Why The Digital/Real Life Split Is an Illusion for Marketing

Lexus digital and print adMarketers talk about online and offline media with incredible frequency. Whether it’s a debate between the value of digital advertising versus print media, or a showdown between social media marketing and real-life word of mouth exposure, the industry has largely created a binary split between “digital” and “real life” spaces. But in reality, user experiences are far more complicated than that, and closing that gap may be an extremely useful tool for marketers in any industry.

The Shift to Digital

Technology is everywhere in our lives, and as just about everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last decade knows, that has heralded a shift from traditional offline forms of media and advertising to increased focus on digital aspects of the advertising and sales game. Even grocery stores are going digital with their marketing efforts, and they were one of the last consumer-focused industries to shy away from integrating mobile et cetera into their ad plans.

At the same time, print media still leads to sales. Even among millennials, print ads and in-person world of mouth advertising are significant factors in purchasing decisions. The continued utility of offline media, in addition to a desire to keep up with digital trends, has largely led to a discussion of which is more useful in which situation, as well as the notion that businesses should use both strategies.

This is certainly true, but for the most part, industry chatter has led to a kind of “either or” situation, in which online and offline media are two entirely separate realms. And it’s just not that simple – the news industry, for example, hopped on the digital ship only to find that it didn’t mitigate sinking sales even though it improved readership. A strategy that only focuses on one form of media simply doesn’t work, because that’s not how we work.

Breaking Down the Binary

Just think about how you use technology in your own life. You’re constantly surrounded by both technology and print media, other people, and physical advertising strategies like billboards all the time. So maybe you read an ad in a newspaper for a local sale, and then you use your phone to map the address of the store. Or, maybe you see a subway ad for a take-out place, and use your tablet to place an order to pick up on your way home.

There’s a constant interplay between the “offline” and “online” worlds in our lives, with no barriers between digital and print. Consumers are immersed in a digital world, sure, but we also still live in a physical world. Marketing should reflect that reality, and any well-thought-out campaign should therefore tie in elements from both online and offline media as part of one campaign.

Bridging the Gap

That’s all well and good, you say, but what does that mean? It does all sound very theoretical – “bridging the digital and real life gap” like some future sci-fi Matrix-esque technology. But there are tons of current and up-and-coming strategies that you can employ to make it work.

  • First and foremost, have a digital strategy. To get a little metaphorical, you can’t build a bridge with land on only one side of the river! This is especially important for smaller companies, as small businesses are falling behind in the race to go digital.
  • But don’t forget to integrate multiple channels. Digital is the norm now, so that’s a bare minimum – you have to do something to step up your game and beat your competitors to multi-platform and multi-media (as in, digital plus print, or whatever else) campaigns.
  • Tie digital and offline strategies together. That could mean a QR code in a magazine or newspaper ad, or an online code for a billboard.
  • Understand context. Your content needs to fit the form you present it in, so don’t forget how consumers use each type of media. A potential customer or client browsing a newspaper might be looking for sales, while someone looking at your website probably wants more specific information about products and services.

However you choose to shape your own marketing strategy, keep in mind the tangled web we weave of online and offline pursuits. Unravelling those knots may mean the difference between a campaign that fits seamlessly into consumers’ lives, and one that’s just more useless noise.

Does your business integrate online and offline strategies, or do you treat them as two separate entities?

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Beans graduated from Smith College in 2011 with a BA in History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and has worked as a farmer, a cook on a food truck, and an archival assistant. Outside of writing and editing for CEM, Beans enjoys reading voraciously, watching space documentaries, and baking vegan treats. Currently, Beans lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

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