Online vs. offline: why your business needs both


When one considers that two decades ago the expression “digital marketing” didn’t exist, and that it’s only in the last 15 or so years that the term began to gain traction in the marketing world, it’s surprising how quickly it has taken off and changed the dynamic between traditional forms of marketing and online.

One only needs to look at the inexorable rise of the internet to see how online interaction for business dealings, marketing and purchasing has changed the scene almost irrevocably. Yet for those many businesses in West Africa that have embraced the internet and all it has to offer them, although the online marketing and selling presence is hugely important there are many positives to be had by combining both an online and offline presence.

Online or offline?

It’s always a leading question for businesses: should marketing be concentrated online or offline? There are advantages in concentrating on one or the other but the reality is that combination of them is more likely to lead to the brand presence desired. It is probably the case that using online marketing can help keep costs down as long as a business understands how to use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and other platforms. So there needs to be an online strategy that has to be managed and that does cost money to have the right people in place to deliver the messages.

In the digital age it’s easy to forget that traditional media – television, radio, newspapers, magazines – still have a powerful reach for sending out brand messages and although digital may appear to be king there is, to put it one way, another king across the water.

Working together

Businesses in West Africa that ignore the traditional marketing routes in favour of digital only are missing a trick. It shouldn’t be a choice between one and the other because that’s a false choice. The two routes can work together and those responsible for marketing need to work on how to get the best leverage from them both.

Traditional marketing gives a highly effective way for a business to get to a broad consumer audience. TV, radio, magazines and newspapers still have a huge reach, especially where internet access is patchy. Flagging up a brand and products in this traditional way of marketing builds initial consumer interest, may encourage them to go to a store and inspect and buy, some products advertised.

So traditional marketing can also be used to drive consumers to the online experience. Digital marketing is used to create a different relationship with the consumer, one that has depth and relevance.

Passive or active engagement?

Every business would like current and potential customers to actively engage with them, and the messages sent out via whichever form of media need to be targeted well.

Traditional marketing messages are effectively passive in terms of how the consumer relates to them. An ad is watched, it may stimulate some interest or discussion, but it won’t necessarily lead to anything more than remembering the brand – and if the ad is good it could well stick in the memory for some time and lead to an active pursuit of the brand or product advertised.

TV advertising is a case in point. As Seen On TV has a strategy that is designed to drive traffic to online retail sites. It offers a wide range of products on its website and attracts passive consumers through its TV advertising, making the most of the dual marketing tools.

There are ways that this traditional advertising can tap into consumer interest and encourage them to explore the possibilities further by going online.

Drawing in the passive market

As an example, take the Ivory Coast national football team playing in the Africa Cup of Nations (which it won in 2015). The opportunities for major brands to advertise in traditional media were immense. It’s not just the billboards around the grounds wherever matches were played, it’s the vast TV and radio coverage, articles in the press and endless discussions as to what was and wasn’t a penalty. People are drawn in to the events, see the marketing and, although passive at that stage, can be encouraged to engage online.

Getting the right combination

Once the passive market has been interested through the traditional methods, then it’s up to the digital marketers for the brand to turn that interest into active engagement with the brand and its products. And that’s why there needs to be a clear understanding of how both marketing aspects need to work in tandem and thus there needs to be a clear strategy as to how they work together and complement each other.

Traditional and digital marketing should not be considered as an either/or option. It’s easy to compartmentalise because sometimes that’s an easy option. The best businesses have marketing departments that understand the imperative to be broad minded in their thinking about how to use the mix of digital and traditional forms of getting a range of messages out to consumers. People are much more shrewd now and in many cases may not be inclined to respond to marketing messages.

However, the potential for personalisation through social media and working on the demographics of consumers who have already signed up for information can make a significant difference.

Using online messages to offer discounts and special offers is an effective way of building customer loyalty, in the same way as many hotel chains and other organisations offer loyalty points. By drawing potential customers in to the online experience once they have discovered the business through a traditional form of marketing, there are great possibilities for clinching a sale and, if the customer has a good experience, attracting more customers through word of mouth or via online recommendations.

Planning the mix

Good marketing depends on mixing the channels on which the messages are sent. Combining online and offline has the potential to deliver those messages in different arenas and build brand and product loyalty.

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