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In Engaging With Consumers Brands Must Embrace Both Online and Offline Channels

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the 21st century is a truly digital age. After the internet bubble in 2000, eventually internet-based businesses found their way to traction and revenue. If you’re reading this article, it is most likely that you spend a lot of your life interacting with digital constructs: apps, email, SMS, and so on. Some people even live out their lives online, either through social media or through games (be it Candy Crush or DOTA).

The reality is, though, most of our digital lives are accessed through screens; windows to what could amount to be another world. Some people even live with different personas online, although arguably for most of us, our digital lives have started to reflect who we are, whether online or offline.

A beach vacation would have corresponding vacation photos for example, and the birth of a son or daughter would be equally celebrated online and in the real world. For the most part, we don’t differentiate between what we experience in the ‘real world’ and the ‘digital world’, unless it’s something channel-specific, most likely all those parts of our lives mesh together into one tapestry.

Brands, however, are companies that are usually structured around budgets, instead of life moments. Marketing and marketing communications, for instance, are often defined by budget and measurability, and I think a lot of ad agencies and brand managers would agree that to have a unified, comprehensive message that spreads through all media but refrains from being repetitive is a difficult task.

At the end of the day, engaging the customer remains something that happens slightly separately through each channel, depending on each channel’s uniqueness. For instance, conveying a message through a billboard would need to be thought out differently compared to a campaign through Twitter.

Of course, in this world of information overload, conveying a message simply isn’t enough. There has to be an attempt, at least, on creating a relationship with the consumer (or potential consumer). Making cute, memorable TVCs may not be enough anymore, since at some point, you’d want the consumer to first buy your product, and then continue to buy your product.

In these days where most products have competing products from other companies, it is simply not enough to rely on your ATL marketing and your own product’s virtues. You would need to know more about your consumer.

Focus group discussions and surveys have always been an [expensive] part of a product cycle, but in this digital age, it need not be so. If it were possible to gain consumer insights on a larger scale, continuously, on a large group of customers, wouldn’t it do charms for your business planning?

It certainly is possible if we were running purely online businesses, but the reality of markets like Indonesia, as we know, is that most purchase decisions and commerce transactions still occur offline. The consumer itself, though, doesn’t differentiate what they want to do online or offline, they just decide which one provides the most benefit.

“Customer Relationship Management” has been a buzzword for quite some time, and would mean different things to different companies. While it is quite the norm for CRM strategies to be employed for online businesses, CRM becomes difficult for businesses that have a majority of their customers doing offline transactions. It is not just the matter of measuring transactions, but also measuring communication impact. It’s easy to measure email opening rate, but how would you measure a call to action from an in-store display?

Measuring a campaign’s impact, and developing a continuing relationship with consumers, is definitely not enough through doing online activities, especially since consumers interact with brands through online and offline. And to cut through the 21st century noise that we all experience, brand messages and relationships need to be deeper and more meaningful, and must consider the whole extent of customer engagements.

There is a fine line between becoming the Big Brother of brands, and actually providing an integrated, valuable experience so that customers are willing to involve themselves more into a brand’s story. Customers do want to interact with brands, they expect to. It is up to the brands to create a narrative so compelling, with the right tools, that can elevate customers into brand ambassadors, in a measurable and rewarding way.

Ario Tamat is the CEO of Wooz.in, a technology platform that combines social media and real-world technology, like RFID, with a web based platform to help companies create and nurture online and offline activities and customer relationships.

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