Commentary

Online And Offline Messages Need To Work Together

Yesterday on Marketing Pilgrim, Paul Bennett described an Online Search Behaviour Study that found that 67% of searchers were driven by offline channels, and 39% of those will go on to make a purchase.

I've been in that 67%, and my experience may prove valuable to companies looking to coordinate online and offline messages.

To set the scene: I was recently in Abu Dhabi for three weeks of contract work. While there, close friends in London had a baby. In search of a unique gift for little George, I went to a shopping mall and found a lovely child seat in a fashionable kiddy chain store.

Rather than try to navigate the intricacies of the United Arab Emirates postal system, I decided to check if the chain had a Web site. Behold, they did, and the head office was located in the UK -- perfect for my London buddies.

One thing led to another, and I didn't get around to placing the online order until I got back home to New Zealand. "No sweat," I figured. "What could be easier than ordering online?"

Alas, the reality was sadly different than my expectations. The site would only accept UK-issued credit cards. The automated system wouldn't even allow me to enter my order. I tried to use my friends' address as the billing address. I got an email saying that if they didn't hear from me in 48 hours my order would be cancelled -- but they only had a toll-free phone number listed, which I can't dial from overseas.

I can be pretty persistent when I want to be. Somehow I tracked down a toll number and, at 11:50PM on a Tuesday, called this company, which I won't name here, in England.

"Sorry, we only take UK credit cards," the unkind lady told me. I begged. I cajoled. I offered Paypal; I said I'd make a bank transfer; I told them I'd post cash in an envelope. No luck.

After several extensive searches, I found the chair on Ebay.co.uk and bought it through a smaller, kinder vendor. George was practically in college by the time it reached him.

I hope I'm effectively conveying the incredible depth of my frustration with this experience. I was also left perplexed; why would a company make it so difficult for me to give them money?

I'm sure they have an excuse or two. Their accounting system doesn't allow it, or the bank doesn't take overseas payments, or whatever. I am quite certain, however, that if they truly wanted to accommodate me it would be possible. Remember that this is an international company, as evidenced by the presence of at least one brick-and-mortar store in the Middle East.

Our customers, whether online or offline, are no longer geographically isolated, and the totality of their interactions with us is what forms our brand. My positive experience in the Abu Dhabi store was completely annulled by the indifference of the Web service.

I might be an extreme version of the online-offline customer described on Marketing Pilgrim, but I'm probably not that unusual in our borderless society. Paul closes his piece by quoting Robert Murray, president of iProspect, the company that had commissioned the behavior study:

"Offline messaging needs to be memorable and facilitate search, and search efforts need to echo that messaging and integrate those keywords. The bottom line is that integration is no longer optional."

What is the total brand experience of your company? Are you expressing a consistent message across every medium? If your online presence doesn't enhance your offline operation and vice versa, you could be damaging both.

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