Buyers have clearly crossed the digital divide combining online and offline actions. Going forward, it would be wise for brands to follow the consumers’ lead.

Let's take a look at one of the year's most provocative and seemingly paradoxical trends: offline is fast becoming the new online in omnichannel marketing.

As mar-tech continues to evolve at top speed, we've seen the once-distinct dividing line between digital and brick-and-mortar retailing fade. Marketing teams may still be siloed into traditional media (print and TV), web, social, and mobile camps. But the consumer makes no such distinction. Online behaviors influence in-store purchases - and the reverse. Mobile devices with delivery of location-based marketing capabilities have accelerated the change, enabling brands to interact with consumers digitally in many locations. And emerging capabilities to optimize native mobile apps in real time help further dissolve the boundary between online and offline.

How important is this? A Deloitte Digital survey of 3,000 consumers forecasts digital interactions will have influenced $2.2 trillion spent in U.S. stores by the end of 2015. And those who use mobile digital devices while they shop in-store "convert at a 20 percent higher rate." These numbers put a laser focus on the need to embed digital marketing strategies across the omnichannel journey, using both online and offline data. 

The automotive industry, the second-biggest spender in digital advertising, is a good example of a deeper dive into what happens when online and offline converge. According to eMarketer, the industry's spend will reach $7.30 billion in 2015, a 17.3 percent annual rise. Yet, customers typically make their purchases in physical locations, particularly car dealerships.

The Digital Divide in Automotive

Car buyers often begin the process of buying at an auto manufacturer's website, using configuration engines to try out (Read more...) model for options and pricing, or use shopping tools like model comparisons. They may also respond to local and national TV advertising or social campaigns. But the biggest online conversion event is the customer's decision to schedule a test drive.

Here's a hypothetical journey of a prospective car buyer considering a new Jeep Wrangler: she first visits the website to use the "build and price" engine, as well as run model comparisons. She's then retargeted with promotional ads. All this precedes her visits to the dealership. The challenge is to relate online activity - upper-funnel engagement with digital advertising or social media review sites, use of customization engines on manufacturer websites, and the subsequent scheduling of a test drive - with the actual purchase event at a dealership.

There are a number of essential steps to optimize the customer journey:

  • Connect the dots. Collect, integrate, analyze, and act on data from internal systems, web, mobile, advertising, video, and social channels in a single view of the customer. That means both offline and online sources. The objective is to identify vehicles viewed and researched within local areas, down to the Nielsen designated market areas (DMAs) and zip codes, and then connect preferences to potential buyers.
  • Manage margins. Use online and offline data to assess which products (make, model, options) have the greatest demand and determine those that may require promotional offers or discounts to encourage purchase, by zip code or DMA. Leverage similar online data as a leading indicator for inventory planning by zip code or DMA to make sure local dealers can meet consumer demand.
  • Work with franchisees (B2B). Use portals and extranets to ensure that buyer behavior information is shared to improve performance across dealerships and other franchise partners.
  • Run "lag analyses." Analyze timing of online activity against visits to showrooms to book test drives and/or buy. Determine correlation and lag time between specific online behaviors and purchase to shorten that period.
  • Identify, post-purchase. What features has a buyer expressed interest in, but didn't opt for at purchase? Offer them up in future promotions, such as service milestones.

While the above example is around automotive, virtually every industry faces some variation of these challenges as buyers, many carrying smartphones, engage online even as they walk in the doors of brick-and-mortar locations. Buyers have clearly crossed the digital divide combining online and offline actions and it would be wise for brands to follow their lead.

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