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Use Online to Drive Offline

trade showOne of the primary themes I discovered and then wrote about in The Referral Engine was the fact that widely referred businesses are very good at fusing online and offline in a high tech, high touch sort of way.

As I continue to watch this phenomenon, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s one of the primary strategies that every local business needs to adopt as an intentional overarching marketing strategy. It’s not a matter of looking at the Internet and social tools with an eye on sales. It’s a matter of tuning your entire marketing process in a way that fits how offline buyers now make their decisions and grabbing that piece of business.

See, Zappos or Dell or Amazon, can’t really create the engagement and experience that you can in your high touch, in person business. That’s your competitive advantage and now more than ever you need to use online tools to get your chance to use that advantage. Don’t think about making a sale online, think about getting a chance to make an impression. The primary way to do that is to become an online warrior for creating awareness for your products, services, brand, content and expertise when a local shopper or information gatherer turns to a search engine and drive that surfer offline for the total package.

Creating customers offline will, in my opinion, always (OK, for the next few years) be the most profitable way for a small business to build long term high profit revenue, but those revenues will never appear if you don’t master the online information space first.

I’ll be giving a presentation in Las Vegas at the MAGIC Marketplace Fashion and Apparel Show on behalf of AMEX and plan to share with those that attend this framework approach to using Online to Drive Offline engagement and sales.

The online to offline mindset involves a healthy dose of what many would refer to as SEO, but its success actually hinges on how you intend to engage online visitors once you’ve got them. There are three phases to the development of your fused approach.

Discovery – In this phase you lay the groundwork for understanding what your local prospects are looking for and how you can use this data to create awareness for the products and services you offer. As an offline business you have the distinct advantage of asking your customers, but you must also take clues from your successfully placed online competitors.

Content – Content is a very large and growing concept online, but here take it to mean educational content creation aimed squarely at answering the kinds of things your prospects want to know more about. It also encompasses the liberal use of outposts for your content in places like local directories, social networks, and bookmarking sites that lead paths back to your primary web hub.

Engagement – This term is tossed around a bunch in social media circles these days, but few things compare to engagement done face to face. Once you win eyeballs and prime real estate in local directories such as Google Maps, your strategy of engagement needs to kick in. This is your intentional tactical approach to driving those eyeballs into your stores, events, workshops, demonstrations, and information sessions – offline. This is where you get the opportunity to tangibly demonstrate your value, experience, trustworthiness and expertise in ways that no amount of online participation ever will. (Hint: That’s why video is so effective as online content.)

The Internet, a tool used by many to sell goods globally, is quickly becoming the power tool locally. Use this tool properly and you can drive an unstoppable flow of prospective business into your offline lead conversion machine.

Image credit: willbanks

Why Social Media Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Talk to the handThe hype over social media still echos, but it just doesn’t really matter anymore. Recent surveys suggest that small businesses are still slow to adopt social media and it also doesn’t matter anymore. Social media agencies, departments, and experts don’t matter anymore.

The idea behind the hype, measurement and rush to claim guru status revolved around the tools and the platforms, all of which were new, none of which really were the point.

The reason social media doesn’t matter is because, upon further review, it doesn’t exist beyond a label. While all the categorizing, classifying and departmentalizing was going on, that which was called social media simply settled into the center of marketing and business strategy and behavior. Everything that we called social media is irrelevant and mislabed – there’s a new way of doing business and marketing for sure, but it’s a behavior and focus on customer involvement that’s become a new norm – and that’s all there is to it.

We don’t need social media tools, social media plans, social media agencies, or social media departments, we need marketing strategies and tactics that are informed by a terribly heightened customer expectation. I’m not the first marketer to suggest this for sure, the idea of engagement has always been a part of the social media thread, but we aren’t moving fast enough to stamp out this idea that social media is somehow still a new and meaningful concept – now that we understand what actually happened it’s time to drop the term, concept, and confusion and focus on what really matters.

Prospect engagement matters

If we’ve learned one thing over the last year or two, it’s that prospects are drawn to the ability to interact with the companies, brands, and messages that they choose to absorb. Marketing and sales must include this desired behavior in order to even get an invitation into the prospect’s decision making world.

Customer experience matters

Traditional lead generation is dead, we’ve all accepted this by now, but what’s replaced it? If being found by prospects is the new form of lead generation awareness, then trust is the new form of lead conversion. Trust happens rapidly when customers have an experience worth talking about. A remarkable customer experience is the most effective form of lead generation

Collaboration matters

The Internet has enabled a world where we can work in conjunction with prospects, customers, suppliers, mentors, advisors, and staff in ways that make the finished work a personalized experience infused with the real time input. Community sourcing is a practice that underpins all product, service and business development activities.

Fusion matters

Another powerful lesson gained over the last few years is that offline activity is enhanced, rather than replaced, by online activity. The careful fusion of hi touch business building that’s done face to face with hi tech business building that enables more frequent, personalized contact and communication is the secret to delivering the most advanced customer experience.

Let’s stop measuring adoption of social media and go to work on simply measuring effective interaction in marketing. I suppose as much as anything this is the major thread that runs through The Referral Engine

Groupon Train is Worth a Small Business Ride

Groupon is a fascinating study in the fusion of online and offline marketing tactics to drive local business. Couponing sites have come and gone over the years, but Groupon’s connection to social media is turning it into a bit of a movement.


A typical Groupon offer. Click to enlarge the image.

Here’s the basic idea: People sign-up to receive a once daily offer from local merchants. It’s one offer only, in one of the 29 or so cities (more soon) that have Groupon groups. But, the offer does not kick in until a set number of people jump on board. The offer also involves a buy in. In other words, a typical offer might look like the one in the image here – “Spend $12 to get $25″ from a local pizza place. People who want the deal have to spend $12 to get it. Watching people react to the daily offer is where you can witness the brilliance of this play. Because someone really wants that 1/2 off massage and can’t get it until the set number of people buy, they get very active online pushing the offer out for the participating merchant. (Learn how Groupon works here)

Groupon allows businesses to find new customers online, but then drives them to that local place of business offline. Once they show us, they are already a customer and the business have yet to spend a dime to get them there. Hum, pretty cool.

Groupon groupies are nuts about this tool and you should just sign up for the Groupons, but small businesses of all kinds should take a look at this lead and customer generation tool.

If you’re in a business like pizza or dry cleaning, one that offers coupons anyway, this is a great way to get even more exposure. If you’re in a business that just needs new customers, Groupon might be a big hit. It’s not unusual for Groupon offers to have hundreds of people buy in. Groupon collects the money and sends the business a check. The business then just goes about honoring the Groupons as they show up. (Learn how to get your business on Groupon here)

I’ve used Groupons on several occasions and in all cases it led to me a business I had never done business with before. Get creative and take a good, hard look at Groupon.