Content Strategy

What’s Old Is New Again: How Digital and Physical Marketing Builds Integrated Customer Pathways

By Lauren McMenemy on February 12, 2019

Every marketer on the planet is planning for AI, investigating VR, and wanting to develop voice tech skills. These days, it's all about being the first, getting to stuff before anyone else, and proving your worth by being innovative.

But there's no point in innovation if your audience isn't there yet-and there's definitely no point if the audience is too distracted by the bells and whistles of modern technology to absorb your brand's story. Digital and physical marketing both have their place, and today's smart marketers understand that a mix of the two makes for a smart strategy.

Looking at the Content Marketing Institute's 2019 predictions list, a few points stand out in terms of their emphasis on the growing need for traditional and digital entry points for today's audiences:

  • Content marketing legend Ann Handley predicts email newsletters will reemerge as an important nurturing vehicle because "an email newsletter is the only place where individuals-not algorithms-are in control."
  • John Bucher, mythologist and narrative strategist, believes "immersive storytelling and location-based experiences will draw customers to brands like never before" because people crave the experiential.
  • Deana Goldasich, CEO of Well Planned Web, even urges getting back to strategic one-to-one communication as a way to win over automated, or so-called personalized, messaging. "Those who can scale content with individual conversations will win in B2B sales. You can't automate relationships!"

Cohesive Marketing Can't Be Online-Only

Stormtrooper holding a flower

Image attribution: Katarzyna Pe

Digital and physical marketing together, working in an integrated way, can help the customer through your sales journey, each serving as a means to transition people offline and online toward that all-important conversion. And as we move back to having real, meaningful interactions with our audience, focusing on creating memorable and shareable content with brand cohesion, we're also finding that audiences craves meaningful experiences in other ways, too.

"If you focus exclusively on digital marketing, you're missing out on a whole world of opportunities," writes Jock Purtle for Growth Hackers. "The fact remains that, even though we spend more and more time online and are rarely far away from our smartphones, customers want to engage with people in the real world. The all-important personal touch is tough to achieve from purely online strategies. By neglecting the 'real world,' you run the risk of neglecting potential customers."

It's true: some people like to read physical flyers and store them away for later reference. Some people will use that promo bag for their shopping, getting your brand out there as they go about their daily travels. Some people will even listen to a radio spot, get the jingle stuck in their head, and find themselves randomly singing about your brand in the shower. The important thing to remember is that these physical marketing tactics alone won't get your story told, just as focusing purely on the digital is a dangerous game.

Eventbrite conducted research on where millennials spend their money and found that the generation "not only highly values experiences, but they are increasingly spending time and money on them." They found that 78 percent of millennials would rather spend their money on an exciting experience or event over buying something desirable, which is no doubt driven by 69 percent of them experiencing FOMO. "For this group, happiness isn't as focused on possessions or career status," the report says. "Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing, and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life's opportunities." And you can't do that on a digital platform alone.

Audiences Crave Communities and Experiences

That's why savvy brands are moving toward building communities, not just audiences. Writing for The Content Standard, Bethany Johnson says communities can bring businesses deeper market research, more useful insights, reduced customer services costs, and deeper brand loyalty. "The main benefit of a brand-hosted community is the participatory experience your audience enjoys. While videos, think pieces, and podcasts may feel two-way, your viewers, readers, and listeners will always be just that-consumers. Even when they respond, the conversation is still initiated and owned by your brand."

Those communities can spill out into the real world through events and experiences, and can be driven by offline activities like direct mail-79 percent of consumers will act on direct mail immediately, compared to only 45 percent who say they deal with email straight away.

It's why many brands continue to publish actual magazines. Take the ASOS magazine for example; a physical magazine which claims to be the UK's most widely-read quarterly fashion magazine, it has a circulation of more than 450,000. It features insightful content on fashion and beauty, as well as interviews with activists and celebrities. Its cover has been graced by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, and Troye Sivan. And, of course, by going to the ASOS website, you can "shop the magazine." All is done with total brand cohesion, a consistent story told across online and offline channels.

The physical is still important and can drive your audience online. Targeted direct mail boasts a 4.4 percent response rate, compared to email's rate of 0.12 percent. Not only that, but 70 percent of Americans say direct mail is more personal than the internet-56 percent of consumers who received direct mail from a brand later went online or visited the physical store, and 62 percent who received direct mail from a brand in the past three months made a purchase. Marketers chasing open rates would do well to think offline as well as email.

TrackMaven, the leading marketing insight company, saw the potential in direct mail as a way to start real, two-way conversations with future customers. As part of a campaign targeting higher education organizations, TrackMaven mailed their stuffed corgi mascot to prospects, wearing a customized sweater of that specific school's logo. The detail and human (or canine) touch put into each offering was key for starting relationships with higher ed representatives such as Lacy Paschal, executive director of digital strategies at Vanderbilt University, who shared the campaign on social media.

Dr. Martens is another brand that creates empathetic relationships through physical experiences. While building up its digital footprint, the anarchic footwear brand recognizes the need for experiential marketing, too. Its flagship store in Camden, London, has an annex called the Boot Room, which often puts on intimate free gigs, brings barbers into the shop to offer free haircuts, and has even hosted tattooists to come in and personalize people's footwear-all promoted on social media, of course.

Talking about their approach and brand cohesion, Doc's chief product and marketing officer, Darren Campbell, told Marketing Week: "Nowadays, commerce is a byproduct of engagement. The consumer need might not necessarily be about buying a pair of shoes, it might be about a favorite band that hasn't played for two years playing in a Dr. Martens store and they need to get there. It's about giving them that opportunity, so then they buy into the brand, while not necessarily having to buy into the product."

Continues Campbell: "For us, marketing is more about the common ground between the brand and consumer, and making sure you are able to meet in the middle. Everyone has a story about Docs and their first pair. I'm really conscious of the fact (that) we need to celebrate those who have made us the brand we are today, and that goes back to consumer obsession."

How Do You Capture an Audience in Digital Detox Mode?

Two Sides-admittedly, a print industry lobby group-commissioned global research a couple of years back, surveying more than 10,000 consumers across the world. They found that 68 percent of consumers don't pay attention to online advertisements, with 57 percent doing their best to avoid them, and 60 percent not able to remember the last time they willingly clicked on a digital ad. Importantly, though, they found that 69 percent of respondents believe it is important to "switch off" from digital and experience the real world.

real life marketing experiences

Image attribution: Wild & Away

The move away from digital-only is real, with a growing need to reconnect without 1s and 0s. Marketing needs to cater to all forms of interaction in 2019 and beyond.

So how do you combine the digital and physical marketing worlds? Try including an event as part of your digital campaign, a chance for people to come together and discuss the message. Or put a good ol' QR code on your flyer or business card that can be snapped by a smartphone, taking your audience to a landing page with endless possibilities. That technology has long-existed-heck, back in 2011, Volkswagen created an app to highlight new features by helping users test drive a car using a map in a print ad.

But the biggest reason to combine digital and physical marketing? Saturation.

"As tactics start to become commonplace, they produce diminishing returns," writes marketing influencer Neil Patel. "With everybody focused on inbound tactics, old-school ones aren't as saturated as they once were. In fact, customers are more receptive than ever to them."

Patel suggests starting with direct mail campaigns-with a 15-17 percent average ROI and a ten to 30 times higher response rate than digital-before moving into account-based marketing, for a more personal touch with your biggest targets. He also advocates attending in-person conferences and events, and even picking up the phone (shock, horror!).

But the key thing with all of this is to integrate and ensure your brand cohesion. Tie your offline, old-school methods back to the digital through landing pages, apps, or mini-sites. Make sure you help your audience to make those connection points and join the dots along the journey, finding them where they are, and telling your story. Maybe one day there will be tech to do it all for us, but for now, channel your best Mad Men character and embrace old-school cool.

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Lauren McMenemy

Lauren is a storyteller. A journalist by trade, she has worked in agencies, in-house and in the media over her 20-year career. She's worked as an editorial strategist and content creator for some of the world's biggest brands, setting up processes and guidelines, advising on planning, auditing content, building loyal audiences, leading social campaigns, writing blogs and flyers and presentations - pretty much handling the stuff with words. She was born in Australia, has resided in London for the last decade, and writes fiction on the side. You’ll often find her grinning like a fool at a rock concert.