This is the first installment of a multi-part blog series on the growing gap between online marketing efforts measured through online transactions and online marketing measured through offline behaviors.
It’s easy to understand why marketers love online marketing. It’s just so measurable. I spent years in print and broadcast media, and demonstrating return in those channels requires no small measure of smoke and mirrors. But with the Internet, you can track everything to a certainty, right? For some campaigns and categories, that’s almost true. But for the majority of online marketing efforts today, understanding success and return is just as hard (and maybe harder) than offline marketing campaigns. The main reason is that, today more than ever, online marketing is driving offline sales. This continuing trend has created the phenomenon we’re calling The Great Digital Marketing Divide.
Traditional online marketing
While we’re coining terms, let’s throw out one that seems completely counter-intuitive: traditional online marketing. This, put simply, refers to online marketing that drives primarily to online sales channels. These are largely e-commerce concerns like Amazon or eBay where it’s easy to see where site visits came from, what sources drove online conversions, and precisely how much revenue and profit came in as a result. Marketers who cut their teeth in this environment tend to see online marketing as a completely measurable, highly linear exercise. You do this and you get that, so you always know what to do and when to change. This is the analytical marketers dream. Of course, it’s never that cut and dry, but with e-commerce or other wholly online conversion paths, it’s just about as neat and tidy as you can get.
It’s not controversial to say that online marketing has undergone some significant shifts over the last decade or so, but perhaps the greatest shift is the effectiveness of online marketing in driving offline behaviors and conversions. Much of this is happening at the local level. Ads can be targeted at the local level through IP addresses and GPS locations in the mobile environment. Local search channels like Google Places have turned the Internet into a living, breathing local business directory. This is good news and bad news for those who do business in the offline world.
Zero Moment of Truth
Yahoo! and Opus Research report that 80% of consumers conduct online research before buying offline. That’s the good news. This presents all kinds of opportunities to reach out to your potential consumers before they buy. It’s what Google has called the Zero Moment of Truth. The trick here is how to measure and, more importantly, what to measure. All too often, marketers (particularly those coming from the traditional online marketing environment outlined above) focus only on the online indicators. Why? Because it’s easy. But you can bet that your customers who do things like pick up the phone or just waltz into your business were influenced by online channels (including local, mobile and social). Marketers who ignore the relationship between online marketing and offline behaviors do so at their peril.
This blog series will be focused on the challenges and opportunities inherent in understanding and leveraging this relationship. Bridging clicks and bricks across the new Digital Marketing Divide is no doubt a monumental challenge, but over the next few months, we’ll explore and provide insight into some ways to make those connections in critical channels like local search, mobile and social. Stay tuned.
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