Online or Offline, that is the Question...

I’m told that many business owners feel like they have two businesses; the one they started in brick in mortar and the one they launched as the power of the internet took hold. I’ve been asked repeatedly by clients lately, how do I integrate my existing brands and company awareness with that of the one the internet seems to be creating for me?

My first response is that the branding of your products and services does not have to differ between marketing or information venues. Moreover, it is the nurturing of the relationship with your customer that is always the key to your success so it is THAT element that must be reflective of the venue. So, if you start from that basic premise supported by your unparalleled customer service and attention to detail, you back into how you provide that continuity of support in an online environment.

Online businesses as extensions to brick and mortar businesses offer unlimited ability to reach your potential customers when it is convenient for them, rather than when the doors of your office suite or retail shop are open to the sunshine. Remembering as you expand your online footprint that your customer base is more global, may not know you or your products and may be coming to you with preconceived notions about what you are offering or what their needs are is imperative.

Your online presence is an extension of your existing business if you so position it, however, you must remember that a global audience has probably never heard of you before and is often comparing you to others. If you consciously begin offering other products and services through your portal to the world, however, you begin to recreate yourself and indeed, will find yourself running two separate and distinct operations unless you then import your new direction into your brick and mortar business.

Running An Offline Business vs. An Online Business

Running a company as an "offline" business is very different than running a business online. While the goal of selling a product or service may be the same, the means used to actually achieve those sales can be very different.

Offline enterprise companies will often have an extended outside sales force that will travel to potential customer locations and demo the products or meet with the potential customer to explain the services. Traditional companies will also run seminars or training sessions from time to time or offer other support mechanisms to maintain a close, supportive relationship. Some of these techniques have been adopted for online companies, with some online companies scheduling online demos or holding webinars (website-based seminars), but it really isn't standard fare for the typical "online" company. It is far more common that an online company will offer promotions including sampling, free trials, and online specific promotions with very little overhead and marketing cost to the company itself.

Running an Offline Business in combination with your Online Business

It is important to provide continuity in branding, philosophy, and policy whether you are marketing on or offline. Consider your online presence simply as an extension of your offline business, and use the same principles online as you would offline. Continuity should exist within the brand. In other words, the image portrayed online should be consistent with any existing offline branding. Use the same color schemes, logos, tag lines, and company philosophy online as the ones that exist offline.

Online Shelf Space Is Free

Unlike retail stores, the "shelf space" online is essentially free and unlimited. That doesn't mean that you should clutter your website with excessive materials; it simply means that you can choose what to promote, as well as the amount of exposure the promoted items receive, and all at a relatively low cost.

Loyalty among your Current and Prospective, both Online and Offline Customers

A traditional retail business, with face-to-face customer interaction, can be very different from a virtual business, where customer contact is limited to phone, email, and interactive forums. It is more difficult to use these online channels to build customer loyalty.

It is important that online companies encourage communication with customers. Online companies can use website forums, blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, email, or even work to build an online "community" around their product or service. Strong communication is important to building customer loyalty. It takes more work to build loyalty online than offline. Online companies should provide communication in a variety of formats, so that customers and potential customers can choose how they want to receive information or updates.

Expanding Your Audience

The Internet is global. It is not uncommon for online companies to routinely sell into foreign markets. Offline companies, on the other hand, are often somewhat limited by geographical borders. Take the opportunity to pursue foreign markets at very low costs with an online presence.

An online business can be a lucrative extension of an offline business. Having an online presence is no longer simply a nice addition to an offline company -- it really is a necessity in this day and age. Consider this: if your company does not have an online presence, chances are good that your competition does, and they are taking business that could be yours.


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