It's clear that digital marketing is influencing offline purchasing behavior more than ever. In fact, 89 percent of consumers who buy in key retail categories in-store have conducted online research prior to purchase (Google, 2010), and offline sales influenced by online research are expected to top 1 trillion dollars in 2012 (Jupiter Research, 2007). To capitalize on consumers' new inclination to research online before purchasing offline, marketers need to go beyond awareness and direct response campaigns, and start influencing the purchase decision-making process.
Identify brand promoters
Customer relationship marketing is a critical component to every company's digital marketing mix. Loyal customers who act as brand evangelists can increase sales and drive word of mouth. Identifying your brand evangelists is a crucial first step. If you have a customer database with emails or phone numbers, you can easily pinpoint brand evangelists with a net promoter score (NPS) survey. The survey need only ask one simple question -- "How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?" Customers respond on a 0-to-10 point scale, and those who rate you highly (9 or 10) are your "promoters." If you deploy the survey in-store or on your website or blog, make sure you capture emails or phone numbers so you have the ability to tie the response back to the individual.
Eighty-three percent of consumers say online customer reviews influence their purchase decisions (Opinion Research Corp., 2008 -- PDF). So the more positive reviews you have, the better. Not to mention, Google favors local listings that have more reviews with higher rankings. Faking reviews or incentivizing positive reviews is frowned upon, and against the policies of major review sites. But there is nothing wrong with asking your most loyal customers to advocate for your brand. So once you have promoter segments set up in your SMS and email databases, ask your brand advocates to write online reviews through a standalone message.
Customer support community
Another way to identify and amplify the voices of your loyal customers is to provide a moderated on-domain customer support community. Not only does a support platform with answers to FAQs reduce customer service costs, but it also creates a significant amount of SEO-friendly user-generated content. Since most of this content is directly related to your brand, you'll increase control over what shows up when people search for your brand. This is critical because search engines are the No. 1 source (online or offline) used by consumers to inform purchasing decisions (ZMOT, 2011).
Social monitoring and engagement
Of course, you can't just set up a community on-domain and hope that you'll capture all of the conversation surrounding your brand, industry, competitors, and consumer segments. According to reports from Forrester, consumers spend about 25 percent of their web browsing time on social media sites, consuming more than 500 billion social brand impressions per year. Consequently, it is essential to monitor and engage on external social media networking sites to track and respond to relevant conversations. This is by no means limited to responding to customers talking about your brand. Engaging with consumers in non-brand-oriented conversations will help personalize the brand and position your company as a credible industry resource.
SMS and email campaigns
Social media has sucked up a lot of air in the room. But given that 93 percent of U.S. online consumers receive at least one permission-based email a day (ExactTarget, 2010) and the volume of text messaging is growing beyond comprehension, these two permission marketing channels are still huge opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell customers and prospects. The key is to make sure that you incentivize the right actions (profitable ones) and that you can track ROI. Coupons are the easiest way to do this, but you have to be wary of training customers to wait for a coupon before purchasing. Also, when promoting coupons via SMS, make sure you have a mobile coupon code or a smartphone-friendly coupon landing page. Mobile campaigns that keep users within a mobile experience tend to perform best.
Brand search advertising
While most successful companies engage in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on search engines, many marketers are hesitant to bid on brand terms in their campaigns. While it seems redundant or wasteful to bid on terms that you already rank first for in the organic results, it is generally a very good idea to do so.
A recent Google study of 400 different AdWords accounts showed that 89 percent of clicks on PPC ads were purely incremental (i.e., if the ads were paused, organic search would have picked up only 11 percent of the clicks). Furthermore, it is crucial to capture brand awareness from traditional (TV, print, radio) advertising with relevant messaging in your branded PPC ads. In other words, your PPC ad headline and description should closely match your predominant offline ad messaging. That way, consumers experience continuity when prompted to conduct a brand search by an offline ad.
Local and mobile search advertising
With the drastic increase in GPS- and mapping-enabled smartphones and the prominence of map results on search result pages, local search is rapidly becoming a critical marketing channel. Representing a significant shift away from yellow pages and 411 services, 70 percent of local business searches are now conducted online (TMP Directional Marketing, 2010). Of those using a search engine on their smartphone to find local information, 77 percent end up contacting a business and 44 percent end up purchasing (Google/IPSOS, 2011). Needless to say, these are hot leads. To capitalize, ensure that your PPC campaigns are geo-specific and set up properly for mobile. Make sure the keywords, ad copy, and landing pages are concise, as consumers won't spend much time typing or reading on a smartphone.
Retail is not a field of dreams. Your company will quickly fail without a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Offline media is great for driving brand awareness. But you can't rely on radio and TV ads, newspaper and print ads, and yellow page listings to close the deal anymore. If you haven't noticed, consumers' media consumption habits have shifted, and the web has taken a prominent role in the purchase decision-making process. That doesn't mean that you need to have a million-dollar e-commerce site to survive. What it does mean is that you have to think about how consumers research your brand online and develop campaigns to adapt accordingly.
John Faris is online acquisition director at Red Door Interactive.
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