ROI Needed: Offline Companies Please Apply


fish1.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Online and offline direct marketers have been awkwardly servicing the same clients for a long time. As they both look for ways to protect client rosters and gain new share, the need for symbiosis becomes paramount. Should online agencies build partnerships to demonstrate a true appreciation for all channels? Should traditional direct marketers try and bring online marketing in-house? From the client’s perspective, you better get it right, because the potential to alienate lucrative opportunities looms large.

The questions are much easier to answer if clearer delineation exists between the strengths of each side. Both tend to possess strong creative skills, even though applied to a different medium. Both should be espousing the segmentation, messaging, testing mantra. Both should have a true appreciation for direct response metrics and have the systems in place to track and justify the results.

But obviously the paths diverge. Online marketers should be well versed in all things technical, and equally comfortable around terms like Ajax and Web 2.0 as they are CPCs, CTRs and CPAs. They should have an understanding of testing modalities like the Teguchi method yet still have a solid grasp on the nuances of writing effective copy for text ads. They need to be able to dig through and digest volumes of granular data and find ways to produce actionable items. Because of this, online marketers often take on a technical persona, which is not advantageous to the growth and protection of their markets.

Traditional direct marketers on the other hand, are seen as stewards of the business. They’re supposed to understand all channels and appreciate the total marketing mix, often becoming an integral part of a client’s overall operation. When the Internet came along, and certainly as it has matured, the ownership role of direct marketers blurred.

Through my agency work, I’ve recently noticed an uptick in the amount of offline agencies reaching out to discuss potential partnerships. We’ve experimented with many models over the years and have established some solid partnerships. In all cases, we learned from working with joint clients what we need to do on our respective sides of the aisle to produce to client expectations and continue to progress. The one theme that has run through all of these engagements is the need for transparency.

For obvious reasons, the knee jerk reaction when forming a partnership is to protect one’s hold on the client. What usually follows is a desire to private label good online work by an offline agency. While this sounds easy enough, without a command of the space – and the language that accompanies it – communication with the client becomes strained. From one side you’re getting positive numbers like increased CTR and lower average CPCs. From the other side, you’re getting “but my lead quality is declining”. Imagine not just watching a tennis match, but having to catch the ball and personally deliver it each time it moves back and forth.

We have found that transparency is key. We know interpretation of the results, not just the data, is crucial to driving a project forward. For our direct clients, the above conversation would immediately turn to one about messaging, testing of new creatives, and working on the landing page. Without direct access to the client, this becomes more difficult, takes much longer and the client suffers. Remember, the goal is to protect share. Lack of transparency can easily have the opposite affect.

With transparency comes role clarity. With role clarity comes collaboration. With collaboration comes success. This is the model I espouse. As an example of collaboration, to be effective, online marketers need content. Whether it’s for continuing content generation to keep a website fresh or for tactics to increase visibility and credibility online, direct agencies are already in the business of producing top quality content. Press releases for SEO and PR benefit, article content for syndication and distribution, video content for viral applications, photographic content for social applications are all needed, and welcomed, weapons in the arsenal of an effective online marketer.

The benefit to the client goes much further. A true picture of the interdependency of various campaigns is a good start. I don’t know how many times a client has mused the results we produced through an online marketing campaign were potentially the result of some new offline ad campaign or press mention. Working collaboratively, online marketers become more empowered to own the results. Additionally, too often the image being crafted offline and the image portrayed online, are not congruent. Every time a potential customer interacts with a brand, the client needs to know it is enriching the prospect’s experience and moving the potential customer further along the buy cycle.

What are the downsides to transparency? In my experience, they are few and far between. These days, online marketers, the good ones anyway, have a solid marketing pedigree. They understand how online marketing fits and complements the overall marketing strategy of the business. With some due diligence, a direct marketer can insure the online partner introduced will be able to represent a referral quite well. It doesn’t take many trade shows and conferences to realize that clients are boning up on their own, so the risk of inaction is great.

When all is said and done, it comes down to the value a client perceives it has received from its marketing partners. A cohesive, side by side pitch that demonstrates a complete solution to market the client through all available media gives the perception of total ownership and accountability. Both online and traditional direct marketers know they’re fishin’ from the same pond. Joining forces and truly appreciating each side’s strengths will allow us to raise our glasses in celebration of bigger fish and clearer waters!



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