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4 Methods for Linking Online Ad Dollars to Offline Sales

You’ve been doing research for your new flat panel TV. You’ve looked around online, clicking on search results and the following display ads as the networks learn that you’re “in market”. You marvel at the targeting, if only for a minute. You finally decide on the model you want, punch in your credit card and select “Pick up in Store”. You’re getting your TV today! You hop in your car, park in “Customer Pickup” and walk in.

Your heart sinks. The store never received your order. They have no idea that you paid online.

Why would the company you know and love, in both the physical and the online world, not keep up with you when you moved from one channel to another? As a consumer, this kind of disconnect would be simply unacceptable. So why accept it as an online advertiser with your real-world locations? You are spending thousands of ad dollars every day that help seed offline transactions, yet you are not taking the steps to tie the online and offline worlds back together.

Obviously, a technological disconnect between the online and physical world is one of the biggest stumbling blocks here. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t put systems in place to get a solid idea of how your online efforts are directly affecting offline sales & conversions.

Nothing New Under the Sun… or maybe….

Ideas for tracking sales from “clicks” to “bricks” are, quite literally, all over the map. What we are going to do here is break down four distinct ideas in order to give you clear and easy answers to the inevitable question from your boss: “How are our online ad dollars driving our brick & mortar locations?” After all, both the online and offline sides of the business are talking to the same customer.

Click Here and See Us in The Morning

Method 1: Define A Proxy for Success
The easiest and most elementary way to begin to understand how many customers are crossing over from online to offline is to establish a KPI on the website that is a proxy for success. What is the last step that a customer is likely to make on your site before they venture to your business in the real world?

For a retailer, it might be a search for a store location, allowing the site to identify their location (in the case of mobile) or printing off a map with directions to the nearest location. For a vacation destination or attraction, it might mean accessing a page to look for locations near a specific address or venue. For a service related business, it might mean having a unique telephone number or a page where clients can schedule appointments for consultations.

Although this method benefits from its ease of implementation, it’s not very precise. After all, a map click doesn’t necessarily translate to a purchase. So, what’s a more detailed way to track a purchaser?

Why Don’t You Tell Us What Works?

Method 2: Coupon Redemption
It would seem like the best way to understand which online channels are driving the most online business would be to simply ask your customers what worked best for them. Trouble is, this is one case
where the customer is not always right. We find that customers are notoriously unaware when it comes to which behaviors led them to you, which makes surveys unreliable and inaccurate. What your customers need is a tool to remind them of how they found you.

The most common way to facilitate this exchange of information is to ask the customer to print off a coupon, certificate or a map that they can bring with them into the store and redeem for a gift, promotion or a good ole, “atta boy”. It’s easy to embed all the details of the source of their visit into a dynamic code right on the coupon. This information can either be fed into a POS system or collected and mailed to the home office for counting and evaluation.

On the plus side, this method is still rather easy to implement and manage. It allows advertisers the flexibility to track to a granular level, whether that is to the online marketing channel or to a specific search keyword or display creative.

Although this is one the most common ways of tracking spillover to brick and mortar locations, providing a coupon may bias the results by encouraging more shoppers to buy in store than would otherwise. We can balance this if the discount is allowed to be used online or off, although by limiting the discount to in store use only, the higher AOVs that may result from upsells may help to offset the discount that you’ve offered.

My Region is Better Than Your Region

Method 3: Push/Pull Marketing & Holdout Testing
Testing spillover by split testing by geographic region or DMA requires the advertiser to make some tough decisions that will impact in-store sales by varying degrees. This can present a different set of challenges from within the company.

For this sort of testing, the advertiser segments out different regions that are similar in size, demographics , and store mix. You can then selectively test store spillover by increasing incremental ad spend in one region while maintaining or decreasing spend in its counterpart.

The idea here is to determine the extent to which an increase in online ad spend results in an increase in brick and mortar sales. This sort of test can be implemented program-wide, or you can limit it to specific categories and monitor the impact for just those categories in the test regions.

The biggest challenge this method presents is properly accounting for and limiting extrinsic variables in the setup and analysis. Because we are looking for a subtle signal within the noise, this approach also requires a longer time commitment and may require repeated tests to ensure accuracy.

Check It Out!

Method 4: POS & Survey Integration

We’ve written about how to leverage pixel tracking technologies in your call centers to understand what orders have been seeded by search. (RKG.co/phonetracking) But did you know you can now use this same approach to track phone orders that were seeded by a myriad of online channels that go far beyond search? At RKG we bring this same technology to our industry-leading Attribution Platform, allowing you to keep track of conversion activity across multiple online channels. Interested in more details? Give Ryan a call or drop him an email to learn more. ryan@rimmkaufman.com 434-220-5210

Many retailers already capture an email at the POS system and send customers a thank-you note after they purchase in the store. With a little additional IT work, retailers can include a pixel from the online marketing program in that email. Once the customer opens his or her email, the pixel can look for previous online marketing touches and tie them to information in the email, which might  include the order number, sales dollars, or store ID.

We can also take a similar approach without capturing an email address at POS. By providing a link to a customer experience survey at the bottom of their receipts, retailers can connect the online ad dollars with the store sales dollars for those customers who go to the survey and submit their opinions. From a technical perspective, the survey submission can work just like an order submission, firing a pixel that seeks out touches from your online marketing campaigns and tying them with the offline order information that was linked by the receipt.

In these cases, survey response rates can often be improved by offering a coupon code to those who complete the survey. However, there is a danger here that even a small discount can bias the pool of respondents – perhaps giving the impression that searchers on “cheap” and “discount” terms tend to spill over into stores at greater rates.

There’s not much downside to leveraging these types of tracking methods. Data can be included directly into the analyses of the programs. Technical implementation of the survey, email and/or pixel typically tends to be the limiting factor to the adoption of this method.

Tactics That Apply Across Industries

Although originally conceived to handle the challenge of offline conversions for retailers, these same approaches also work well for service industries, destination locations, insurance and finance.

Let’s use a museum as an example. When reservations are booked offline, sending an email with a follow-up survey not only demonstrates great customer service, it can also help you look for clicks and marketing touches that occurred before the visit, helping the museum to better evaluate its online ad spend.

These tactics can also be applied to more complex situations, where the local brick and mortar location may be a franchisee. For instance, if online ad dollars from the national brand are supporting local franchisees’ offine businesses, the national parent company can email a survey to the franchisee customers to not only confirm the quality of service, but to also verify that the national marketing dollars are effectively supporting local franchisees.

For financial advisors or insurance companies, printing a welcome certificate from online to take into a physical branch can help the local agent to tie in the right source codes into a CRM system. A small token for the certificate can encourage printing and delivery.

Once they visit, follow up emails or thank you certificates emailed to the customer can connect to marketing touches. Leveraging both methods, with a smart de-duplication process on the back end, can ensure that more online touches are connected to the value they are driving.

Have you tried another idea for tying together offline conversions that has worked well for you? Share your ideas in our comments section!

This piece originally appeared in RKG’s just released Dossier 3.3.  Dossier is a quarterly print publication filled with original articles detailing best-of-breed strategy and encouraging a data-driven approach to online marketing.  To sign up for updates on Dossier or to review past issues, check out our Dossier page here.  If you’re already on our Dossier mailing list, you should be receiving the latest edition soon!

  • Ryan Gibson
    Ryan Gibson is EVP, Marketing Strategy at RKG.
  • Comments
    2 Responses to “4 Methods for Linking Online Ad Dollars to Offline Sales”
    1. BienTek says:

      Ryan,

      Good tactics!

      For those considering implementing pixel tracking in their own CRMs: it would be a nontrivial challenge. You would need to get the customer to open the email and perhaps give their email client permission to download your images, too. At that point, the pixel is making a server request to your server’s IP address for tracking. The more quickly the customer opens your email, the more statistical confidence your CRM has in knowing the IP maps to that customer, and not some other customer with the same IP.

      Alternatively, if the customer clicks a survey link, cookies and/or IP address can be used to determine the customer’s original session source, which is mapped to the referring lead source. A combination of unique discount codes and surveys will help track the customer to the referring source.

      It is a real technical challenge for those considering implementing tracking themselves!

    2. Hi Ryan, I’m curious. Any suggestion on how to implement the Method 2? Thanks.