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Putting It On Paper: How A Good Domain Choice Can Unify Print and Online Campaigns

This news just in: Print is not dead. Digital content may have taken over the world, but it hasn't eradicated the printed word. In fact, print can still be a highly effective marketing medium. While email, social media and blogs top the distribution channels for content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute's 2018 annual report found that 23% of marketers use print magazines, and 24% use print-based distribution channels other than magazines (think flyers, printed newsletters and mailers).

The trick is to combine digital and print harmoniously so that each channel feeds the other.

An astute domain choice is a key factor. It is the single asset linking the two channels together, and used adeptly it can encourage people to jump effortlessly between them. Choosing a domain and using it appropriately takes imagination and an appreciation for the subtleties of both digital and print marketing.

Companies commonly use domains in print-based marketing to prompt visits to a digital destination. The domain they choose will depend on the print medium they are using and on their objectives for the reader. For example, some innovative organizations use color to make their TLD a direct part of the product, and then reflect that color in print materials. For example, the organizers of a book called Feminists Don't Wear Pink (And Other Lies), a collection of writing by women designed to promote feminism to the hashtag generation, used the color pink extensively in the book cover design. They hit on the perfect domain for the campaign: feministsdontwear.pink.

That's a thoughtful process that makes the TLD part of the very idea of the product. Conversely, print campaigns running on billboards may capture a user's attention for just a fraction of a second. In that time, they must communicate a domain memorable enough to stick in the user's mind and prompt a visit later.

Some organizations have had success with simple country-code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs). Canada's Humber Business School ran print advertisements based around its takethetest.ca URL, which drove readers to a 20-question online quiz as part of a drive to recruit new students. Completing the quiz would show visitors their 'business profile'. The easy-to-remember URL, combined with a simple online activity to generate real value for the visitor, proved a winner.

Others take mixed print and online domain-based campaigns a step further with dotbrand TLDs. A good example here is Amazon's use of the buildon.aws domain. It used a dotbrand top-level domain (TLD) with the same name as its AWS (Amazon Web Services) product, which gave it unlimited choice when choosing its domain. It then chose an instruction that was clear and easily digestible for the reader, communicating all the information and motivation that they needed to visit its website later.

dotbrands let companies put the call to action directly into the domain. Imagine your unique TLD, prefixed with 'savebig', 'gogreen' or 'getfit' to match an appropriate campaign.

Local domains

Other kinds of print campaign offer different opportunities. Subdomains give companies the chance to target customers with regional print advertising campaigns. Audi has mastered the art of regional URLS. Visit berlin.audi, for example, and you'll be shown an online map with the locations of the Audi dealers in that region, complete with navigation links. It's a useful way to build a geographically-aware domain structure with useful online information that doubles as a perfect print advertising tool.

The manufacturer went further by pulling its official dealers into the equation. It relocated those dealerships's websites to domains with the .audi branded TLD, giving each of them a unique URL based on their name, but still tied indelibly to the Audi brand. Listed on the berlin.audi site, for example, is audi-zentrum-berlin-adlershof.audi. 

Get personal

Targeted mailers give companies a chance to address users directly. Variable printing enables them to print custom, personalized URLs for each piece of printed material. Marketers can use this to spectacular effect when marrying print and online campaigns.

First National Bank was one organization that used personalized URLs to help drive its credit card renewal campaign. The bank, one of the four largest in South Africa, created a segmented campaign according to each customer's credit card level. It sent each customer a direct mail letter with a personalized URL that included the first and last name as a subdomain before 'yourfnb.co.za'. The URL took customers to a microsite that enabled them to renew their credit card and choose its design.

Using different URLs can also enable companies to analyze the success of segmented print campaigns by tracking visits from different domains with the help of branded link shorteners. A shortlink is a shortened link, appended to a domain name that you register purely for that purpose. FourthSource, for example uses frth.sc. Two-letter country code top level domains like .bz, .pr, .me or .sc come in handy to keep the links as short as possible.

Link shorteners hide lengthy urchin tracker module (UTM) details — the extra pieces of information in the URL that provide segmented marketing information about the visitor.

Other ways to link print with digital

Domain names will always be important in both print and online campaigns, but don't ignore other print assets that link well to digital campaigns. Some companies have used QR codes to great success when trying to marry online and offline channels. These two-dimensional unique codes got a shot in the arm when Apple released a built-in QR code reader in its camera app in iOS11 in 2017.

Even earlier, brands were using QR codes in innovative ways. Diesel printed them in many of its Spanish stores. When shoppers scanned them, they generated a like for Diesel's product page from the user's Facebook account and announced to friends that they had been shopping there.

Hashtags are another common way to link print and digital campaigns. Indiana University included the hashtag #IUsaidYes on its notification packages and encouraged successful students to share pictures of their acceptance letters on social media. These are great examples of how print and social media can interact. Registering a subdomain with the same name as the hashtag will also enable companies to redirect to their social media page or reproduce social media posts on a microsite supporting the hashtag campaign.

Combined imaginatively, digital and print campaigns can create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. By driving traffic from one channel to another, and by using trackers to tie digital visitors to print campaigns, companies can get the best return on their marketing dollars, and get to know more about their customers in the process. And it all starts with a carefully chosen domain.

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Friday, October 5, 2018