OPINION: Fine line between off-line and online marketing

27 Jun 2015

Through the lens of the customer the line that separates the online and offline worlds is virtually fictional. At the very least it is subconscious, unthinking, as close to non-existent as you could imagine.

As the kids might put it “I’m using an app on my smartphone now I’m thinking digitally”, or “I’m watching the TV now I’m in analog mode”, or “I’m on a website I’m digital” or “I’m reading the billboard I’m all about the offline” said no-one, ever.

We all live our lives effortlessly and thoughtlessly between online and offline worlds, communicating in a manner that is easiest and most efficient to us at a moment in time.

The response of the strategic thinker, whether their background is in established marketing or online communications, is to recognise the role of the other and the complementary nature of online and offline channels. For too long, digital and non-digital communications have been pitted as competitors and, whilst digital has unquestionably catalysed a seismic shift in media consumption, digital in isolation remains as nonsensical as television in isolation, or radio by itself or PR as a sole route to market.

The digital marketers who win aren’t just the most innovative, they are the most integrated.

However, the information-rich customer’s expectation of consistency across channels doesn’t imply that the dynamics of each channel are the same.

Consistency of experience does not mean uniformity of approach

As media consumption moves from offline to online, or from bought, to owned, to earned, so a number of important themes emerge. In the move from bought to earned the marketer has to get used to having less control of the message and on the journey from offline to online the marketer has to acknowledge that communication is no longer presentational (an organisation preaching to a passive customer) but rather interactive (an organisation serving an active customer).

On digital channels this has the two-fold impact of meaning, firstly, that customer experience is focused on giving attention rather than getting attention and that, secondly, whilst the message stays the same, the tone of voice needs to change. In particular, in the move from monologue to dialogue, your tone needs to assure your customers that you have listened before you speak.

A number of years ago a well-known high-street fashion and lifestyle retailer carried out some pre-campaign research ahead of the marketing launch of their spring-summer collection and the above-the-line adverts shown on TV, radio and billboards responded to the more negative elements of research feedback. In response to perceptions of dowdiness, middle-of-the-roadness and overpricing, the advert was sassy, fun and confident. Post-campaign research confirmed that the bought-media element of the off-line campaign performed well.

The story was very different online.

The identical adverts were put on the retailer’s own website and YouTube channels, where views were miniscule, engagement was non-existent and commentary was universally negative. One comment that typifies the sentiment of the marketplace, was “this isn’t any old pipe, cardigan and slippers, this is [the retailer in question’s] pipe, cardigan and slippers.”

In subsequent years, the online and offline communications of the retailer carried the same message, but in a different format and with the appropriate tone of voice.

Integrating the online and offline worlds isn’t about paying the lip-service of placing a web address or a hashtag at the end of TV and radio ads. Rather it’s about building a culture that embraces the various channels and their interdependencies, alters the approach across each channel to get the most from it and values the positive impact of consistent customer experience across a myriad of offline and online media.


Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user-testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Independent News and Media.Visit Fathom online.


Photo of advertising billboards in Osaka, Japan, via Shutterstock