Three Lessons and Three Suggestions From An Offline Promotion Expert

摘要: Failed cost control, failed team management and the lack of focus led to the failure of the author's team. Her suggestions are 1)Sticking to the 7R principle; 2)controlling cost effectively and 3) Changing your mindset.

(Chinese Version)

Recently, when I was reading a report on offline promotion, saying that there were as many as 30 offline promotion stands merely on a 100-meter long street in Wangjing SOHO, a complex of three curvilinear asymmetric skyscrapers in North-East Beijing, Chaoyang District, I felt quite nostalgic about the days when I was one of those offline promotion specialists. I guess we chose to take part and promote our products offline for three reasons: firstly, advertising on TVs became so expensive at that time; secondly, consumers were also tired of Internet ads; at least, offline promotion was commonly adopted by many O2O projects, retailers, game and entertainment companies with the rise of mobile Internet in China.

However, when all the companies are competing to offer subsidies, coupons and discount activities, when a few offline promotion platforms begin to stand out, when Dianping and Meituan makes use of offline promotion so well, I, as a loser in offline promotion business, want to write this article in memory of those sad old days.

I used to be the head of a restaurant O2O project’s Shenzhen market. I was in charge of 11 subsidiaries and over 100 employees at that time, including 29 members of the management board, 8 full-time offline promotion specialists and tens of part-time employees. Our mission was to promote an app similar to WeChat Life and Tao Diandian, Tencent and Alibaba’s mobile meal-order and life service platform. After 8 months of ups and downs, our product proved to be a failure. At that time, we mainly promoted our products to owners of small and mid-scale restaurants and consumers around these restaurants. However, it turned out that we’ve failed at the very beginning since we chose the wrong direction. I summarized our mistakes mainly into the following three aspects:

1. Failed cost control

Although we were well aware that offline promotion cost a great deal of money and human resources and that it took time for offline promotion to take effect, we didn’t expect that we still failed to effectively control our cost.

1) Cost of human resources

When our project started in 2013, my team was composed mainly of Internet management specialists who had zero experience in offline promotion. So when our company adopted the offline promotion strategy, the human resources structure of our company changed a great deal: we had got to recruit 6 full-time offline promotion specialists within a month; some Internet management specialists chose to resign, while others were moved to other positions; I myself was transferred from senior Internet manager to senior promotion manager; our Beijing headquarters even poached a director from Meituan promising high salary to guide the operation of 11 subsidiaries in Shenzhen. On the one hand, we had to adjust our payment standards and provide offline promotion specialists fixed salary, traffic allowance, bonuses and even accommodation subsidies, which caused wide-range dissatisfaction among old employees; on the other hand, these offline specialists turned out useless and became the biggest burden of our team.

2) Cost of promotional materials and discount activities

On the one hand, we had to buy prizes, rent promotion stands and make promotional materials, including roll-ups, brochures, posters and banners that were generally one-off; on the other hand, since we convinced many restaurant owners of lowering the price of some courses significantly in the hope of attracting consumers, the traffic of these restaurants went up but many consumers didn’t bother order other courses at normal price. Many restaurants soon gave up such discount activities, while we were left to afford the huge sum of subsidies.

3) Cost of public relations maintenance

Such cost was invisible but huge, too. At first, our company was willing to give us money to rent promotion stands or areas, but as the cost grew significantly high, the company ceased to give us any more money to rent promotion stands, which made our promotion even harder. Although we cooperated with some offline promotion platforms in the hope of making use of their resources and lowering cost later, it was already too late.

2. Failed team management

Asides from failed cost control, my team also didn’t work and cooperate effectively.

First of all, since my team was established in a hurry, many team members weren’t responsible enough and would take every opportunity to relax instead of work when dispatched to places where we couldn’t track their performance. They would simply throw our brochures away in the garbage bins and then went back to the company to check out. Not surprisingly, many employee began to followed suit.

Secondly, those who were indeed committed to their work failed to negotiate with restaurant owners well. At that time, while Tao Diandian suddenly created a “Foodies’ Festival” to win consumers, WeChat Life also grabbed our consumers from block to block. We had no choice to stick to our subsidy policy, but they followed suit and soon collaborated with many restaurant owners. That’s when problems and disagreement began to come up one after another both inside our company and between restaurant owners and our offline promotion specialists. Restaurant owners who stuck to the subsidy strategy policy but found it ineffective later on began to throw complaints to our platform and ended their cooperation with us one after another.

In addition, since we didn’t develop an effective order management system at that time, restaurant owners adopted their own systems instead, which led to lots of inconsistency between their statistics and ours, which undermined the efficiency and reputation of our platform significantly.

3. The lack of focus

Although the orders of our headquarters were supposed to set goals for us at first, we ended up in a dilemma among different orders and goals.

First of all, a kinds of KPIs, download times, penetration rate, the number of brochures, sales, per customer transaction, user retention rate were all listed as indicators to evaluate the performance of offline promotion specialists, so that nobody knew which indicator they should focus on exactly.

Secondly, our target users were too broad at the beginning, so that many middle-aged women users were allowed to sign up on our platform. They did contribute to the download times, but most of them delete our platform after receiving our prizes.

Thirdly, there were too many kinds of promotional materials, including brochures, cards, house numbers, roll-ups, calendars, so that many consumers didn’t know exactly what our promotion activities were about and left our stands without picking up anything. In addition, since we made these promotional materials in a hurry, many of them were full of errors, which both left an ill impression on our users and didn’t help us convey our message to consumers.

At last, we failed to coordinate between the subsidies of old and new users, which upset many users at last.

To wrap up, different subsidiaries all had different types of mistakes and misjudgments. In this case, what can we learn from our mistakes then?

After this white war ended, only Tao Diandian stood out, while the huge sum of small and mid-scale platforms and even WeChat Life all failed at last. Besides useless pity and regret, I’d like to offer the following three piece of advice to future offline promotion specialists:

1. Sticking to the 7R principle

7R principle means giving the right users right prizes of right quantity and quality, price in the right time and place. I would like to mention the following 4R especially:

1) The right timing

The time of your offline promotion activities should accord with the product you are promoting. For example, you should promote domestic products and services at noon, in rush hour and at weekends, promote games during off hours instead of office hours, while promote restaurants and mail-booking services at meal time.

2) The right place

You should promote your products in places where the target users frequent most, since blind offline promotion will ultimately turn out in vain. For example, promoting your products to people who need to hail cars in parking lots, finding high-end users in night fairs and sending out brochures of takeaway services in restaurants of a company will mean nothing but a joke. You should even get familiar with the living standards, property management companies and real estate developers of every regions to better reach your target users.

3) The right prize

Your prizes should have something to do with the product or services you are promoting and conjure up the image of your products and services when consumers use your prizes. For example, you should give fans instead of towels when you are trying to promote takeaway services, give mousepads when you are promoting a game, just like you should give free eco-friendly plastic bags when you are promoting the awareness of environmental protection.

4) The right target users

Only when you know the habit of your target users can you win over them. For example, if you are promoting a BBQ restaurant, you should know exactly what’s the profit margin of the restaurant, which dishes consumers order the most in good and slack times, which dishes are most orders and most profitable, whether you should provide a 30% discount or give a couple of beverages instead, etc.

If your team members aren’t familiar with offline promotion, then you should probably turn to a mature offline promotion platform to save twists and turns. Here are some standards for you to refer to when you decide to ask a offline promotion platform for help: firstly, whether the platform is familiar with the whereabouts, residential communities, colleges, entertainment places and shopping malls, etc.; secondly, whether the platform has cooperated with famous companies, such as Huaxia Auto Network, SF Pay, Lending Club, Lending Academy, Didi Kuaidi or Meituan, etc.; thirdly, whether the platform has a mature offline promotion team and a set of mature procedures; fourthly, whether the platform has the capacity to promote your products in large scale. Up till now, over 2,000 offline promotion platforms have already been set up. My suggestion is that you should turn to platforms such as Offline Promotion Bar, which has just received 10 million RMB in its pre-A round of financing, and other mature platforms such as,, Market Explorer, etc.

2. Controlling cost effectively

Besides a good target, you should also be able to control the cost. Offline promotion is fundamentally one way of promoting, so net revenue matters a lot to decide if such method function or not.

1) Limiting your subsidies if necessary

If the current subsidy policy is actually undermining the future development of your company, then offline promotion will mean nothing at all. Even if you attract lots of users with high subsidies, they will ultimately turn to other platforms when you reduce subsidies. In that case, you will only suffer from so wide a user base.

2) Making full use of others’ resources

For example, why not rely on cheap labor, such as part-time employees, college interns? In addition, you should attract restaurant employees and download and promote your products, which is be totally free. Also, you can make full use of old users and encourage them to promote your products to their friends and relatives.

3. Changing your mindset

Gradually, the contribution of offline promotion to download times has been narrowing. Today, we should gradually change our mindset and start to attract users to consult us instead of promoting our products to them. For example, a desert shop recruited a bunch of half-naked “Spartans” who walked around Wangjing SOHO to promote its brand, which became quite a heated topic in July, Beijing. Offline should be more about promoting your brands, not attracting new users. A good offline promotion strategy should be able to create hot-spot topics and win enough public attention, and then attract your target users to download your products.

At last, I want you remind you that offline promotion is not a golden key. Only with a large enough offline promotion team can you reach your target users, only with the support of a strong online platform, a good timing can your offline promotion prove effective, and only when you truly understand your target users can you win over them.


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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Zeng Xiangling, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.




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