If you've followed the business landscape over the last 20 years, you're likely aware of just how fluid things have been. At the turn of the millennium, we saw a number of savvy entrepreneurs and business owners launch online businesses. Then, a couple of years later, we experienced a widespread diaspora that involved brick and mortar businesses flocking to the internet to gain traction with this new thing called "the internet."

Now we stand in a bit of a muddled mess--but a good mess, nonetheless. Whether of their own volition or not, many traditionally brick and mortar brands now have web presences that allow them to reach both online and offline shoppers. Some are experiencing widespread success with this strategy, while others are at a major crossroads in determining which direction to move in.

For the businesses that are experiencing success through both channels, there's a different issue at hand. How can you successfully market your business when both storefronts and ecommerce are involved? Unfortunately, there's no cut and dry answer to this question. However, the good news is there are plenty of suggestions and examples to learn from.

"Making the online-offline experience seamless for the customer is a must," affirms Jordan Edwards, President and Co-owner of Mixology Clothing Company. "Studying your clients' shopping behavior is the key. Email marketing, social media and paid search are great tools but if you don't use a segmentation strategy, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Every shopping experience is different and in order to succeed in both worlds, your message must be relevant to each customer. For us, email marketing is the bridge that has helped connect both worlds. By optimizing our segmented email strategy, we were able achieve our brick and mortar-ecommerce integration goals."

The Sephora Case Study

If you want to study the connection between online and offline shopping, one of the best examples around is Sephora. Known as one of the biggest brands in the beauty and cosmetic industry, Sephora has long been at the forefront of social and digital marketing. And while many businesses are trying to master brick and mortar or excel at ecommerce, Sephora has managed to succeed at both.

Based out of the technology haven of San Francisco, Sephora has always been at the front of the pack when it comes to the internet. They created their first website in 1999, long before any other beauty company even realized the internet would enjoy ubiquitous popularity. They were then one of the first to launch a mobile app. And currently, the brand also boasts a rather impressive social following on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

But just because Sephora is there--on the internet that is--doesn't automatically make them successful at attracting both online and offline sales. The reason they're so successful is because they have a strategy.

"At Sephora, we don't think of the buyer's journey as linear--customers don't think of devices or channels separately; they seamlessly jump between them as time and context allows," Bridget Dolan, Sephora's VP of Interactive Media, was quoted as saying in an interview. "Our clients are predominantly cross-channel shoppers, which is why we focus on making their experience between online and offline as seamless as possible."

But what's the key to bridging this gap? And how does Sephora ensure customers continue to make in-store purchases, as opposed to simply using the storefronts as showrooms? According to Dolan, the answer is to create great in-store experiences that make shoppers want to shop with you. Furthermore, it involves carefully and strategically integrating technology into the storefront.

Dolan wants to be clear, "Digital is in our DNA. We'll always be looking for the best ways for our customers to love their time with Sephora."

Using AdWords to Bridge the Gap

For any modern company looking to succeed in today's marketplace, digital has to be in their DNA. If you're a business with both storefronts and an ecommerce presence, the answer to all of your ailments is to allow digital to bridge the gap. Specifically, this means leveraging online advertising to drive traffic to both brick and mortar stores and product landing pages.

Did you know that roughly 92 percent of all sales still occur in stores? With the popularity of online shopping, this is hard to imagine--but it's true. And while your distribution may be quite different, the takeaway is that you must be able to target and track offline conversions if you want to be successful. The good news is that Google allows businesses to target customers and measure conversions in this multi-screen world we're living in.

Thanks to a new feature called "In-Store Visits," you can actually measure the impact online ads have on offline activities. This is something Sephora--among many other multi-channel brands--has found very helpful.

Using this data, Sephora has been able to measure exactly how digital advertising draws customers to its 800-plus stores. What it's learned is that it receives an 18 percent higher store visits rate from mobile clicks than it does from desktop. Based on this, they've been able to optimize their bidding strategy to enjoy a 25 percent higher return on their ad spend.

Another interesting AdWords feature that allows businesses to drive foot traffic is the "local" option. This feature lets businesses show local inventory ads--or ads that show users exactly what products are available in nearby retail locations--and multichannel product listing ads--or ads that give users an option to either view product availability at a nearby location or purchase online.

Using Online Marketing to Create In-Store Shoppers

According to a recent study from the Altimeter Group, the best way to increase in-store sales and foot traffic is to boost online messaging. The research showed that while 60 percent of brands create digital messages with the intent of driving in-store purchases, only 37 percent have an identifiable strategy for providing a unified customer experience that provides a path from online information to an in-store purchase.

In order to help these businesses create cohesive digital marketing strategies, the authors of the study outline a handful of steps that need to be taken. Most of them are surprisingly simple, yet often overlooked. Here are a few of those suggestions:

Provide a reason to believe.
Coordinate efforts.
Define local.

While most businesses are focused on driving online traffic to storefronts, it's also important to encourage in-store shoppers to visit your online store and landing pages. This can be done by incentivizing in-store shoppers with online deals, collecting email addresses, and integrating technology into the store design.

Modernize Your Approach to Marketing

As a business owner with a brick and mortar presence and an online storefront, 2016 presents a number of challenges. If you want to experience success and profitability, you can no longer look at these two aspects as individual entities. They must be treated as one and the same--especially when it comes to digital marketing.

Your goal is to turn in-store shoppers into online customers, while simultaneously turning online shoppers into in-store customers. Using Sephora as a template--and keeping the previously mentioned suggestions and strategies in mind--you can begin to make this a reality.

Published on: Feb 5, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.