Regardless of how big the internet has become, a majority of business still consider themselves offline in most industries. Consider the example of a car rental service – today, most customers make their booking online. However, the real service happens offline. Now, would you call this business an online one or offline? The simple answer to this is that it’s complicated.
One way to look at the business is to see where the transaction happens. Businesses where the transaction happens over the internet is an online business regardless of whether or not the service is made over the internet. This should also easily explain how eBay and Amazon are online businesses although the product is made and delivered offline. Given the way technology has progressed, it is then fair to say that most businesses today are either online or hybrid. Very few businesses can thrive today solely on an offline model.
So how do you build a successful online business if your service is offline? One of the tried and tested ways is to reach out to them when they are seeking a provider. This could either be on search engines (via SEO, SEM, etc.), or through listings like Craigslist or YellowPages. In either of these cases, you could reach a potential customer just when they are looking for a provider like you.
Besides this, there are plenty of other ways offline businesses have tried to reach out to customers online. One of the biggest success stories is that of a small company called K-Tec that sold mixers and blenders out of their office in Orem, Utah. When YouTube became popular, K-TEC’s subsidiary BlendTec launched a series of ‘infomercials’ titled ‘Will It Blend?’ that became a raging success thanks to the hilarious video clips of an old engineer trying to blend mobile phones, golf balls, CD discs and various other products. Thanks to the viral popularity that these videos garnered, BlendTec today is an extremely popular blender machine that is an online success.
While it is difficult to conceptualize a campaign similar to BlendTec’s that will fit your product range, one of the tried and tested ways to find success online is through what is called “inbound marketing”. In Inbound marketing, businesses try to create valuable content in the form of blogs, videos, photos, infographs, etc. that are shared via popular media channels like Facebook, Twitter or other websites – the objective of inbound marketing is to create a lead where none exists. Inbound channels help to pique the interest of potential customers who are not seeking a product immediately, but thanks to the inbound campaign, they establish a relationship with you which paves the way for a future transaction.
There are several examples for businesses that have found success this way. One example is the Facebook page maintained by Virgin Atlantic – this is a channel that is followed by nearly 300,000 people. Every day, the Virgin Atlantic team shares interesting content relating to travel, festivities and fun – this creates a positive vibe about the company and when users share this content with their friends on the social network, this vibe spreads. While Virgin Atlantic may not be seeing a transaction immediately, this community building effort helps create trust that will ensure future loyalty.
Building trust and loyalty online through one of the several platforms available is key to growing the success of an offline business. Do you have an offline business that you are trying to grow? What strategies have you used? Please tell us in the comments below.