Mastering the User Journey From Offline to Online to Mobile

Seamless transitions between offline and online experiences are the norm in today’s digital landscape, but this means brands face both challenges and opportunities as they navigate the shift from traditional media to mobile app consumption. 

I met with the team at In Digital — a performance-led growth marketing agency — to discuss these challenges and top strategies to overcome them. Our conversation delves deep, uncovering actionable insights to help brands navigate this evolution. We explore key considerations for smooth transitions, including the integration of offline and online marketing for consistent messaging, how to identify and align your target audience across platforms through data and segmentation, and technology to bridge the offline-online-mobile divide with strategies like QR codes and smart banners. Get ready to thrive in the age of mobile-centric consumers!

— Itay Droog, Business Development Director, EMEA at Branch

Before we jump deep into the topic, can you tell us a little about your company?

Of course! We are In Digital. As the name suggests, we are a digital marketing agency founded on the idea of breaking down traditional agency/client barriers, working in-house as an extension of our client teams. Our team is made up of passionate digital marketing experts who support clients across the full funnel: from paid media and app marketing to onsite and in-app conversion optimisation, creative, data, BI, and analytics. Everyone at In Digital is not only a digital specialist but also has data and technical knowledge. We firmly believe that this is a requirement to really make a difference for our clients and be ahead of the curve in the ever-complex, data-flooded digital marketing landscape. Plus, we are a fun team to work with!

Can you walk us through the key considerations when transitioning users from traditional offline media channels to online platforms, and subsequently, to mobile apps? What challenges and opportunities does this transition present when building a brand’s strategy? How does expanding your digital offerings with mobile support build that strategy?

Unlike digitally-native businesses, traditional brands expanding their proposition from offline to online face distinct challenges. First, brands whose users associate a strong legacy value with their physical products must navigate beyond technical considerations to preserve their essence, digitally. In other words, it’s essential to discern how product value and experience translate into the digital sphere. Second, it’s key to understand which parts, if not all, of their product or service offering should (or could) be made available digitally, and to what extent. 

Depending on their industry, some businesses opt for a supplementary or complementary digital offering to enhance their physical products or services, while others undergo a complete digital transition. These strategic choices hinge on understanding current and future audience preferences.

One of the most radical examples of this is The Independent. In 2016, it made the controversial move to become an online-only publication — one of the most abrupt transitions from offline to online in U.K. publishing. Not only was it challenged with maintaining its influence without a physical presence on newsstands, but it was also tasked with migrating its huge reader-base online. Nonetheless, as a brand, it capitalised on the opportunity to reach brand-new users in previously untapped spheres. Conversely, competitors like The Times or Financial Times use web and apps to complement their physical offerings.

For e-commerce or, more generally, D2C businesses, the transition has taken a slightly different shape. While the actual product can’t be digitised unless you’re dressing or ordering food for your avatar or NFT the core of the transformation has been around digitising the user experience. And in this example, too, we have some differences: In retail, we see digitally-native businesses like ASOS or Ocado competing with traditional brick-and-mortar shops like Zara, H&M, Tesco, and so on, with both a physical and digital experience. Having a presence on the high street still brings a lot of value to brand awareness and recognition. Brands without it need to put additional consideration into how they can bolster their brand engagement. However, in all instances, having a digital experience, online or in an app, is now imperative. 

There are undeniable benefits for brands using mobile apps, especially as a unique avenue to deepen user engagement and connection with the brand. They enable richer experiences and multimedia capabilities, fostering continuous connectivity with audiences and driving action, particularly through push notifications. They can foster a sense of community among their users, and brands using them can create unique value through exclusive initiatives such as discounts, early-bird access, member perks, and connected in-store and app experiences.   

We are used to hearing that older demographics are more accustomed to offline media and therefore require more targeted efforts to transition online. However, there’s a clear trend emerging among the younger generations, associating value with the physical version of products that they are used to consuming digitally. This will be a key trend for every brand to watch and potentially respond to through their proposition.

Beyond demographics, other key considerations around transitioning or expanding an online proposition include product and content adaptability, technological infrastructure, and user experience. The user experience on online platforms and mobile apps should be seamless to encourage adoption. The challenges in this transition mainly lie in effectively managing these considerations. For example, transitioning content while maintaining its quality can be a delicate balancing act. Technological challenges, such as ensuring a robust and secure infrastructure, are also significant.

In today’s multi-channel landscape, how do you recommend integrating offline and online marketing efforts to create a seamless user journey? What role does each channel play in reinforcing the brand message and driving users toward mobile app adoption?

The short and cliche answer: Distinct brand messaging across all channels is crucial. Each channel’s unique strengths should be maximised to reinforce the overall brand narrative.

But to take this a step deeper, there are multiple levers at play. First, back to the question above, the approach hinges on the brand’s product strategy for its target audience(s). Brands should segment their audiences depending on how they know they’d like to experience the product and prompt them accordingly. 

For brands retaining a physical product or presence, connected experiences offer a unique way to bridge the online and in-app journeys to the “offline” world — as long as they make the experience easier and more convenient to the end user. For example, brands using member QR codes have replaced the need for a receipt in high-street stores, making purchases and returns faster. Plus, they can get more data back under a single customer view. In media and publishing, digital content brings a series of unique advantages including real-time newsfeed updates, 24/7 availability, cross-content linking, multimedia access, and of course, portability. Publishers with apps can take this further by allowing content to be downloaded offline, saved for later, narrated, and shared with friends. Having a connected strategy through user accounts also allows brands to capture and merge online and offline data points on the user, including their physical footprint, which is traditionally harder to measure. Off the back of this, marketing efforts can then be optimised and personalised per user to create success, loyalty, and, at the end of the day, revenue. 

To encourage mobile app adoption, online channels can spotlight the app’s benefits and convenience. Media platforms allow brands to run app-install campaigns to reach prospecting users or reengagement campaigns to rekindle lapsed ones. Offline strategies, such as QR codes in print media or TV ads directing users to download the app, can also be impactful.

What should good app marketing look like? First and foremost, it should take the learnings from owned, earned, and paid channels, as well as onsite, but customise these to the mobile environment and to the mindset of users when on a mobile. For many brands, this could also mean changing their entire marketing and/or site approach to be mobile-first. 

It also shouldn’t be viewed with iOS blinders. While Apple may have the more fashionable name, Android supports a sizable share of the market. So brands mustn’t forget to tailor their strategy to these users and to the specificities of Google’s Play Store. One size does not fit all in this area, and campaigns or visuals can’t be plastered from one to the next.

Don’t let app store optimisation (ASO) fall by the wayside. This particular element of mobile marketing is easily forgotten in favour of more fast-paced, KPI-based initiatives, but it’s of critical importance to ensure app success. Though often slow-moving, ASO relies upon rigorous and consistent testing and sharp, insightful reporting on both app stores to make sure listings stay current, stand out from competitors, and ultimately convert mobile users. At The Financial Times, we’ve built a testing roadmap that is both flexible to changes from the wider business and prioritises app adoption to make sure all activity is as cost-efficient as possible.

In summary, both online and offline channels complement each other in reinforcing the brand message and driving mobile app adoption. The key lies in maintaining consistent brand messaging across all channels and leveraging their respective strengths.

How do you identify and align the target audience across offline, online, and mobile platforms? What strategies do you employ to ensure consistency in messaging and brand experience as users move through these different channels?

Identifying and aligning the target audience across offline, online, and mobile platforms requires a comprehensive approach, integrating data analytics, customer segmentation, and cross-channel marketing strategies.

First, understanding your audience’s behaviour and preferences through data analysis is essential. For online channels, tools like Google Analytics provide valuable insights, while to assess app marketing performance, having a mobile measurement partner (MMP) in place is critical. And last but by no means least, you need a robust omni-channel CRM system.

Next, through customer segmentation, brands can divide their existing and prospective audiences into groups based on shared characteristics such as demographics, interests, and how they interact with the product. In this day and age, personalisation is commonplace thanks to all the data points at our disposal, so this should be a cornerstone of any marketing strategy.

Cross-channel marketing ensures reach across media touchpoints to nudge users down the conversion funnel, keep them interested, or reengage lapsed ones. Creativity and really knowing where to find and how to connect with your audiences are always the secret ingredients. For example, Handshake, a digitally-native recruitment app, grew exponentially from its early days by partnering with universities to host fun on-campus events that students actually wanted to attend and then getting them to download the app. 

And again, regardless of the audience, smooth transition across platforms relies on providing a seamless user experience. Apple excels in this aspect by delivering a consistent interface and experience across in-store, web, and mobile app platforms. Maintaining a balance between consistency in brand messaging and adapting to the specific characteristics of each channel is crucial for effectively reaching and engaging your target audience.

How do we bridge offline to online to mobile?

Currently, offline to mobile is primarily achieved using QR codes which had a resurgence during COVID-19 and have remained since. They provide trackable shortcuts to the right page or app. 

Additionally, having an app that is easy to find in the app store is key for all those “word-of-mouth” or brand recall instances. This is where having strong ASO and perhaps some live app store ads can be the difference between users finding your app or your competitors’.

When bridging offline to online to app, it’s important to consider the purpose of apps and how they can enhance a physical experience; we should be aiming to craft “phygital” experiences that bridge the physical-digital divide. 

A good example is Wagamama’s placemat QR code. It benefits both the user (an easy method to pay and split the bill) as well as the company (staff are free to place guests and clear tables rather than dealing with payments). This, in turn, ensures tables are turned around quicker so there is less wait for queuing customers.

For online-to-app journeys, we need to consider user devices. On desktop, activity largely drives awareness of an app or highlights new app features to existing users. Placements for such activity vary from onsite (e.g., homepage placements) to offsite (e.g., organic and paid social posts).

With mobile users, activity is more sophisticated. Smart banners allow smooth transitions from onsite to app while deferred deep links drive online traffic to relevant pages in the app. For example,one of our online publishing clients AGBI (Arabian Gulf Business Insights) displays smart banners that slide up ad hoc on articles, encouraging mobile users to continue reading the article in the app. If the user already has the app, clicking on the banner automatically opens the app to the same article. If the user doesn’t have the app, they are directed to the app store where, upon download, the same article opens and they can continue reading. 

An important consideration is when to deliver such messaging. Brands need to ensure they show app prompts to the most appropriate audience. Always consider whether downloading the app or viewing in app is the next best action you want this particular user to take. Might you want them to take an easier action first, such as reading more recommended content, signing up for a newsletter, or setting a price alert?

Besides this, putting forward your app’s value proposition is fundamental to encouraging installs and regular use. Why should the user download your app? Will their experience be enhanced? Will they receive an exclusive in-app offer? Will they accrue loyalty points with purchases? 

In the end, the most important consideration is collecting the right data — offline, onsite, and in app. For the latter, this is best done with an effective MMP.

For more on mastering the customer journey, check out our CX-Driven Marketing Playbook, or book a demo with our team!