Combine Online, Offline Tactics

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Remember when experience mattered? Seasoned advertising executives spent hours in the war room devising the latest tactics to help their clients succeed. Then came the day when hotshot Web marketers looked down on the offline world that "just didn't get it."

Now that the online bubble has burst and we are back to tracking silly things like profits and performance, these two camps have united their efforts to produce maximum results.

The trend in the promotions arena is to create campaigns through both online and offline channels. The most effective plans today look to get the most bang for their promotional buck by reaching out to their audience at multiple touch points.

Many advertisers are looking for techniques to tie traditional and Web-based media together. A great example is a new technology from promotions company The company markets fun, printed decoder game cards that advertisers can attach to a product, print advertisement or direct mail piece. Users then visit the advertiser's Web site and hold up the game card to the screen to see whether they are instant winners.

A reverse technique is also being used to drive online shoppers into retail stores. One recent promotion by a major sporting goods chain gives users two chances to win a BMW Z3 convertible. The first is by registering online at the company's Web site. The second entry is received by printing an online voucher and redeeming it at the retail level. The key is to first identify the specific desired behavior, in this case visiting the retail store. Then the promotion must be designed to bring about the desired actions.

Another hot trend is using insurance-backed promotions to create maximum excitement. If a promotion does not have a guaranteed winner, insurance companies such as Lloyds of London will provide a low-cost policy to pay out if someone wins. These usually involve long odds, such as hitting a hole-in-one or kicking a field goal at halftime. They also can be used for lottery-style tickets or instant-win games. As an example, you can insure 100,000 instant-win tickets with a $1 million jackpot for less than $25,000. With promotions budgets getting squeezed, insurance-backed promotions can offer a low-cost platform to create excitement.

Many insurance-backed promotions live both online and offline. A recent promotion by a large consumer goods company allowed users to register both online and in retail stores. Three lucky finalists were randomly selected and flown to Miami for a chance to win $1 million by throwing a football through a hole 20 yards away. This is a great example of blending an online registration process with an in-person public relations bonanza.

So what about the downside?

The costs of running integrated promotions can be high, even for the most savvy marketers. A simple online promotion that misses the target can be unsuccessful without breaking the bank. Add in printing, media, distribution and snappy point-of-sale displays, and it better be right the first time. Many advertisers are sampling online to zero in on what works best at a low cost. Once they establish the right formula, it then makes sense to venture offline.

The complexity of running a multiplatform promotion also can be challenging. There are many logistical issues to tackle. One often overlooked aspect is legal compliance. For example, Florida requires that the entire rules and regulations be printed on all direct mailers and advertisements for a sweepstakes. Most other states allow an abbreviated version. There are also laws relating to phone-in registrations. The obstacles increase when looking into foreign jurisdictions. Australia, for example, requires that any sweepstakes open to its residents conduct the actual drawing in Australia.

In the end, neither online nor offline is dead. The only thing that is dead is a single-minded approach to reaching customers. Today's competitive landscape requires the creativity to grab attention across all platforms. The bottom line is that promotions have been successful historically and are here to stay. The new challenge is to integrate the online channel with the offline.

I look forward to seeing Bud Bowl Online or McDonald's Web-Monopoly. Maybe we will even see Web giants like Amazon and Yahoo reach out to us when we are not online by using ancient media such as print, television, radio and live events.


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