4 Brilliant Offline Marketing Campaigns for Ecommerce Companies

Danny Wong

For ecommerce companies, building a brand offline is counterintuitive when, in most cases, 100% of their sales are generated online. But an increasing number of digital-first brands are relying on offline promotional tactics to grow their businesses.

As standalone efforts, offline marketing campaigns can be incredibly profitable. And, when coupled with online marketing strategies, brands see a compounding effect on their ROI. In fact, a study by iProspect reveals that offline marketing influences up to 40% of online shoppers to make a purchase.

Read on to discover strategies to help ecommerce brands like yours take the leap from pursuing online-only marketing strategies to a hybrid approach that also includes offline tactics.

1. Catalogs and direct mailing campaigns

In 2010, ecommerce strategist Charles Nicholls examined the commonalities shared between the 10 highest converting websites. Among the 10 stores that had conversion rates ranging from 41.7% to 18.3%, nine had a catalog. Nicholls concluded that much of their traffic also came from direct mailed catalogs, confirming that some ecommerce businesses thrive using traditional marketing methods such as direct mailings.

For The Huffington Post, ecommerce experts Andy Ostroy and Polly Wong explain the phenomenon.

“The overall attraction of direct mail is easy to understand. Catalogs remain the highest-quality, most visually-alluring vehicle to capture an audience, present product, create an aspirational lifestyle and generate solid customer loyalty and brand-awareness,” Ostroy and Wong write. “No one can argue the distinct advantage catalogs have through photography, paper and printing quality, size, use of models and share of customer attention. And catalogs have proven to be the most successful driver of web traffic. There’s no better way for a multi-channel marketer to target and acquire customers. It’s extremely cost-effective to initially attract the customer through direct mail while having them make their purchases online.”

To put it in more concrete terms, they share their estimates for the cost and ROI of an average catalog campaign:

Total circulation – 400K (50/50 split between customer file and external prospects)
$0.45 cost per piece for a 24-page catalog = $180K in direct mail costs
$0.12 per prospect name = $24K in list rental costs
$3K in mail house fees
$20K in project management fees
Total budget = $226K
Forecasted response rate = 4%
Forecasted orders = 16K
Estimated average order size = $100
Total Sales = $1.6MM
Total Sales per Piece = $4
Ad Cost % = 14%

With that, Ostroy and Wong conclude by saying, “Put simply, the math works.” They add, “Direct mail becomes an invaluable reactivation tool in addition to being a visually superior, cost-effective acquisition and retention vehicle. Sometimes old-school is the best school.”

When The Wall Street Journal researched this topic, staff reporter Elizabeth Holmes found men’s etailer Bonobos saw increasingly positive results from its print campaigns.

Holmes noted, “20% of the website’s first-time customers are placing their order after having received a catalog, says Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing for Bonobos. They spend 1.5 times as much as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first.”

Fortunately, creating a shopping catalog doesn’t have to be such a difficult task. Today, digital natives can build their own catalogs using an unsuspecting program they might already be familiar with—Flipboard—and other online or mobile applications that make it easy to compile your first catalog and share the final design with potential suppliers.

2. Pop-up shops

screenshot from storefront.com a popups space rental

Source: The Storefront

By 2013, pop-up shops were a $8 billion industry, up 16% since 2009. In 2018, they’re cited as an industry worth $10 billion.

Fortune writer Courtney Subramanian confirms, “The short-term retail market has exploded over the past few years, bridging the gap between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores and enabling brands a chance at premium real estate at a fraction of the cost.”

For many ecommerce brands, a pop-up shop is the perfect way to test the waters with offline expansion. Five other reasons why stores may want to experiment with pop-ups, according to Subramanian, include these tactics you can try:

  1. Offload inventory and test out a new revenue stream
  2. Test out new products or experiment with new concepts
  3. Use it as a marketing opportunity to create brand awareness
  4. Time a pop-up in conjunction with seasonality or holidays
  5. Lean into omni-channel retail, which is the future of the industry

For online-only brands, bringing your products into a physical space can be scary and expensive. While a temporary two-week lease is a far more affordable option than committing to a two-year commercial contract, the costs—including merchandising, marketing, operations, replenishment—can add up.

To further mitigate your risk, you may rent a smaller space that’s just large enough to house the best sellers from your collection. There, instead of stocking up on large quantities of inventory, you can host a showroom, where customers come in to see, feel, and try out products. But to keep a lean inventory, rather than walking out with the items in hand, they complete their purchase online. This saves you the cost and hassle of managing onsite inventory.

Bonus: If you want to launch a successful pop-up store, check out Shopify’s nine-lesson video series.

3. Public relations stunts

To promote its ZJet shoes, Reebok launched its Human Dispatch Service for one day in New York City. There, shoppers could tweet Reebok their size using the hashtag #ReebokHDS to have a pair hand-delivered to try on and potentially purchase. The story made waves across the Internet, earning publicity from Adweek, Complex, Fast Company, and Self magazine, among others.

A few years back, Amazon also did something that caught consumers—and the media—by surprise. The company announced it was testing drone delivery for its products with the hope that the program would one day deliver packages under five pounds to customers in 30 minutes or less.

Although all publicity stunts, by nature, are unique, 5WPR points out three common components of any successful PR stunt:

  1. Community involvement
  2. Be memorable
  3. Be bold

The PR firm also outlines three steps brands must take to craft and promote a newsworthy campaign:

  1. Identify your goals to justify the investment in the stunt.
  2. Establish a deadline to create urgency and rally consumers to act.
  3. Determine the best vehicle(s) for your message—otherwise, your stunt will fall flat without an actionable strategy to drive awareness and publicity.

4. Trade show participation

screenshot of the banner on the las vegas MAGIC retailer trade show website

For decades, tens of thousands of fashion buyers and vendors have descended upon Las Vegas for the twice-annual MAGIC tradeshow. There, brands rub shoulders with fashion media and potential customers who may want to stock your products on their ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores. At trade shows, boutique ecommerce companies can strike business-changing deals with larger retailers that may want to distribute their products at scale.

Offline, at trade shows, ecommerce store representatives can also network with potential suppliers who might offer you better rates, production times, and product quality. At conferences, you may also meet competitors who you can study to better understand their strengths and weaknesses. In some instances, you may even strike collaborative deals with competitors. Furthermore, you might come across like-minded brands that share a similar target audience, making it easy for you both to execute cross-promotional partnership campaigns.

To keep costs low and familiarize yourself with the unique dynamics of each trade show, participate as an attendee. Avoid overinvesting in your first trade show with a sponsored booth, which can cost you tens of thousands of dollars and may limit your ability to network freely.

Wrap up

Offline, ecommerce brands have numerous opportunities to advertise and promote their businesses:

  • Stores can use catalogs to prompt home shoppers to browse their products.
  • Pop-up shops can serve as the perfect testbed for showcasing new product innovations or as a new customer acquisition channel.
  • Publicity stunts, when done well, can elevate your brand with mass media coverage.
  • Store owners can walk away from trade shows with dozens of new business cards and, perhaps, an ideal distribution deal.

Ecommerce companies, by definition, live and thrive online. But, when they couple offline marketing efforts with existing online initiatives, they may discover new and productive ways to compound their revenue.

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