Tuesday, 14 July 2009

DM drives more web traffic than online marketing - how can this benefit social media?

A new survey by Pitney Bowes has found that 60% of UK consumers believe offline direct marketing is the most likely to get them to visit the website of a company they have not bought from before. You can read the full Internet Retailing article here.

Ok, the survey only covered 10,000 people but that is a significant number and gives a good inidicator of the general mood of consumers. How much value should retailers place in this finding? Do they need to rethink their marketing mix to cater for the impact of offline media on online performance?

I started to think about this in relation to social media. Let's take the example of customer reviews. Argos made a bold and logical move at the start of 2009 by integrating online reviews into its print catalogue, with a reach of over half the UK households. That decision instantly put user generated content in front of their main audience and highlighted both the service availability and the value of independent comments. This raises the question of how effective user generated content can be in driving traffic and sales from offline media into the online store? I have not seen any follow up data from Argos or Bazaarvoice on this subject and would welcome any info.

The research from Pitney Bowes indicates an age and gender bias to the multi-channel effect. Women are more likely than men to be influenced by offline media and those in the 25-34 age group are most likely to consider buying when directed from an offline message. How does this tally up with the general usage of social media? Interestingly on networks like Facebook, it is the over 35 segment that is increasing usage quickly and there is a female bias, though us chaps are catching up quickly, especially on Twitter.

So, if there is a prime social media audience that will respond to offline messaging, is there a bigger opportunity to engage people via offline media to improve online website performance? Beyond incorporating customer reviews into catalogue and other media such as advertising, how else can retailers leverage social media across their offline channels?

I would start by testing some low level activity because you don't want to throw all your eggs in one basket and find out the effort has been worthless. With customer reviews I would be interested to see the impact on response rates to adverts using unique URLs for the online click. Perhaps radio ads could position top rated products to increase engagement and response?

Then there is the question of social network profiles. How can you promote your community presence on sites like Facebook & You Tube or your micro blogging on Twitter? Perhaps these can be incorporated into catalogues and adverts to test whether they can increase your audience participation?

Of course, you need to balance the testing of the new with the impact on your existing marketing activity. There is no point increasing Facebook fans if you destroy your direct response at the same time. However, with a sensible testing strategy I think retailers can play with this multi-channel marketing story and learn more about how the channel interaction affects customer engagement.

I would be interested to hear what you think and give me examples of retailers already doing this well......

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