How to integrate online marketing with offline activities

I’ve got a confession to make at the outset… When it comes to online (digital) and offline, I don’t believe they’re separate. These aren’t two competing approaches battling it out for supremacy. Rather, they are two complementary components of the endeavour we call “marketing” – building a brand and convincing people that our products and services are worth paying for.

But this isn’t just a quibble about terminology. When we treat online and offline marketing separately, the result is often said to bebudget silos creating twice the workload and plenty of inefficiencies for teams tasked with the same challenge”. Investment is wasted due to this polarised view.

The solution? An integrated approach to marketing where digital and offline channels work together. In fact, there’s a strong argument that we should “operate in the mindset of campaign first, medium second”. First, we need a central message for our campaign, which adheres to our brand values; then we can decide which marketing channels to use.

In this article, I’ll provide some examples of how the online and offline approaches can be aligned. My aim is to create a holistic view of marketing to combine the best of both worlds, creating a rich experience for the customer and enhancing the reputation of your brand.

Let’s look at how you can integrate online with offline activities for the most impact. 

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

SEO is the practice of getting your owned website content to rank in the search engines: usually Google or Bing. SEO has the potential to be a very effective part of your marketing strategy, depending on the strength of your competition and your audience’s search habits. 

First of all, your website must be technically sound and mobile optimised. If your underlying technical aspects aren’t in shape, it won’t matter what you try thereafter – the effect will be minimal. However, when it comes to ranking your website high in the search engines, you need to then focus on keyword relevance, content quality, and backlinks as the three main content-led pillars.

Some really useful guides to the basics of SEO include:

How to integrate SEO with offline activities

Networking will help you meet like-minded folk in your industry, or perhaps in complementary industries that serve the same customers. Real-life meetings are an opportunity to secure placements to write on other websites (aka, guest blogging). This will build your brand, leverage the power of other audiences, and gain valuable backlinks to your site. This is how face-to-face meetings can support SEO efforts.

Events help in a similar way. By being featured in the local press and on event or ticketing websites, you build backlinks to the website. You can also encourage attendees to write event previews and reviews on their blog, and provide them with collateral imagery to support their efforts. This becomes one holistic marketing effort; building awareness that benefits your site from a technical perspective. 

Remember, too, that branded searches are part of the SEO mix. Above the line activities (TV, radio, print) should be measured by the increase in searches for the brand name (and associated terms). As Moosa Hemani outlines in his article, brand searches are actually a good indicator for Google about your relevance. Note how major brands ask people to “search [brand name + campaign] to learn more!”

Pay-per-click (PPC)

PPC ads are your “virtual billboards”. The aim is to compel a prospect to click through to your website’s most relevant commercial landing page(s). You pay a variable bid-based fee (dependant on keyword value and competition) to the network: usually Google Ads or Bing Ads. Whilst PPC technically includes pay-per-click advertising campaigns on social, I’ll address that in its own section later in the article.

Your landing page must be highly-optimised for conversion. It should provide deeper information about the advertised product or service and a clear call to action (CTA). PPC is usually a bottom of the funnel tactic, designed to serve prospects who have a very clear need state. 

But PPC can also complement your SEO strategy, by helping you overtake competitors. You can bid on long-tail keywords such as pain point questions and brand comparison terms to appear above the organic results. This would targeted more at the top of the funnel, but with correct Google Analytics tracking you can measure return on ad spend (ROAS) and ensure the overall approach is cost-efficient.

It must be noted that content is still central, even if you’re paying to be put in front of customer eyeballs. Ad copy must reflect the destination page, 

Some really useful guides to the basics of PPC include:

How to integrate PPC with offline activities

If you’re running an above the line promotional campaign in print, TV, and/or radio, your PPC efforts can (and should) be a huge support. By guaranteeing that your PPC keyword bid wins out over organic competition for a particular term, your offline marketing activities can encourage your audience to search for it to access a deal. This could be a branded term, or a tagline linked to the campaign. 

Furthermore, you should aim to track offline sales that come from PPC campaigns. For example, retail stores with physical locations can offer specific coupon codes or product discounts, and record the conversions online and in-store for a full view. As Michael Peggs outlines in his excellent article:

“More complex tracking techniques involve collecting the information from the user who saw your ads and track the offline purchases of each user. One among many ways of implementing this is to run online ads for a store membership that can obtained just by filling the user’s name and email on your website.”

Peggs also talks about using a Google Click ID (GCLID) in customer databases to enrich your offline customer information and improve conversion tracking. If you’re technically-minded or have an in-house technical team at hand, this should be on your radar. However, you might need to enlist the help of external experts to ensure this is all set up correctly.

Organic social media

Organic social media is a useful communication tool, although many of these platforms are now saturated. Brands use organic social media for pushing out content, making contact with communities and influencers, and for supporting customer queries and complaints. Only very, very, rarely does a piece of branded organic content go viral. In truth, virality is not a realistic goal for most businesses. 

The worlds of organic and paid social media are merging, as platforms such as Facebook force businesses to boost content with ad budget to reach new and existing audiences. Some have said that organic social media is “dead”, but I believe it is still powerful 

Some really useful guides to the basics of organic social media include:

How to integrate organic social media with offline activities

Organic social media is perhaps the easiest digital marketing channel to link with offline, because it naturally documents and reflects real-world activities. On a basic level, you should be documenting behind-the-scenes achievements, staff stories, case studies, and more. This is perfect content to be distributed in social channels to build trust and transparency. Furthermore, following up with event attendees on social media is a way to generate awareness and improve individual relationships.

On a more advanced level, if you are doing above the line advertising in offline channels, organic social media will be a strong support. Social media communications should be consistent with the offline advertisements, supporting with extra stories and interviews to give the campaigns depth and meaning.

You can also run your own campaign hashtags; particularly relevant for Twitter and Instagram. These are great for competitions and giveaways, and create valuable user-generated content (UGC). 

Paid social media

Many experts say we’re now in a “pay to play” world, whereby brands need to invest budget to achieve the reach they need. There is some truth to this. Facebook, in particular, has choked the reach of pages and forced owners to boost content with ad budget. However, the advancement of social media advertising channels is a good thing for marketers. The levels of targeting are unprecedented! 

It would be foolish to go into the nuts-and-bolts of social advertising platforms, because they are being constantly updated with new features. For example, there is a vast difference between the process of advertising on Twitter and advertising on LinkedIn. You also have a whole host of different media methods: audio, video, text-based, and photos. Ads can be delivered in the news feeds, in message inboxes, and on sidebars. It’s a huge mix of tactics, which includes content promotion, direct sales, retargeting, and much more besides. The wealth of choice can be crippling. 

Some really useful guides to the basics of paid social media include:

How to integrate paid social media with offline activities

Building an audience for your social pages and profiles is particularly valuable for long-term growth, because it allows you to target warmer groups of prospects cheaply, and build lookalike audiences to scale paid social activities. Therefore, social pages can be a valid destination for offline marketing campaigns; for the purpose of more efficient digital advertising in the future.

You can also upload custom audiences to Facebook, based on their offline activity. To do this, you need to input your own healthy sales data. This allows you to retarget specific accounts with offers or sponsored content This article by Lauren Clawson shows how this works with some real-world examples. 

On most social channels, you can target by interests or the user’s topic of conversation – as well as demographics. Therefore, you can aim ads at people who are engaged in specific offline activities. If a user comments about watching a particular TV show, you can leverage that information for your adverts.

Remember the power of events

As we’ve already mentioned, events are a brilliant way to merge online and offline marketing benefits. 

Participating in events is key to building a reputation among prospects and peers. Whether this involves speaking at conferences, exhibiting at trade fairs, or even running your own event – this channel is a proven way to build a brand and generate business. Event-based marketing can also include sponsorship of events, charity auctions, community parties, and more. Ultimately, this is about getting groups of like-minded people together in one place to find enjoyment, education, and inspiration. 

Events contribute directly to digital marketing efforts:

  • They create visual and audio content for social media channels
  • They provide backlinks from attendee websites and events pages
  • They help build email newsletters (especially if combined with a competition)

Whether it’s your event or not, events and conferences will bear more fruit if they are combined with digital content promotion, social media activity, and email marketing campaigns. Circulate content in the build-up, publish interviews and roundups, and promote the speakers and their expertise. This can be further pushed by paid social media advertising, targeting likely attendees with sponsored content pieces. By the time people arrive, they’ll know about your brand.

Creative PR and guerrilla marketing

Whether online or offline, you want your marketing efforts to stand out from the crowd. Unusual activities have a ripple effect across different forms of media. But, of course, it must be consistent with your brand image; a target audience of more traditionally-minded people won’t appreciate lots of controversial weirdness. You might not be ready for something like Red Bull’s Flugtag, but consider if this can be a source of inspiration for your more “out there” marketing tactics. 

Summary

Hopefully at this point I’ve got you convinced: let’s move on from these unhelpful divisions between the offline and online worlds. If you have a siloed approach, let me encourage you to merge them together to forge a new holistic mindset. This will ensure a unified message across all brand campaigns. When integrating offline with online, always remember the 4Cs

  1. Coherence
  2. Consistency
  3. Continuity
  4. Complementary

Every element of your campaign should be connected logically, without contradictory messages. There should be a continuous story, integrated across platforms. And the different parts should complement each other to create a powerful cross-media campaign. 

Writing in Forbes, John Hall observes, “There is nothing stronger than personal face-to-face connections to create trust. When you combine that in-person trust with online content, you’re creating a powerful combination: trust and education”. That’s what integrated marketing can provide: the human touch of real-world interaction combined with the speed and efficiency of the internet.

So let’s aim for a holistic approach to marketing, incorporating digital and offline elements, that will reach out effectively to your target audience, wherever they hang out.

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