Bricks-and-Mortars Target Online

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Many traditional companies that have not invested in online marketing campaigns now are looking at online incentive solutions to promote their products and services. This convergence between the online and offline worlds is proving to be beneficial to both partners.


With the proliferation of programs such as paperless coupons and sweepstakes, traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are discovering ways in which incentive programs can help increase sales and jump-start e-commerce efforts, create online awareness and increase brand recognition and customer loyalty.


It isn't news that the interactive nature of the Web has made it one of the most effective marketing media of all time, but the success that non-Web marketers have found through online promotional efforts certainly is. As the Web matures, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the best way for the online and offline markets to prosper is not only to coexist, but also to work together.


The concept is brilliantly simple -- implement advertising- or incentive-related online marketing campaigns geared toward building awareness and, most importantly, consumer response by driving customers to bricks-and-mortar shops. Numerous methods are being developed that allow companies to do this. By using these channels, businesses that have not normally benefited from the successes of online advertising can now use the Web's exceptional targeting capabilities to entice customers to purchase products and services -- increasing sales revenues and building recognition among an online audience.


The Tried-and-True Mixed With the New


In 1894, Asa Candler, a druggist who once bought the formula for Coca-Cola, began issuing handwritten tickets for a free glass of the new drink. Thus, the coupon was born. Would Asa have thought that a century later, this tried-and-true form of marketing by incentive would significantly impact the way traditional businesses capitalize on e-commerce? With the advent of paperless coupon solutions, that is precisely what happened.


Through the implementation of paperless coupon programs offered through banner advertisements, bricks-and-mortar stores are able to implement an easy-to-use method of building customer relations and increasing brand recognition and sales. Upon clicking on the ads, users are taken to a page that will allow them to opt in to receive promotional offers from traditional retail outlets, restaurants and other services. The page also can allow users to securely register a credit card with a specific store or restaurant and use that card to make purchases at its physical locations. Rebates then can be automatically deducted from the user's next credit card statement.


The power in online advertising lies in the ability to target ads based on pre-defined user interests. This is where audience profiling and optimization come into play. The combination of anonymous user profiles and optimization technology, which allows an advertiser to achieve multiple campaign objectives through an established media network, provides the best of both worlds. This mix allows a marketer to target online promotions to relevant groups of users across a variety of aggregated sites, increasing reach while targeting only the most relevant individuals. This integration ensures that bricks-and-mortar will reach a select group of people who are most likely to purchase from them, thus making the targeting and customer conversion more sensible and easier.


Coupons Are Just the Beginning


Paperless coupons are not the only tactic working for traditional companies getting their feet wet in online marketing. Other incentive programs, including rewards, sweepstakes and surveys, help to drive customer traffic, enhance companies' knowledge of their consumer base and increase retention.


The concept of granting customer awards (discounts, freebies, etc.) has always been successful offline, and that success continues on the Web. Once a consumer has opted in to provide information about his interests and has expressed a desire to receive promotional information, whether they are paperless coupons or other types of incentives, the marketer can build customer loyalty by continuing to target offers to the customer. These offers can become even more targeted as the user makes purchases, through which the company can gain a better understanding of the consumer's specific preferences.


Another popular type of incentive program is contests. From Publishers ClearingHouse's direct mail efforts to soda companies' million-dollar bottle cap prizes, the overall objective of these types of contests (or sweepstakes) is to motivate consumers to action, whether it's to mail in information about themselves or to purchase more products. Online sweepstakes provide an excellent and proven vehicle to drive customers a store.


Like paperless coupons, banner ads can serve as an effective method to deliver incentives to the user. A person clicks on the ad and is greeted by a form that says, "Enter to win a 2001 Chevy Tahoe." The hitch is that the person can only enter by dropping off the sweepstakes entry at the advertiser's bricks-and-mortar location. And while the prize itself may not be targeted, the placement of the ads -- through profiling and over a network -- can be, so that the marketer reaches only the audience that is most likely interested in visiting the store anyway.


Online surveys can also be a useful tool when trying to lure customers. Through opt-in surveys, users may be able to provide valuable information that will allow companies to target them through more traditional marketing methods, such as direct mail.


The amazing thing about Web marketing is that no matter how advanced the technology becomes, some of the same marketing strategies that were developed long before the computer was invented remain the most effective ways to reach consumers.


As we take what has been working from our advertising past and turn these traditional methods into resources that deliver new online solutions, bricks-and-mortar companies are able to leverage advertising online with results that can affect their bottom line. The online marketing world is coming full circle; old-fashioned marketing tactics will prove to be a large part of a bright future for e-commerce.


• Lyn Chitow Oakes is president of Engage Media, San Francisco. Reach her at lyn@engage.com.

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