The gap between on and off line is being bridged in new, innovative and exciting ways. Online publishers are providing content on TV; print publishers are displaying their content online; TV programs are being viewed on cell phones. Even Google is tuning in to radio. The division between these two disciplines is becoming increasingly blurred, and the result is that consumers are being rewarded with truly integrated, interactive and inspiring campaigns.

Consumer media consumption habits have changed radically over the past 10 years with much of the change corresponding to advancements in technology. These developments have given marketers new tools to deliver messaging by stimulating multiple ‘consumer touch-points’ throughout a person’s day. Furthermore, this progressiveness is now encouraging consumers to expect more, from more types of media.

In this new integrated era, agencies and clients are realising that in order to reach their increasingly demanding marketing objectives, they can’t merely rely on clever creative, big budgets and a costly TV schedule. Consumers demand much more than that – their expectations have become more sophisticated meaning that marketers need to think smarter and broader.

Ultimately, a successful integrated campaign will be one that maximizes and exploits the full potential of each media, often using a single creative thread to stitch the campaign together. Only by truly understanding the consumers’ relationships with each media, and the possibilities and limitations inherent to each channel, can an effective marketing plan be built. Multiple media is necessary to achieve multiple touch-points: TV is visual and can switch on emotions, print can be eye-catching and informative, outdoor media can deliver a powerful punch, and radio is the informative and entertaining drive home. Then there is the new-contender, online, which provides unprecedented levels of interaction and engagement.

More traditional media options such as TV, radio and print, are mainstream and easily understood But where does online fit into the marketing mix? Regardless of the primary media of choice, marketers are driving viewers, readers and listeners to web sites on an increasingly regular basis. The reality is that a 30 second ad can very easily be turned into 30 minutes of immersion, by luring individuals into a web site where they can be entertained, informed or enlightened. Within a matter of seconds, a lead can be generated or a sale concluded.

But is off line media, in isolation, the most effective means to drive a target market to a web site? How many of us actually recall the web site address we saw at the end of the TV commercial or heard at the end of a radio ad?

Significant research is available, which reinforces the view that including online media in the marketing mix contributes directly to the bottom line, regardless of the target market. Some 4 million affluent individuals in South Africa access the internet on a daily basis to engage, interact and transact online. Are local marketers really paying enough attention to this channel as an effective, measurable and thus accountable medium? Or are we lagging behind the rest of the world in our marketing communications?

In the U.S., online advertising accounts for 6,5% of total ad spend and in the U.K., 8%. To put that into context, online surpasses radio, magazines and outdoor advertising in terms of spend. In South Africa, it took the online publishing industry 9 years, from 1994 to 2003, to grow to the R60 million revenue mark, yet it is set to have trebled that figure in the subsequent 3 years (World Wide Worx). However, despite this growth success, online ad spend in South Africa accounts for less than 1% of total annual advertising spend. Poor understanding of what online can achieve by marketers and their agencies is cited as the main reason for this lack of investment. It is vital therefore, that marketers not only understand the advantages of online; but also that they examine and understand how their target audience shares its time between media, and how the emergence of the new genre of interactive media is impacting upon this time share.

Online provides marketers with the opportunity to reach their target market in a variety of ways which extend beyond mere banner advertising. The immediacy of online marketing and the technology that drives it, means that more innovative, engaging and interactive campaigns are emerging on a daily basis. This dynamism has seen a convergence of other media into online – a true endorsement of its effectiveness. Radio and TV advertising have ventured into an online format with the ability to embed sound and movie clips within an online ad. Newspapers are read online, and TV and radio can now be broadcast online. Podcasting has meant that all types of media are being accessed at the customer’s convenience. Blogs are giving individuals their own voice online and creating more viral marketing opportunities than ever before. Furthermore, Search Engines were an unknown entity a decade ago and are now the fastest growing marketing tool. And if marketers want to learn about their customers, nowhere is it easier or more effective than through online surveys and other feedback opportunities.

Consequently, in order to have a truly effective, integrated campaign, online marketing has to play a major role. In this way, marketers can reach their audience in previously unimaginable, innovative and creative ways – ways which go far beyond pure branding, to acquisition and ultimately, retention.

(Published in Advantage Magazine – written by Andrea Mitchell, Director of Digital : thirtyfour)