing the whole experience back to the online world. In the email, it asks a few odd questions, such as “Salty or sweet?” “Dog or cat?” and “Coffee or tea?” Customers click corresponding checkboxes, and then the next time they place an order (or sometimes even when they don’t place an order), they get a small gift, like treats for their pet or a package of roasted coffee, depending on how they responded to the survey.
All that from a company that sells wipes to keep the elliptical machine from becoming a bacterial breeding ground!
Every startup should take note of the Zogics formula of complementing its online and offline brands. Not only does Zogics pragmatically guide its consumer communications, but it maintains the same level of interaction regardless of where the customer encounter happens.
This is an essential part of meeting consumers where they are, not where you want them to be. You probably have personas who prefer online interactions (like my wife) and others who prefer offline interactions (like me). Want to reach my wife? You’d better text, email, or online chat because she won’t pick up the phone. I’m the exact opposite; talking one-on-one is my favorite medium of communication.
Unifying your online and offline presence
Your goal should be to understand how to strategically keep up your core branding for all purchasers, not just certain ones. Begin this process by taking a few steps:
1. Break down your customer interactions
What percentage of your customer interactions are digital? Analog? Are you over-weighted to one side or the other? Best-in-class businesses take this type of assessment seriously because it helps them understand whether they need to work more on online or offline activities to create a stronger equilibrium across their customer touch points.
2. Go for the small but important details
Do you think those Zogics lollipops are a huge expense for the company? Of course not. They barely cost anything in the grand scheme of things, yet their impact is exponentially greater than their retail worth.
That’s why Zogics includes one in every box, and it’s why you should think about doing something small but significant to grab the attention of your customers.
3. Strive for creativity in what you already do
Your processes are already in place, so piggyback on them and augment them. Could you make your invoice a wonderful experience? Spruce up your packaging? Turn in-person meetings into hashtag-worthy events?
The latter is a favorite technique of D.C.-based Glassman Wealth Services. If you go to its office for a meeting, you’ll be asked whether you want a cup of tea. If you say “yes,” you’ll get a menu with 12 signature teas, all of which are fantastic. It adds a familiar, nostalgic touch that no one forgets and is so much better than the standard “I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”
4. Constantly evaluate and tweak your online-offline experiences
Make evaluation a regular process for all your experiences, whether digital or analog. Ask yourself whether they’re honestly remarkable; if they’re not, change them up. The objective is to foster alignment across all boundaries. A single disconnect can lead to negative perceptions.
Checking the crystal ball: Offline’s future
Everyone might seem to skew online, but don’t let their intentions distract you from offline’s relevancy. My good friend Rohit Bhargava writes an annual trends book, and for two years, he’s been touting the glory of the analog artifact. His belief is that physical, tangible things are increasing in value, possibly in direct correlation to the upswing in technology.
Not convinced? Consider the power of a handwritten thank-you note. Fifty years ago, they were mainstays of business—anticipated and expected in nearly every transaction. Now they’re so rare that most people hold on to a thank-you note for weeks, months, and even years!
Thank-you emails are nice, but not word-of-mouth-worthy. Recipients read them and delete them, which is the exact opposite reaction you want to encourage. Given this stark difference in online and offline mediums, start by grabbing a pen and paper and writing a personal note to your top customers. It’s never the wrong time to do something unexpected.
When will you start seeing results? In general, you’ll know when your online and offline image begins to move toward a central point because everything will feel more stable from a user experience standpoint. Plus, you’ll enjoy knowing that you’ve made significant strides in an area your competition probably never considered.