How Offline Brands Can Leverage an Online Presence
Brand StrategyApril 12, 2022

How Offline Brands Can Leverage An Online Presence

April 12, 2022
Ashley Lightfoot Photo
Ashley Lightfoot
Content Marketing Manager

Every business needs to be “online”. This isn’t new advice, nowadays it’s just common sense. But the internet keeps evolving and new services keep adding to the long list of things that people can do on the web. We’re now more comfortable than ever holding meetings, shopping, finding a date, or planning a holiday online — whether it’s on our phones, computers, or some other connected device.

However, for the time being, at least, we’re still spending the majority of our time in the real world and, for most brands, offline experiences remain the core of their offering. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there were only a limited number of things these brands can achieve online, but it’s certainly not the case.

Having an online presence is vital — and not just limited to building a sleek website. There’s a whole host of online tools that your brand can invest in to fulfill a range of purposes, from social media to mobile apps.

In this article, we’re going to delve into exactly how offline brands can get the most out of building an online presence — with examples from Ikea, Wendy’s, DJI, and Supreme, to name but a few.

What Is An Offline Brand?

First things first, let’s clarify exactly what we mean when we say offline brand. For the purposes of this article, an offline brand is one that is focused primarily on interactions that take place offline.

Think bricks-and-mortar apparel stores, fast-food chains, or in-person experiences such as gyms and health clubs. Arguably, some of the biggest brands in the world are offline focused — Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Ikea, for example.

But just because the primary way that a consumer engages with a brand is offline, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be found online, too. Indeed, the most successful brands know that leveraging an online presence is vital in today’s economy in order to connect with consumers.

The Different Ways Offline Brands Can Build An Online Presence

1. Build A Website

We’re sure you already know this, but since the late 90s, having a website for your business has been essential. Since then, what you can achieve with a website has expanded massively, but we’ll get around to that in a second.

However, even those first primitive websites performed a very basic — but critical — function. After all, a company without a website is like a house without an address! At the very least, it allows users anywhere in the world to learn about your business — what it does, where it is, and how they can contact you.

A website gives your brand credibility, visibility, and accessibility. For offline brands today, websites can act as hubs with important brand messages, details that might help improve the offline experience, links to other online spaces such as apps and social media, and information on offers and promotions. Websites can also be a place to host content such as videos, blogs, and podcasts that help flesh out your brand’s identity.

2. Find Your Brand’s Voice On Social Media

One of the most popular ways to build and leverage an online presence is through social media. By creating an account for your brand on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, and TikTok, you’re able to deliver organic content to engaged consumers, develop your brand’s identity, and join in on the important — and trivial — discussions that take place there.

Importantly, your social media account can also function as a customer service tool as well as one used for marketing purposes. Your target audience can ask questions, make complaints, or provide suggestions, and answering them — whether through private discussions or for all to see — is a great way of improving customer experience.

3. Diversify Your Offering With E-commerce

Just because your primary brand experience takes place offline doesn’t mean you can’t diversify your offering and offer online alternatives. Giving consumers a way of buying online might allow your brand to one day pivot away from offline experiences if the need arises.

But you don’t even need to sell your core product. Coca-Cola’s website features a shop where customers can purchase other merchandise, large orders for events, and even custom bottles for weddings!

4. Build An App

Creating an app for your brand can be a costly exercise but there are a wealth of good reasons to do so. Like websites, they can act as hubs — full of content, links to other platforms, or ways for consumers to interact. But they’re also fantastic tools for developing and broadening your brand offering.

For example, Nike doesn’t just have one app, it has at least five: Nike SNKRS, Nike Training Club, Nike Run Club, Nike Athletic Studio, and Nike Adapt. These aren’t all e-commerce apps either — instead, they’re designed to engage different segments of its target audience with the different facets of the Nike brand, while also providing support for its products.

What Can Offline Brands Achieve With An Online Presence?

1. Support Your Main Revenue Stream With An Online Shop

We already discussed how e-commerce can help to diversify your business, by offering an online alternative to your main offline experience. But let’s explore what can be achieved by doing this.

Ikea is a retail brand with a world-famous offline customer experience. From pulling up to its gargantuan blue stores, meandering through each section, and playing house in the fake rooms, to eating its famous Swedish meatballs in the restaurant — this brand is built on all of these experiences.

These are some of Ikea’s main USPs, which were so strong that the brand held out on selling its products online until 2018 when it appointed its first-ever chief digital officer, Barbara Martin Coppola. She was given a mandate by CEO Jesper Brodin to “change almost everything”.

Since then, more and more of their product range has been available online in selected markets — back in 2019/20, online shopping made up just 11% of the brand’s total revenue — but by 2021, it had leapt up to 26%.

Of course, this huge increase was partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Ikea to close its brick-and-mortar stores and rely solely on its online operation. But this option was made possible because Ikea had already invested in diversifying its offering and supporting its offline experience with an online shop.

2. Grow Your Brand’s Relevance

Brands’ presence on social media has developed from their origins as Facebook fan pages to fully-fledged identities that do much more than just communicate marketing messages.

The social media executives behind many brand Twitter accounts have to bring their brand’s identity to life with running commentary on cultural events and sassy clap-backs and jokes, as well as promotional content! For offline brands, this is a great way to break through the online noise and remind consumers that you’re still there.

The phenomenon of Brand Twitter where the bulk of this pantomime plays out is one that has some commentators divided, but their potential to create huge engagement and re-establish once marginalized brands cannot be understated.

Case in point, Wendy’s.

While the brand has been a mainstay of America’s huge fast-food category since the late 60s, its deftly crafted presence on Twitter has made it arguably one of the biggest brands on social media. Known for their acerbic retorts and witty ripostes, in 2019, Fast Company awarded the brand its award for “most innovative company in the social media category”.

Wendy’s social media strategy represents another kind of diversification — allowing it to maintain its traditional offline experience while creating a completely unique and distinct online experience that keeps its identity top-of-mind in engaged consumers.

3. Support Your Customer Success

One of the most crucial ways that an online presence can help your business is by broadening your customer support offering. There are myriad ways that you can do this that provide a quick and easy way of offering help or guidance to your customers much faster than a trip to your store or even a call to your support center.

Your website could have an FAQ page or even a chatbot to help solve simple queries, while your social media team could also be on-hand to answer questions.

But on top of all this, an online content strategy can also improve customer experience and help customers achieve success with your product. For example, as well as promotional content, camera, and drone, brand DJI also populates its YouTube channel with “how-to videos” that help customers get the most out of their purchase.

The logic behind this approach is simple. Investing in your customers’ success means they’ll be more likely to use your product in the future — improving the reputation of your brand and the chances of repeat business.

4. Speak Directly To Engaged Consumers

Offline channels aren’t obsolete yet and direct mail, out-of-home, and radio can still have the edge over other channels in specific cases. But if you want to speak directly to engaged consumers, nowadays your best bet is to take the conversation online.

Whether you build your own app or invest in an email newsletter, brands need to provide those consumers who want to connect, engage, and be kept up-to-date with a reliable means of doing so. Apps are certainly the most sophisticated way of doing this and most airlines now have ones from which customers can check-in, receive updates for their flights, as well as make future bookings.

But email can be just as effective. Supreme is one brand that has used its mailing list to augment its famous offline retail experience of turning up at stores on weekly “drop” dates to get the latest limited-edition items. Ever since the queues for these drops became unsustainably large, the brand now operates a pre-queue ticket system that requires customers to be signed up for the Supreme newsletter.

However, understanding that the hype surrounding their products is maintained by preserving a veneer of exclusivity and inaccessibility — the mailing list sign-up page is understated, unpromoted, and signing up doesn’t even trigger a confirmation email! While it’s a brave tactic that’s not suitable for every brand, it’s also a masterclass in utilizing an online tool to help augment the brand’s existing offline identity.

Final Thoughts

Offline brands have a wealth of tools available to them to help them connect with online audiences and doing so, in today’s economy, is essential. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an arts organization, a restaurant chain, or a brand found in a grocery store — if you want to grow your brand you’ll need to invest in an online content strategy, customer support service, and maybe even an app.

If you want to track how these actions are helping to improve your brand’s performance then you’d also be wise to invest in brand monitoring software. As you put your resources into new online tools and channels, you can use brand tracking to keep track of how your efforts are helping to grow awareness or change perceptions of your brand, and as with any campaign data, use these insights to optimize your strategy.

Brand Strategy

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