Ad-dendum by Marzin Shroff: Bridging the offline-online gap

Updated: September 29, 2015 10:13 AM

The digital domain can be used to make first contact with the consumers and then seamlessly moving the ‘discussion’ offline by connecting the prospect with the on-ground sales person

online-offline gapThe digital domain can be used to make first contact with the consumers and then seamlessly moving the ‘discussion’ offline by connecting the prospect with the on-ground sales person

How do you get your offline consumers to connect with your brand online? How do you attract and handle leads? While these are simple questions, not many companies seem to have a definitive answer.

In the pre-internet era, flow of information was to a great extent unidirectional, that is, from corporations/media houses to consumers. But with the rapid diffusion of the internet, not only did the world witness a paradigm shift, but even in India, we observed a fundamental change in consumer behaviour. The World Wide Web and especially new emerging platforms like blogs and social sites empowered the flow of information from consumers to consumers and also from consumers to corporations and media. The shift in consumer behaviour brought forth a ‘RoBo’ (Research Online Buy Offline) culture, which was seen as a great marketing opportunity wherein the digital domain could be used to make first contact with the consumers when they are in their research phase – present the idea using relevant communication leading to a company’s digital destinations and seamlessly move the ‘discussion’ offline by connecting the prospect with the on-ground sales person. A recent example would be how fashion e-tailers like Myntra, LimeRoad, etc., are endeavouring to create a strong social network to keep consumers engaged to them on their platforms through a content driven approach. Such activities result in a spurt in user engagement and help companies to leverage content and social arrangements to ensure customer loyalty and close transactions, both online and offline.

Lead generation plans in recent times have been customarily incorporating more of digital platforms for a robust result. Today it’s important for a brand to offer both digital and physical interfaces to consumers. Brands need to determine an effective method to shift smoothly between platforms to keep consumers engaged as they keep switching between both these realms regularly and swiftly. The brand experience should be enhanced to bridge the gap between both these dimensions by creating new tools, to be able to guide consumers from one platform to the other and back and this needs to be a continuous effort. For example, brands can use QR codes and unique tracking URLs to drive leads to online promotions.

The road to build an audience and gain leads has become quite a challenge because the average consumer today is hard-pressed for time, making it important for the company to be exposed to various channels—traditional and digital. Most customers will respond to just one channel, so it’s crucial to have a diversified, multichannel approach to generate leads and also ensure that these leads reach the concerned sales teams quickly in order to engage the customer at the place of their interest.

Over the years, digital advertising has evolved into a robust marketing platform that encompasses many different facets of digital media. Companies need to look at exploring all possible avenues such as search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine marketing, e-mailers, display advertising across portals, verticals, in-mail boxes, ad networks, and social platforms across devices in addition to using DSPs (direct selling partners) and affiliates. Each avenue needs to be monitored minutely to learn the response delivered.

A company’s retail and direct sales structure should complement the digital domain, facilitating the building of the online-offline connect to provide the consumer with a comprehensive concept or product experience. Using technology like augmented reality allows a brand to showcase products in an exciting manner; even though they just fall short of the physical touch and feel, it’s ideal for people in today’s day and age. Companies such as Jabong have introduced offline activations such as fashion magazines and connect users with stylists through their chat services.

E-tailers like Amazon and Snapdeal too sponsor fashion weeks. These offline and online connects help companies understand consumer profiles and provide product customisation, personalisation and relevant recommendations.

While managing a business account on social media, in addition to promotional activities, attention must be paid to the benefits it provides when used to locate, engage and join in on relevant conversations, thereby helping in identifying and communicating with potential leads.

The growing clout of the internet in consumers’ lives has resulted in them posting reviews on various portals, some positive and some negative. This is where online reputation management comes into the picture as it becomes a great opportunity for companies to engage with these consumers, who are willing to express their views.

Going forward, companies should look at channelising their efforts to strengthen the online-offline connect in areas of lead generation, service requests as well as e-commerce deliveries. Technology diffusion and improvement in telecommunication infrastructure are opening up immense avenues in this domain. Armed with the right knowledge, tools and resources, any marketer or business owner can overcome the challenges that come along with audience discovery and lead generation. Stimulating and capturing the interest of a customer is paramount to lead generation.

The author is CEO—direct sales and senior vice president—marketing, Eureka Forbes Ltd

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