Marketers often face a challenge when balancing their use of online and offline channels. If one is much heavier than the other, marketing effectiveness can slump, lacking energy and appeal. Digital and physical can work in tandem to trigger consumer engagement and if this is timed correctly, they can complement each other perfectly.
The same can be said of marketing channels. Digital has certainly been a high priority for some time now. But after focusing extensively on it at the expense of other media, marketers are starting to see how their brand might be suffering as a result.
For example, Adidas recently stated that it was reviewing its marketing mix, admitting that prioritising digital performance hadn’t had the desired effect. When the company discovered that brand activity was in fact driving 65% of sales across a multitude of channels, it identified the need to readjust the balance with greater interplay between brand and performance channels to foster long-term growth.
Just like Adidas, retailers are recognising that digital alone won’t necessarily deliver the anticipated customer acquisition wins. In a competitive and largely saturated market, it is important for marketers to avoid the temptation to focus on short term sales growth that digital targeting is often used for.
This is supported by the work of noted researchers Les Binet and Peter Field, who advise a 60:40 brand and performance split to develop the critical brand connections that retailers aim for to effectively gain consumer attention.
When it comes to execution, the proliferation of mobile devices and wider technological advances in society often lead marketers to look for the next shiny new tool to play with. However, engaging consumers in the physical world must not be overlooked. One argument in favour of physical marketing is the tactile and visual impact it can have.
This is particularly appropriate for fashion and homewares brands, and luxury retail in general. Some might say that social media fulfils the function of visually promoting stock with aesthetic flair, but when you consider that Royal Mail MarketReach research has shown that mail is remembered 35% more than social media, there are other ways to achieve a lasting effect in consumer mentality.
Physical brochures and catalogues delivered via mail, can provide an attention-grabbing alternative. In terms of engagement, 65% of people actually enjoy sitting down and leisurely browsing through catalogues. Catalogues and brochures prompt action, as 75% get inspired to buy, and kick start customer acquisition; nearly 60% state they’ve discovered new products through catalogues.
Now, this isn’t a failing of digital per se, but an underestimation of the role traditional channels play in consumer acquisition. Research from the Data and Marketing Association has shown that consumers hold traditional and digital with equal importance – 79% use at least one digital channel when researching products and the same number use at least one traditional channel. So, whether a retailer is omnichannel or pureplay, it must use a mix of channels in balance to be relevant to customers.
The proof of achieving a successful balance isn’t that hard to find. Nearly a third of addressed mail (31%) drives actions like going online, buying something or taking a trip to a physical store as a direct result of receiving mail (JICMAIL Q2 2017, Q1 2019).
Also, 25% of consumers bought, made a payment or donated as a result of receiving mail, according to IPA Touchpoints 2019. An example of online and offline working harmoniously can be found with fashion retailer JD Williams, which used programmatic mail to target consumers with personalised direct mail based on online basket abandonment. This achieved a reduction in abandon basket rates by 14% and an increase in average order value of 8%.
As retailers consider how to blend online and offline, traditional or digital, it comes down to understanding where each channel is most effective and how, when combined, their power can be stronger than the sum of their parts.
Take the physical Argos catalogue, for example. Consumers can still use it in the consideration phase to browse when unsure of what they want. Argos cleverly digitised the same asset for the consumer that knows exactly what they want to allow for greater convenience. It’s mostly the same content but the different formats provide two unique experiences.
The physical/digital debate in retail is not an either/or scenario. To treat it as such can be problematic. Creative new ways for retailers to acquire customers are emerging, such as ‘Partially Addressed Mail’, which allows marketers to target small groups of up to 15 households in the same postcode with behaviours and preferences in common without requiring personal data.
Whatever channel retailers use to reach new consumers, success comes in recognising each one’s relative strengths, how they contribute to the customer journey, and how they can work together to deliver the optimal route to customer acquisition.
Sonia Danner, senior marketing manager at Royal Mail MarketReach