An Offline Renaissance – The very dominance of digital is creating opportunities for traditional media

This is going to seem like an odd piece for a company with the word “digital” in its brand to publish. And to be clear, there is no question that in 2020 all companies should be thinking digital-first.

However, in the last couple of years we have seen across both B2B and consumer markets, that many of the best strategies have had a strong offline component. This short article will explore a few of the reasons behind this apparent resurgence.


1. It’s unexpected

Generally speaking, marketing is about identifying trends and aligning yourself accordingly. If everyone in your market is attending a particular event, attend that event. if everyone is on snapchat, there’s probably a strong argument for being on snapchat.

However, the real opportunities exist in surprising places. By adopting a channel that few of your competitors are using but that you have reason to believe will engage your audience, you are gaining an edge.

Billboard advertising
Marketing professional swipes right on traditional media, in spectacular attempt to find date. (Credit:

Last week I was with a Global CISO who told me the best piece of marketing she’d ever received was a personal note on a postcard. The week before that I was with the CMO of Habito, a tech start-up and now the UK’s fastest growing mortgage broker, who told me that the most successful channel tactic they ever used was the tube. At the time, no fintech’s were doing it. Now they all are.

The most successful piece of marketing I’ve done in the last 12 months has been a series of handwritten letters to the CEO’s of large law firms. All but one sent me a reply. And all of those were positive.

In 2020, ‘surprising’ is hard to find online. Whether it’s email, webinar, social, blogs, press releases, PPC, influencer engagement or affiliate marketing, it’s unlikely you’re going to stumble across a digital channel that has significant impact on your audience whilst also being underused by your competitors.

The real world, on the other hand, is the last place most marketers are looking in 2020. So maybe that’s where you should begin?


2. People are more aware of their physical surroundings

In the digital world, we have trained ourselves to block out ads, which may explain why only 3% of them are viewed for more than 1 second. We have conditioned our brains to be focused on the thing we are doing in that moment, and ads, even great ones, are rarely more than an irritant to be blocked out.

However, in the real world, our senses have to be at least slightly engaged at all times so that we can hear the baby crying, smell the smoke from the fire, avoid the oncoming bus, etc. Furthermore, the real world can sometimes be just a bit dull. When you’re stood waiting for a train to arrive or sat in a waiting room or in the queue at the supermarket, your mind is likely looking for something to entertain it. If for some reason turning on your phone and flicking through instagram isn’t an option, a conveniently placed and strikingly designed advert suddenly becomes the single most interesting thing to take in, if only for a few moments.

That simply doesn’t happen online.


3. It carries greater credibility

Somehow, a paper brochure that you can see and touch just makes a company feel more real than their e-version. Likewise, physical billboards are only used by proper companies doing proper things, or so our brains tell us. And to advertise on TV, well you have to be a serious brand to do that!

Of course this is all nonsense. The physical brochure is just a horribly inefficient manifestation of the the e-version. Any cowboy can pay £500 for a billboard ad. And TV ads have never been more targeted and affordable. But as marketers, we would do well to remember that perception is as important as reality.

“The medium is the message”, as Marshall McLuhan once said.


4. Sometimes there is no substitute for human interaction

You can never say never, but this is one element of traditional marketing that I cannot see going anywhere in my lifetime.

People buy from people. It’s trite but true. Hence why organisations invest so heavily in developing the “personality” of their brands. The trouble of course is that it adds cost, and in many markets the customer simply isn’t willing to pay the difference.

However, in other markets, the buyer journey is so complex (and sufficiently valuable) that human involvement is appropriate. In these cases, you will likely find that human encounters, such as events events (particularly those that you “own”) are far more impactful on sales than any PPC, email or social media campaign.


Final thought

The answer of course is that you have to know your audience, both in terms of value and behaviours. Clearly handwritten letters sent to 300,000 19 year old students who don’t check their post is neither financially viable nor impactful. For these low value, high volume audiences, the best route is likely to be digital, where successful tactics can be scaled with a speed, efficiency and measurability that would be hard to replicate offline.

However, in many markets, the real world continues to form an irreplaceable part of the buyer journey. And as long as it does then as marketers we must reflect that in our communications, particularly when it’s not expected.


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