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 73% of transactions are made in-person. They don’t happen virtually but in brick-and-mortar stores. Sure, 87% of consumers begin their shopping quest online—but a large proportion of them wrap up in a screen-free, face-to-face, traditional retail environment.
The problem is that everyone has been taught that eCommerce is the way of the future. Because offline interactions aren’t as sexy, most people don’t give them the attention they deserve. This has caused a huge disconnect for most businesses between their online and offline branding and services.
Why is it important to integrate your online and offline efforts?
82% of smartphone users consult their phones on purchases made in-store. More and more, even if a customer doesn’t make a purchase online, they are using mobile devices to help them make decisions. At the same time, they want the consistent, physical, and sometimes the more timely experience of making the final purchase in-store. In short, customers want benefits from both online and offline experiences.
While you’ll need to cater to the different needs of customers based on if they’re purchasing in-person or online—you still need to stay consistent. Each touchpoint should have consistent and cohesive messaging that translates between online and offline. If there are abrupt or noticeable differences that disrupt the users’ experience, this can lead to misunderstandings, mistrust, and ultimately a loss of value.
You need to create consistency no matter where your customers interact with you. Yes, the actual interactions and content may be different, but it needs to reflect your other efforts to be successful.
How to unify 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 touchpoints.
2. Cross-promote your online and offline presence
Identify opportunities to spread your messaging and promotions across different channels. For example, you can build up excitement around an in-store event with social media teases leading up to a massive reveal. Even more simply, you can offer discounts by bringing in a digital coupon or encouraging customers to follow your social channels for an immediate in-store coupon.
The key to do this successfully is to create one unified message and branding. Then begin to explore ways to stretch it out and use it across several channels.
3. Go for the small but important details
What small ways can you show that you value your customers? Maybe you provide an exclusive sticker with each purchase? Or partner up with another local business to offer a discount or free item? These types of benefits barely cost anything in the grand scheme of things, yet their impact is exponentially greater than their retail worth.
This is why you should think about doing something small but significant to grab the attention of your customers.
4. 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.”
5. Maintain consistency
Everything that you put out that showcases your business needs to be consistent. Your logo, tagline, brand colors, messaging, promotions, and overall customer service experience are all in the mix. This also translates to general information about your business. If you have a physical storefront, be sure that the address, contact information, and images are all up to date on your site and any third parties including social media.
For your customer service efforts, try to bring these together too. Customers will have different wants and needs for communicating with you and you want to be sure that the right options are available. You also need to ensure that the service provided is consistent whether it’s done in-person, over the phone, an email, or instant message.
6. 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.
To help in your evaluation, be sure that you’re tying together online and offline analytics. Did that increase in paid ad spend lead to more people visiting your store? How about that seasonal social campaign, did it increase online and offline purchases?
Whether you’re tracking your web traffic with Google Analytics and Search Console or maintaining sales data with a CRM and accounting software, you need to start connecting the dots. Set up cross-platform promotions, triggers, and post-purchase surveys to help solidify how and where customers are finding you to see what’s working.
Online and offline balance in action
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 include 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.
A small surprise
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.
A personalized follow-up gift
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.
The future of offline interactions
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.
Let other businesses have their sexy online marketing talk; you’ll be whistling all the way to the offline bank with your newfound balanced branding and comprehensive communications.
*Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated for 2021.