Depending on how much research you have been doing into your marketing strategy, you might have come across the terms 'ATL', BTL' and 'TTL'. You'll usually see these letters before the word 'Advertising', although they are also used in conjunction with 'marketing' and 'promotion' too (in this post I'll be using 'marketing', however the content will apply to the other terms also).
Anyway, I thought I'd write a post that will clearly define these terms, provide examples of each method and then discuss whether or not these terms are relevant to small business owners now.
The terms might seem confusing at the moment, although as we'll see by the end of this post, they are really easy to get to grips with and the chances are that you are already using at least one of them in your current marketing efforts.
Apparently, the terms ATL and BTL were first used in 1954 after Proctor and Gamble began paying advertising firms separately (and at a different rate) from other suppliers who dealt with more direct promotional efforts. In effect, marketing that was more broad in nature was separated from marketing that was more direct in nature.
The term TTL is a relatively recent one, although to be honest I am unsure of exactly when this was first used. In any case the term TTL was likely coined to explain a more integrated marketing approach, which combines both the widespread and direct approaches, rather than the traditional ATL/BTL distinction.
Definitions Of ATL, BTL And TTL
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Here is a brief description of the terms mentioned above - we'll then go on to look at a few examples a bit further down this post.
'ATL Marketing' stands for 'Above The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is the kind of marketing that has a very broad reach and is largely untargeted. Think about a national TV campaign, where viewers across the nation see the same advert aired across the various networks.
This kind of marketing is mostly used for building brand awareness and goodwill.
'BTL Marketing' stands for 'Below The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is the kind of marketing that targets specific groups of people with focus. For example, a leaflet drop in a specific area, a Google Adwords campaign targeting a certain group or a direct telemarketing campaign targeting specific businesses.
This kind of marketing is best for conversions and direct response.
'TTL Marketing' stands for 'Through The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is really an integrated approach, where a company would use both BTL and ATL marketing methods to reach their customer base and generate conversions. It might seem obvious, although not all marketing campaigns are like this - some are ATL only and some are BTL only (it would be much more common to see a BTL-only marketing campaign in practice though).
This kind of marketing delivers both a wide reach and a focus on conversions.
Examples Of ATL, BTL And TTL Marketing
An Example Of An 'Above The Line Marketing' Campaign
An example of Above The Line marketing would be a television campaign run by a cereal company. The ad would be aired across the nation, with every viewer seeing the exact same message. As mentioned above, this kind of marketing would be used to build general brand awareness of the business and/or it's products over the long term as well as goodwill.
An Example Of A 'Below The Line Marketing' Campaign
The same cereal company could also run a direct marketing campaign in a large city, targeting commuters on the way to work. They might offer free cereal samples along with vouchers that could be used in a local store. This would be a strategy designed to target a specific group of people and to try and encourage quick purchases, or conversions.
A similar example of this that you might have seen before is the Red Bull Mini (shown below).
An Example Of A 'Through The Line Marketing' Campaign
Again, the same cereal company could launch a nationwide Youtube campaign, which would show different video ads to different users according to where the users lived and what their interests were, along with a promo code for a discount on purchases made online through their website.
As you can see, this is a combination of both of the other forms - ATL in terms of it's wide reach, BTL in terms of its targeted nature and conversion focus.
A Few Visual Examples
Here are a couple of adverts that might help explain this in more detail:
ATL Marketing Example Image
As you can see, this advert is geared toward raising brand awareness and would likely have a vast reach. There is no direct response element here, so it can't be considered BTL or TTL.
BTL Marketing Example Image
The Red Bull Mini is a great example of a BTL marketing campaign - free samples are given face-to-face to people in local towns and cities.
TTL Marketing Example Image
This kind of appeal is normally aired nationally, is useful for building brand awareness and of course has the direct response element included. Therefore, it can be considered 'through the line'.
I guess that they would all be relevant to small businesses, depending on the business, the type of product they have and the target audience they have in mind. For example, BTL marketing can sometimes be the best solution for a small business serving a local catchment area.
However, if I'm thinking about the most ideal solution for the average small business owner that's trying to serve a wider area, I'd have to say that TTL marketing was the most relevant these days.
The reason for this is that - put simply - TTL marketing is really just another way of describing a well designed, integrated marketing campaign. You're using some marketing channels with a wide reach to draw prospects into other channels that are designed focus on conversion.
So, in that respect, it's probably not worth worrying too much about the terms if you already have a fully developed, multi-channel marketing plan in place that helps to increase your overall brand awareness while targeting individual segments/prospects with direct response efforts once you have them in your funnel.
A successful integrated/TTL marketing campaign gives small businesses the reach and focus on conversions that can mean a very successful overall marketing campaign. Plus, as small business owners, we now have the tools and resources at our disposal to run truly effective TTL marketing campaigns, such as social media networks, sites such as YouTube as well as PPC platforms such as Adwords. They give us the reach and the focus to implement marketing strategies that have a wide reach, yet narrow focus.
However, the following points are probably worth bearing in mind when thinking about this in practice:
- Keep it digital - printed advertising/TV slots and radio are very expensive, and difficult to measure
- Digital methods such as PPC and social media allow national coverage, but in a very targeted way to suit small business needs and budgets
- Digital methods are easy to track and measure, meaning less waste and more chance of success
- All of your marketing messages should be consistent and clear at every stage - TTL campaigns work because they get the point across well all the way from brand building to conversion
Hopefully this post has given you a good idea of the differences between ATL, BTL and TTL marketing and what they mean for your business - let me know on Twitter if you have any questions or if you have anything to add :-)
Also, if you're looking into ATL, BTL and TTL, you might find this post on AIDCA useful.
Thanks for reading,
By Alan MacDougall
Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.