Experts in the marketing industry have different ways of categorizing strategies commonly used in the industry. One way is to divide marketing activities into ATL, BTL, and TTL marketing.
The primary difference between ATL, BTL, and TTL marketing strategies is the communication method used. Where ATL marketing uses broad communication methods that reach the masses, BTL focuses on a more personalized and targeted means of engagement. TTL marketing is a hybrid that combines the two.
In this article, we’ll elaborate on the definitions of these three marketing practices and the differences between them. After a brief comparison, we’ll also help you determine which strategy to adopt for your purposes.
ATL Marketing: Above-the-Line
Above-the-line marketing is a marketing approach that involves communicating with a large audience without little to no regard for segmentation targeting. Marketers send their messages to considerable portions of the market, knowing that only a small proportion will become consumers.
If we take a look back at the first marketing communication practices, we’d see that the first widespread marketing strategies involved reaching mass markets all at once. Media such as newspapers and magazines, followed by radio and then TV allowed businesses to market their products to thousands of potential consumers simultaneously.
Even though it is an older method of marketing, it has not become obsolete. Modern marketing specialists use ATL marketing as part of the branding strategy, as it allows businesses to develop a brand image among the masses.
Advantages of ATL Marketing
So why would marketers still launch an ATL campaign in 2023? There are many benefits to this approach that should not be overlooked. The following are just a few of many:
- Wider reach: As you can imagine, you can reach a lot more potential consumers via ATL media, which means you can attract more consumers very quickly. The beauty of this approach is that you are able to influence consumers even if they weren’t in the market for your product.
- Building a brand identity: Since the marketing messages are communicated to an enormous number of people, businesses can use this strategy to build a brand image and influence consumer perception of the brand. Ultimately, this means an ATL marketing strategy is used to create a brand identity in line with the business’ mission and vision.
- Active engagement: ATL advertising includes a lot of audio and video content that is more stimulating and engaging when compared to other forms of marketing communication. Consumers are more likely to be influenced by marketing messages sent through channels with more audio-visual stimulation—exactly what ATL ads provide.
Types of ATL Marketing
There is a diverse variety of media used in an ATL marketing campaign. Although many might think of these as outdated, they are traditional because they are effective. The following are examples of media used for ATL marketing strategy implementation.
Remember that businesses need to change how they use these “traditional” marketing communication methods to stay relevant. Otherwise, an ATL strategy won’t be as effective in today’s marketplace.
Printed Media: Newspapers, Magazines, Journals
As you’d expect, the first type of mass marketing was through printed media. Not long after the advent of the printing press, savvy business people started printing and distributing advertisements in newspapers and/or other printed media.
This would include magazines and journals which are distributed to thousands of people regularly and is the primary method by which brands developed household names in the past. This is known as brand awareness.
Even as other methods of advertising are developed, printed media is still considered effective in today’s modern marketplace.
If you’re thinking of using printed media in your ATL marketing campaign, these are two advantages to consider:
- Physical copy to keep: Anyone who receives a copy of your printed advertisements will be able to keep that physical copy for a long time. Even if they don’t act on your CTA immediately, they might be persuaded later on.
- Nostalgic effect: In some cases, brands can use elegant printing methods to create some form of nostalgia when distributing their printed media. If it looks like it’s more than a cheap mass-produced brochure, consumers are likely to take notice.
Radio Advertising (and Podcast Ads)
Once radio technology was developed and became widespread, businesses took it as an opportunity to advertise via radio stations and by sponsoring radio shows. Radio might not be as prevalent as it used to be before the internet and social media, but it used to be extremely widespread.
Radio marketing campaigns were commonly used by multinational corporations and small businesses alike. In fact, many businesses hire jingle writers to come up with catchy tunes to help potential consumers remember brand names.
Nowadays, much of the same advertising that was distributed via radio has moved to the world of podcasting. Even though podcasts require an internet connection, the medium is audio-based just like radio.
After the radio era, television took over and its popularity allowed businesses to market products on a larger scale than ever before. As of writing, TV advertising remains the most effective form of ATL marketing available. Marketing messages and branding strategies can be implemented to target millions of potential consumers in one short ad.
While the wide reach and massive audience of a TV ad are advantageous, this also means that there is little to no targeting involved. Only a small percentage of consumers that view an ad will ever act on it. However, TV marketing campaigns are great for building brand image and brand identity.
Despite the fact that TV ad campaigns are pretty widespread, marketing specialists found a way to add some form of targeting to them. For example, soap operas (tv series that were typically broadcast during the daytime) get their nickname because marketers chose those time slots to advertise to stay-at-home mothers.
Marketers concluded that the market segment with housewives was more likely to purchase household products such as soap, so they targeted the audiences in that way. Even nowadays, you can pick and choose what time you’d like to broadcast your TV ads in order to refine your market targeting approach.
Disadvantages of ATL Marketing to Consider
Despite its various benefits, there are still some drawbacks of ATL marketing that are worth considering before you base your entire marketing tactics on it. Here are a few disadvantages to keep in mind:
- Higher costs: This type of marketing requires creating media that reaches a wide audience. As such, there is often a high price tag that comes along with this strategy. For example, ads on TV and printed media require paying upfront, without any guarantee of results.
- Delayed feedback: As we’ve mentioned earlier, you can’t be sure that your ATL marketing strategy will give you any results. In fact, feedback may come months after your campaign because it takes time for consumers to respond.
- Less relevant: A large proportion of the viewers/readers who will see your marketing messages won’t find them relevant at all. They may not be interested at all in the products you are selling, so there is a lower chance of conversion.
BTL Marketing: Below-the-Line
The next form of marketing communication is known as BTL (Below the Line). We’ve already established that the “line” that differentiates between ATL and BTL marketing communication revolves around how widespread or narrow and targeted the campaign is.
BTL marketing involves communication very directly with potential consumers as individuals, rather than trying to reach an audience of consumers at once.
Advantages of BTL Marketing
- More conversion: Since BTL marketing communication can send different messages to target segments of the market, businesses can create more effective marketing strategies based on their target consumer. In turn, more consumers will be converted and respond to the call to action in the marketing messages.
- Easier tracking: With BTL communication, businesses are able to target a specific consumer type with the according strategy and then track the returns. In turn, the marketing team can adjust strategies for better results.
- Better ROI: Since this approach involves directing marketing tactics toward only targeted segments, consumers are already somewhat interested in the product. The returns on the marketing investment are significantly higher because a higher proportion of those targeted leads are converted.
- Lower overall costs: Even with a high ROI, some small businesses don’t have the financial means to spend much on their marketing communication strategies. However, BTL strategies tend to cost much lower than ATL (or even TTL). This is especially true of social media marketing and targeted search engine marketing.
Types of BTL Marketing
BTL marketing practices are a fairly modern development, but there are many more options to choose from. If you’re thinking of introducing BTL to your marketing plan, the following are a few options to consider.
The simplest definition of BTL marketing is reaching out directly to targeted consumers in hopes of influencing their individual purchasing behavior. The following are three traditional methods of direct marketing that have proven highly effective.
- Pamphlets: Whether you receive them in your snail mail or at the corner of your street, you’re probably familiar with pamphlets and brochures that companies distribute to advertise their products and services. This approach may not be the best targeting strategy but it allows businesses to deliver marketing messages directly to their potential consumers.
- SMS: Once the use of cell phones became prevalent, companies found a way to send mass SMS to their target market with marketing messages. Businesses pay to get the phone numbers of millions of cell phone users to target their marketing strategy accordingly.
- Emails: With the advent of the internet, mailing lists moved from physical mail to email. Businesses send marketing emails and newsletters to consumers who either sign up on their websites or provide emails for communication purposes.
The main advantage of direct marketing is that it is highly personalized and cost-effective. This holds true regardless of which medium you use. Businesses can measure the results of their targeting and adjust the marketing plan accordingly.
Social Media Marketing
Also known as (SMM), this is the newest type of BTL marketing communication that has become increasingly popular and relevant in today’s marketplace. The main methods this strategy is implemented are:
- Paid advertisements that are shown to target consumers via social media
- Content creation on major social media platforms to keep consumers engaged
Note that businesses also use social media to research their potential target markets and improve their engagement and marketing communication tactics. Generally speaking, social media marketing allows businesses to develop a better relationship with consumers through increased engagement and brand awareness.
Continuing with the theme of social media marketing, one of the newer marketing tactics that businesses have been using lately is viral marketing. This involves creating content (for social media or otherwise) that has the tendency to spread like a virus. Instead of sharing the content yourself, you would depend on your consumers to share the content with other members of your target market.
This business strategy primarily uses social media platforms. Success depends highly on the shareability of the marketing content. A “shock factor” is a commonly used tactic that businesses try to incorporate in their marketing content in an attempt to make it “go viral”.
Targeted Search Engine Marketing
Another highly effective method of converting leads through the internet is by targeting them through search engine marketing. In this case, businesses do not advertise their products outright but rather use search engine optimization to market products through content creation.
To make this method work well, you should think of the search intent of your potential consumers and how you can create content that is relevant to answering their queries. In simpler terms, businesses are able to reach their potential consumers through strategic content creation. They place their brand names and products within content that answers the questions that potential consumers are likely to search for online.
By providing solutions to the consumer’s problems, marketing specialists are capable of generating a need for their products and converting more leads. For this reason, search engine marketing is one of the most effective methods of BTL marketing.
Although this is a more expensive and slightly outdated form of BTL marketing, distributing merchandise in strategic locations remains relevant. This involves giving away promotional items that usually have some brand logo or other identifiers on them.
Some businesses–such as restaurants and hypermarket stores–hold an event related to the distribution of branded merchandise, often with a more valuable item as the winning prize. This strategy works in two ways: the event itself is a marketing tactic, and the merchandise given away acts as a promotional item that consumers can keep to remember the brand.
One widespread example of marketing merchandise that works well: Restaurants that give away fridge magnets with their phone number on them. The fridge magnets are something that consumers want to keep for aesthetics, and the phone number reminds the consumer to order take-out (even if they didn’t really want to, initially.)
You may think that press conferences are mainly events that politicians schedule, but you’d be mistaken. Press conferences deal chiefly with the public relations of an organization, and serve to increase brand awareness. They can also be used to enhance or change a brand image by influencing consumer perception of the products and the business as a whole.
Generally speaking, there should be a significant reason for holding a press conference. Otherwise, people won’t give you the time of day. At times, such events are held to address a bad situation and remedy the problem. For example, if there is a widespread rumor with false allegations that a product is unsafe, the manufacturer may want to hold a press conference addressing the issue.
However, most marketing strategies that include a press conference are usually about a product launch or changes in a product line. Launching a product line (or changes on existing lines) via a press conference gets more potential consumers interested in the product even before it is released into the market.
In other words, you’ll have more leads to convert.
If you’re launching a new brand (or starting a new business), you might feel like a small fish competing with massive fish. However, small businesses can still get ahead of their brand awareness by including brand activation campaigns as part of their BTL marketing.
A brand activation campaign can be an interactive pop-up store in strategic locations. These could be places where you already know that your target consumer frequently visits, or websites/social media platforms that target consumers are active on.
The idea behind brand activation is to build brand image and identity all at once for a small or relatively unknown brand. This is achieved through six disciplines:
- Influencer marketing: People who have a large following (on social media or other platforms) can influence the purchasing decisions of their followers. Influencer marketing involves recruiting these influencers (celebrities, social media personalities, public figures, etc.) to market a brand.
- Commerce marketing: This involves collaboration between the product or service and its sales funnel.
- Experiential marketing: A type of marketing that focuses on changing consumer perception through their experiences—such as during an event or through loyalty programs.
- Promotional marketing: Here, a brand focuses on promoting the products and informing their target consumers of the benefits they stand to gain from using them.
- Content marketing: Through the creation of a variety of content (audio, video, articles, etc.) brands can inform their potential consumers of their products and persuade them to make a purchase.
- Relationship marketing: Brands should try to build a relationship with consumers by identifying potential repeat customers and focusing on customer retention. This can be through loyalty programs or similar tactics.
Last but not least, an in-store marketing campaign is one of the oldest forms of before-the-line marketing. Brands direct their marketing communication to their consumers by changing the physical space in such a way that appeals to consumers.
In-store marketing also includes promotional marketing communication within the store. A prime example of this strategy would be taste-testing samplers that are distributed for free in a supermarket.
Note that in-store marketing is now modernized to include marketing tactics used on an eCommerce website.
While you might assume that this is an outdated and worthless strategy to pursue, there are a few advantages you should consider:
- In-store marketing allows a physical relationship with consumers that is also experiential. That is, the consumer will remember the experience of tasting the samplers and will likely come back to buy some. They may also remember the “vibe” of a store.
- Browsing customers who enjoy the experience crafted for them by the web designer are more likely to be converted. Instead of going to a store for a specific purchase, a smooth user experience invites customers to browse more. Thus, they are more likely to buy more items.
- In-store marketing includes cross-selling, which is a way of getting already willing customers to make bigger purchases. This tactic works by facilitating impulse buys. For example, laying out candy near the checkout point or by adding a “you may also be interested in—” section on the online check-out page.
- Finally, marketers can use this strategy to introduce new products to browsing customers. This can be through in-store promotional marketing or other tactics that are in line with this strategy.
Disadvantages of BTL Marketing to Consider
- Limited reach: Because you are only engaging with your targeted segments of the market, there are many consumers that you won’t reach. We consider that these are missed opportunities that might have otherwise brought in customers.
- Targeting is complex: Identifying the correct target market segment requires in-depth research and it is easy to target the wrong consumers. Targeting is a complex tactic and many marketers are incapable of mastering properly, which leads to wasted efforts (and funds).
- Require constant monitoring: To get the best out of any BTL marketing strategy, you’ll need to constantly track changes in consumer response to identify your strengths and weakness and adjust accordingly. Compared to ATL strategies, this means putting in a lot more effort into your marketing.
TTL Marketing: Through-the-Line
Once marketers realized that both ATL and BTL marketing is beneficial, it became difficult to choose one over the other. To gain the advantages of both approaches, TTL marketing was developed. This strategy combines the appeal to wide audiences of ATL marketing with the direct and personalized approach of BTL marketing.
While this concept sounds simple enough at first, implementing a TTL strategy can be more complex because marketers need to balance ATL and BTL tactics in order to produce optimal results.
A TTL marketing communication strategy raises brand awareness while simultaneously targeting potential consumers on a personal level.
We’ll take a look at the benefits of combining both strategies in the next section.
Advantages of TTL Marketing
There is a clear consensus among modern marketers that a TTL approach is worth considering. If you are thinking of implementing it in your marketing plan, think of the following advantages to make an informed decision.
- Personalized marketing with higher reach: The integrated methodology of this type of marketing allows businesses to target a large portion of the market with appropriate messages. This means reaching a higher percentage of potential consumers.
- Improved ROI: Due to the combination of approaches, TTL marketing offers the return on investment that the BTL strategy provides, albeit at a different pace.
- Instant tracking: The feedback on a TTL marketing strategy is almost instantaneous, just as with a BTL strategy. You can make adjustments accordingly—even for mass marketing
- Affordable: Although it’s not the most cost-effective marketing tactic, TTL marketing communication is still relatively affordable for most businesses.
How to Implement TTL Marketing Activities
TTL marketing activities are more than just merely a combination of ATL and BTL campaigns. Proper integration of the two requires finesse. Here are two examples to consider implementing:
This means running two simultaneous campaigns in tandem: ATL and BTL. The key here is that both campaigns need to complement each other in order to see positive results. To be more specific, this is a marketing plan that intends to reach targeted audiences through multiple media communications.
For example, you can identify your target market (just as in a BTL plan) and then distribute pamphlets, social media content, and TV adverts (consistent with an ATL plan) that should reach the target audience at once.
In this type of TTL marketing, a brand or business can reach its target consumer through various online methods. The difference between social media marketing (BTL) and digital marketing is that you would not focus on targeting too much here. That is, you would create content in hopes of reaching the target consumer but no content is specifically made for them.
Disadvantages of TTL Marketing to Consider
You may be thinking that the obvious choice between ATL, BTL, and TTL marketing is TTL. It’s true that you would be getting the advantages of the first two, but there are still a few disadvantages you should consider. Here are a few:
- Complex: As you can imagine, integrating two vastly different strategic methods can be complex and difficult for the average marketer to implement. TTL marketing is usually reserved for brands and companies that can afford to spend the resources they have on such a complex task.
- Unfocused: If not implemented correctly, the variety of channels that are used in TTL marketing can weaken the marketing messages that you are trying to send. This might result in losing the focus of your target consmers.
- Difficult to measure ROI: Given that you would be using multiple channels to reach your target audience, it’s more challenging to measure the results. While you may get instant feedback from your consumers, tracking which channel is giving you the best results is not straightforward.
- Time-consuming: In TTL marketing, you would be creating content for multiple channels, which would expend your time and other resources which might be better allocated elsewhere.
Conclusion: Which Marketing Strategy is the Best?
For most brands nowadays, TTL marketing is the most suitable option. However, there is no definite answer when it comes to choosing between ATL, BTL, and TTL marketing.
We always recommend that you take a look at your business needs, budget, and overall vision for the brand. After all, it won’t make sense to market your products through ATL marketing communication strategies if you already know that the market for your product is very exclusive and it would be better to target a small audience.
To find the best strategy for your brand or business, we suggest a thorough marketing analysis. Consider your target audience, budget, marketing goals, and the message you want to convey.