One of the most crucial elements of successfully leveraging your off-line communications to drive your customers and prospects to your company’s Web site is providing them with a compelling reason to visit. In short, don’t expect your customers or prospects to come up with a reason to visit your Web site if you can’t come up with one yourself.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Sure, it is. But browse through the ads in that magazine on your desk and you’ll see for yourself that this is something few companies — and I really mean marketers — do well. I know, I have been involved in this area for years, advising companies on how to get it right.
A couple of years ago I was advising a client on how to leverage their existing marketing efforts to drive more consumers and potential consumers to their Web site and what to do with them once online.
The client is a marketer of consumer products that are distributed at most of the major discount retailers, like Wal-Mart and Kmart. Their impressive distribution alone provided a good deal of potential to drive consumers to their Web site. I was eager to show my client how they could use their product packaging, off-line marketing collateral, television advertising, POS, sponsorships, merchandising and other existing communications to drive more consumers to their site and what to do once those consumers once became Web site users.
In preparation for the meeting, I began looking at every product, ad, brochure, television commercial, billboard, direct-mail piece, magazine, newspaper, trade journal and ad specialty to observe and analyze how companies were driving people to their sites – especially with regard to consumer products (most of my time is spent in the B2B arena). I would then go to Web addresses found in these off-line vehicles and experience the site as any consumer driven their from the off-line vehicle would, recording each experience. Although I ended up spending a great deal of unbillable hours, it was still an invaluable journey.
What I found was that most companies’ off-line promotions of their Web sites are limited to a line of text such as “visit our Web site at www.our company.com” or a simple listing of the Web address of their home page below their logo or at the bottom of the screen or printed page. Companies rarely offered any benefit for visiting their sites. Even worse, companies that told of the benefits of visiting their sites often didn’t know what to do with the visitor once at the site. That is, most sites did not attempt to drive visitors to any specific action such as capturing their e-mail address or contact information, they just seemed to let the consumer meander around without a specific purpose. Even worse, the majority of sites didn’t offer tie-ins or visual cues that connected with the vehicle that drove the visitor to the site in the first place — such as an image from an ad. Apart from having the same logo and products, the online experience often seemed disconnected from the off-line vehicle that featured the Web address in the first place.
Perhaps the most amusing example I found was during breakfast one morning before an important meeting with the client. As I sat in front of a box of raisin bran, I thought to myself, “I wonder what they’re doing to get visitors to their site. This cereal box is a great opportunity.” Searching the cereal box for a URL, I finally found it on the box top, where I read the words: “Look we’re on the Web at www…” I chuckled, because I thought to myself, is that the most compelling reason they could come up with to get people to visit their site? I almost felt like the copy should have added, “…of course, we don’t know what for.” Or maybe the statement reflected an insecure company culture or even pride and what they were really saying was: “Look! We’re not luddites anymore, we’re with it!”
I wondered whether the brand manager of this product was not Web savvy and didn’t know why he might want to drive consumers to the Web site or if he simply didn’t believe in the current Web site efforts and did not want to drive consumers there. Perhaps there was no synergy between the brand manager and the team responsible for handling the Web site and the brand manager only put the Web address on the box out of obligation. In any event, it was a lost opportunity.
When I visited the cereal brand’s Web site, I was surprised to find that it featured all sorts of recipes that included its product, coupons and cross-selling of the company’s other products. Indeed, the site had real value for the cereal’s consumers.
As I moved around the site, I kept thinking about how the brand manager failed to leverage the existing opportunity with the consumer, in this case, through product packaging. How he might have drawn the consumer into an environment the marketer controlled where there was an opportunity to turn a one time purchaser into a repeat purchaser, to upsell, to reinforce that consumer’s favorable perception of the brand, to survey the consumer about the product, the packaging, the pricing or the Web site itself or to start regular communications with the consumer via permission e-mail — the marketer had a serious opportunity to draw consumers into a richer relationship with the brand, but he blew it. There is no shortage of things this marketer could have done to provide consumers a reason to visit the Web site, but he didn’t do any of them.
Since the main consumers of bran cereal are adults, the marketer might have focused on the health benefits of the product and further expanded with other health and exercise related information. He could have provided recipes that feature the product as an ingredient, to get the customer to use more of the product. He could have introduced a loyalty program that rewarded repeat purchase. He could have had an interesting presentation that showed how the product is made and why their process is superior to the ones used by competitors. They could have introduced all sorts of promotions.
Considering that cereal is a low cost consumable and that the ROI of this site will probably never justify itself, I am not necessarily suggesting that this company should or should not spend time and money engaging consumers in dialogue and personalized e-mails, or even whether they should have a Web site – I am merely addressing the issue of promoting an existing Web site. This particular company does sell many other products in addition to cereals and has since started to do some of the things I have mentioned.
Unfortunately, whether it is business-to-consumer or business-to-business, few marketers are actually offering compelling reasons or benefits for visiting their Web sites in their off-line communications; and with millions of Web sites on the Internet, I think they better start thinking of some very good reasons soon.
Don’t agree with me? Answer this: if you had a choice, would you rather have a couple seconds or less with your customer or prospect or minutes to tell her about the benefits of your brand and even potentially engage her in regular communication with your brand? I think most of us would prefer more time in front of and in the mind of customers and prospects — and it really doesn’t matter what channel you use to do that. The ideal channel is the one that first, is most effective and the Internet can be a highly efficient channel — but only if your target market uses it for researching, buying and/or communicating with companies and brands that make the types of goods or services you are selling.
Marketers should be leveraging their off-line efforts to drive visitors to a place where there is a potential to truly engage prospects and customers, allow them more time with the brand, (in some cases) the opportunity to purchase, demo or receive samples, hear testimonials from your satisfied customers and begin permission marketing relationships.
Perhaps, the most significant thing marketers need to leverage is our own common sense.