I came across a great (and very common) question in the LinkedIn Q&A section this morning. I took the time to compose a response and liked it so much that I have pasted it here as well. Enjoy, and feel free to continue the conversation or contribute your thoughts here.
Asked by Jon:
Is it possible to only use online advertising (PPC, banner, e-mail) to support a traditional brick and mortar company? Or would you need a mix of traditional media to be successful?
It is certainly possible to use online media exclusively to promote your physical locations, but is it the most effective media mix? Probably not. It all depends on your objectives and budget. I will assume that by “support” you mean “raise awareness for and traffic to” the physical location.
With proper planning and execution, traditional media is still the best way to generate awareness (some combination of reach and frequency against your target audience) for a product, service or business. Online marketing is a great complement to offline media in that it can capture the newly “aware” audience when they go online to seek what they need. Here are my thoughts on the online channels you listed, and a final suggestion on how to tie it all together.
PPC is not designed to build brands or raise awareness on a large scale. The advertiser is limited by the content (short text ads) and the context (the ads only appear next for keywords that the consumer explicitly searched for). Given that searchers have an implied intent when they enter keywords into a search bar, PPC is a “must have” for reaching the consumer when they are actively searching for your products or services. In addition to being in the right place at the right time, PPC’s impact is quantifiable.
Banner ads are slightly better at creating awareness by building reach and frequency, but consumers are increasingly suffering from “banner blindness”. Eye tracking studies have shown that over time, internet users learn to avoid banner ads that appear overly commercial and not relevant to the content they are viewing. To combat this, banner ads can be used as a point for interaction by using rich media and/or relevant, useful content rather than simply as a static billboard. Although they are the online equivalent of broadcast media, fragmentation within the online world makes it hard to effectively target your audience on a large scale. Behavioral and contextual targeting technologies are improving, but in my experience banner ads are still relatively inefficient and ineffective when used solely for building awareness and traffic to an offline location.
Email marketing presents different challenges. Namely, you have to have a list of email addresses that have explicitly granted you permission to market to them. Otherwise, you run the risk of violating the CAN-SPAM act of 2003. You can use lists of current or past customers that have opted in to your program, but this would imply that they are already aware of your business. Or, you can rent lists of prospective customers but again, you are limited by the accuracy of the data and the scalability of your campaign.
Of course, there are other online marketing tactics you can utilize (search engine optimization, online classifieds, local search marketing, social media marketing, etc) but the best campaigns are integrated across channels. This makes it easy for your prospective customers to “follow the scent” from the TV, radio or print ad to the internet. Once there, you should position your online media in the places they are most likely to go to find what you have to offer. The fun doesn’t stop there, because you still have to persuade them to visit your website, and because you are an offline business you have the added challenge of convincing them to get up from behind their computer and actually come visit you in the real world.
I hope this introductory overview was helpful. It takes some time to perfect your media mix, but most likely it will be some combination of offline and online strategies and tactics. Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So be sure to establish ways to analyze the results of your efforts against your pre-determined success metrics.
Best of luck!