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Five Easy Pieces

The problem today is that most companies create something that, in the strictest definition of the term, is not a web site. In most cases, it's little more than an expensive advertisement. Let's face it: The average person won't visit your web site just to admire the clever and beautiful advertisement you've created.

So how do you create an integrated online/offline strategy? What are the first questions to ask? Like the old sage said, "A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step." Here is the first set of questions I ask my clients to ponder when establishing an integrated online/offline strategy. I call them my "Five Easy Pieces":

  1. Are the core services of your business available online?

    This includes your product or service catalog, order status, and customer service programs. Your online customers should be able to perform the very same activities that they can in your offline store.

  2. Is the web site visually consistent with your brand identity, and does it deliver on the perceived brand "promise"?

    How well does the site reflect the quality of the products and services that you offer? Are your images and photographs crisp and clean, and do they help sell the product? Remember that your customers can touch your products in your retail stores, so you must try your best to offer the best product experience you can online. Also, make sure you have a very detailed FAQ on your site that anticipates as many questions as possible about your product or service, your shipping policies, contact information, returns policy, warranties, and guarantees.

  3. How well is your web site utilized as part of integrated marketing campaign communicating the value proposition to your customer?

    Do you have your web site on every stitch of printed material generated by your retail store? And the reverse—does your web site promote your retail stores or offline business?

  4. Are online functions integrated with offline business processes?

    Can a customer place an order online from your offline location, and can your web site take orders to be picked up at your offline location? What are you trying to accomplish with your web site? Make sales, generate leads, build a mailing list? Are your objectives supported by your offline infrastructure? If you're selling online, do you have real-time inventory on your site? If you're collecting leads or building a mailing list, are you able to integrate these online processes seamlessly into your offline database?

  5. Do you have an alternate platform strategy?

    In the very near future, selling anywhere will be the criteria for success for many businesses. Do you have a marketing and sales strategy that can take advantage of the wireless web? Are you thinking about how you can present your company and product or service offers via television, PDA, cell phone, handheld computer, and other Internet appliances?

Creating an integrated online/offline strategy can be done. REI and L.L.Bean are just two examples. Sears is another. Sears uses their web site to educate customers before they buy a product. Armed with information when they arrive at a Sears store, the customer makes the sales rep's job a lot easier—and the salespeople appreciate it. In addition, the Sears web site allows ordering products for in-store pickup, integrates service scheduling for appliance delivery and repair, and supports specialty catalogs with new web sites.

For example, Sears has recently launched its Room for Kids web site, which supports the catalog of the same name. The ultimate goal of this integrated effort of catalogs, web sites, and stores is to sell more products—regardless of which channel dominates.

So all you executives out there, learn a lesson from the RAF and create an integrated marketing strategy that combines both your offline and online presence, and grow your sales and your ROI.

Oh, and watch the History Channel now and then. You might pick up a tip or two!

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