Online Planning for Offline Results

Let's pretend for a moment that your analytics reports are lying to you. (It's nothing personal; they just don't always see the big picture.)

Now think about a few key questions: Do you know what percentage of online visitors your business converts into offline customers? How many offline sales have you lost from bad online experiences and vice versa? How depressing and/or exciting would it be if you could accurately measure such things? Would you rather have more business or more data?

Okay, don't answer that last one. Let's talk about the others.

If there's any offline component to your business's online sales process whatsoever-from cold call leads for complex B2B sales to moving consumer goods in brick-and-mortar stores-your website should be anticipating and answering potential questions for potential customers. One thing is certain: your customers/clients/whatevers don't care which channel they used to find you. In their minds, your brand is some combination of how you've treated them and how they've perceived your actions. Although brand perceptions tend to ebb and flow over time, an exceptionally good or bad experience-regardless of the medium-can quickly tip the scales.

The purpose of a site

Everyone knows the Web influences offline sales, but to what extent? A recent Forrester Research study claims that 54% of new car buyers in the past 12 months visited Honda.com prior to purchasing. Compare that with the most-visited consumer product goods site in Forrester's survey, Pepsi.com, which attracted a mere 16% of its customer base. Why does Pepsi attract a lower percentage of its own shoppers than Honda? Well, the sites have very different goals.

Pepsi is (apparently) hoping to build brand awareness in a youth market saturated by energy drinks - many of which it owns. From the looks of the site, nobody over 25 drinks the stuff. Do you remember "The Choice of a New Generation" or the "Pepsi Challenge"? Well, it seems Pepsi has a new challenge, and a new generation, on its hands.

But that's the point. You can rest assured the other 84% of its customers don't need to go to the website. Why? Because the teenagers who are looking at the Pepsi/DUB Magazine micro-site that Pepsi.com feeds aren't the ones buying the groceries. Still, the next time your teenage son is in Taco Bell with his friends, he'll be associating Pepsi with gaudy street cars he can't afford and Mountain Dew with "extreme" sports you'd never (knowingly) allow. Pepsi wins both ways.

Unsurprisingly, Forrester found that for simple consumer goods, visitors tended to look for deals, coupons, and contests. Websites for consumer goods that were expensive relative to budget, on the other hand-and this includes eye makeup as much as it does cars-drew customers looking for not just deals, but relevant product information.

For most of us, there's more sales complexity in buying a car than there is can of soda, hence Honda.com's large percentage of their own customers (Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, http://www.futurenowinc.com/publications.htm Bryan Eisenberg has a good car shopping example). Still, both products are commonly bought offline. Doesn't it make obvious sense that some "offline" products or services require far different online planning than others?

Give them the information they need online

At the end of the day, what matters is that you've gained a customer-not where you met. However, it should matter to your business in terms of how you've planned your online communications. It would be great if we could all become millionaires by selling access to eyeballs (*cough*YouTube*cough*). But in the meantime, here are some simple tips for helping online visitors take the next step:

  • Manage their timeframe expectations. If there's a form on your "Contact Us" page, make sure that the customer knows when to expect your communication (e.g., "You will be contacted within 24 hours")

  • Include a toll-free or "1-800" number. This goes for our friends overseas as well. It's worth it to pick up the call. This is especially true for anyone with a live customer support or sales staff.

  • Do they really need to call in? Getting calls from potential customers can be great, but is it possible to answer key questions before they call?

    • B2B's tend to be particularly guilty of this, since they spend so much effort getting people to contact their sales staff. Still, consider cost-per-acquisition. How much time does your sales staff spend with customers who are very early on their buying process?

    • Transparency concerns can bubble up from customers who feel they've been duped into a sales pitch simply because you didn't bother to answer their questions in the moment.

    • Does your website have a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) page? Have you ever read a FAQ page as anything but a last resort? Of course you haven't. Get rid of it. Once it's gone, place that information throughout the site-where someone actually might read it.

  • Help the introverts buy! Not everybody wants to speak with your sales staff or with a so-called "customer service" representative over the phone. Likewise, there are countless potential customers that resent having to go into brick-and-mortar stores to get information that would've been easy to give them online.

    • "Does the jacket have zippers?" "What's your return policy?" Think about what customers are asking your staff offline. Now answer those questions on the site.

    • You'll find that once you have, not only will you find that more customers come in ready to buy, but that those who call in can quickly be directed to a more complete (and quicker) answer than your staff can give them over the phone.

    • Although these issues can annoy extroverts, it's doubly so for introverts as they considered it work to get into a whole conversation over something they expect to quickly research. Don't make people work to give you money.

B2B's Have Customers Too

Why is it that so many B2B's seem to think their websites are fundamentally different from B2C's? Fine, so you sell to businesses. You have services, not products. You have clients, affiliates and partners, not customers. We get it. Still, countless B2B sites behave like B2C sites-with or without product and/or ecommerce elements.

Recently, one of our Persuasion Architects, Anthony Garcia, demonstrated a missed opportunity for TechSmith, a company with great products whose challenge is to speak to a variety of business and consumer personas simultaneously. This video is a good example of how to think in terms of a scenario that has the potential to turn into a sale that can be closed online or offline.

In most cases, the fundamentals of customer-centric marketing are the same across industries. In a word: "relevance."

Let Them Eat Pie!

Relatively new to Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, DUB Pies (which stands for "Down Under Bakery") is a great example of how to generate business, offline-to-online and back again, while deepening the customer's experience with the brand. DUB Pies has been in the area for just two years and has already gained local mindshare as one the best coffee and Kiwi/Aussie personal-sized meat pie shops (okay, so they're the only such pie shop we know of) in five boroughs.

What's better than coffee and pie, you ask? How about coffee, pie, discounts, and outstanding customer service?

When I received this promotional email a couple months back, I passed it along to friends, family, and co-workers in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. I'd already told a few people about the place, but my limited word-of-mouth campaign had lost steam a month prior. Besides, I didn't plan on looking up their exact location and phone number just to shout it from the rooftops, and I certainly couldn't offer any discounts.

It just goes to show that you don't need a big budget to make a big impact. Here is the short list of everything DUB Pies did right:

  1. Light (yet directional) banter: After a long day at work in late June, several of us at Future Now happened upon DUB Pies. We'd just finished dinner, but coffee was in order. Besides, we'd heard of this new pie shop, so we wanted to see what the hype was about. The woman behind the counter was relaxed and friendly, made perfect espresso, and chatted up the different pies they make on-site and how they'd be happy to deliver in case we had clients (or ourselves) to feed. A native Kiwi, she told us stories of the pie's iconic cultural significance, and how she sometimes stuck around late just to be sure the bar crowd wasn't stumbling home on an empty belly. It almost seemed like community service. We left the shop with 10 pies.

  2. Don't be afraid to ask: How did they get my coveted email address? Initiative. She told me they were having a drawing for free pies. I dropped my business card in the fishbowl (an oldie-but-goodie), knowing I would receive promotional emails every now and then. Since I'd already had a good experience, I trusted they wouldn't disrespect me with an onslaught of friendly emails-turned-spam-and they haven't.

  3. Relevant Messaging: They're offering a tangible discount in this email. They're not afraid to lament slowdown in business since it wasn't yet "pie season." (This, of course, begged the question as to whether pie season ever ends.) They're letting me know that-although their current site isn't great-they'll soon be launching an improved version. Still, they previewed what can be ordered, and reminded us, their presumably loyal customers, that they still exist. DUB Pies isn't waiting for customers to visit the site; they're taking action. (One minor gripe with the email: Why do I need to click through to the website to see a phone number?)

  4. Personality: Why should a promotion feel like spam, read like spam? Just as they were in the pie shop, the email was brimming with personality! Isn't that the type of continuity we're looking for? Do you think DUB Pies has a brand manager or board meetings to discuss how they plan on "positioning" the company as though that were a verb? Of course not. It's simple: good pies + good coffee + good people = DUB Pies.

They may be small, but in my mind, DUB Pies is an established brand. By reaching out to me with a positive online experience, I'm more inclined to buy from them offline-especially now that the subconscious alarm they set back in August has informed me that pie season's now in full swing.

Although you may not always have the luxury of measuring your site's impact on offline sales, the key is to make sure that you're trending upward. You won't have the instant satisfaction of hard data that your web analytics provides, but the long-term benefits of reducing friction across channels abound.

1 "CPG Sites That Deliver Brand and User Value." Forrester Research. June 29, 2006.  http://www.forrester.com/.

Volume 141: 10/15/06


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