Measuring Offline Channels with Digital

Communications Digital Strategy Article
20 mins

One of the great advantages digital marketing has over offline marketing is that digital is inherently more measurable. When a customer is served your display ad in their web browser, you can see if they’ve seen or clicked it, and whether or not they bought your product or signed up for your newsletter after doing so.

So just how can you get the same level of insight into the impact of your ad in a bus stop? Of course, you can’t – not quite.

It’s hard to envisage the day when offline measurement can be as precise as its digital counterpart. However, thanks in no small part to improving digital measurement methods, marketers are getting much better at measuring the impact of offline channels. Far from killing offline marketing, digital is enhancing our use of offline channels.

In this article, we’re going to identify some of the digital methods and ideas marketers are using to measure offline activity. Hopefully, you’ll all be able to take away some fresh ideas to add your marketing strategies:

Campaign-specific URLs and discount codes

Let’s start with something eminently easy and actionable.

We all know there are moments when an offline ad is more appropriate than a digital one. Whether it’s down to the audience, the context or the content, offline advertising remains an ideal fit for all sorts of campaigns.

But while arguing for the efficacy of offline is a cinch, proving it remains problematic.

We can’t holistically track print ad conversions because we don’t have a comprehensive view of the customer’s interactions with the ad. Of course, with digital ads, we can use conversion snippets and tracking cookies to create an overview.

But never fear, offline marketer – there are some well-established tactics we can use to encourage people who see our marketing in the offline world to enter into our digital field of vision.

Primary among these is the use of campaign-specific URLs and online discount codes. These two features can be used in isolation, but are especially effective in tandem.

Implementing a campaign-specific URL is simple:

  1. Create a dedicated landing page for your campaign (or, if you prefer, create a re-direct URL or microsite)
  2. Add the landing page/microsite URL to your offline marketing, e.g. posters, billboards, TV ads
  3. Measure direct traffic to your site (and perhaps also organic search traffic that used keywords closely linked to your campaign)

The data you gather won’t be suitable for comparison with data on digital campaigns, but it will provide a resource for comparing different offline campaigns.

Online discount codes play into this strategy as an added incentive for the user to visit the site. If your code is unique to the source of offline advertising then it also helps you to attribute the online activity to the offline promotion. If you have something suitable up your sleeve, they could be replaced in this strategy by an online competition, an exclusive sale, or something comparably juicy.

Social media-based metrics can also provide some indication of effectiveness. For instance, you might add a dedicated hashtag and measure its usage.

Measuring footfall to evaluate digital campaigns

There’s an old adage that shoppers vote with their feet. Well, the votes are finally being counted.

Footfall sensors are now widely in use by high street brands. They detect the movement of customers entering and exiting the building and feed that data to store managers, operations teams, finance departments and so on. The data they gather can be interpreted to improve our local digital marketing campaigns.

Imagine you’ve just rolled out a geo-targeted Snapchat filter – or any other type of local campaign – to people in the vicinity of your store. The footfall data your footfall sensors gather immediately after the campaign goes live could provide a fascinating insight into the campaign’s efficacy. Of course, other factors can always influence footfall, so you have to take a slightly broader view of any numbers to make sense of the data and spot any correlation.

Like just about any data, this approach will be more useful for identifying long-term trends – e.g. geo-targeted marketing providing an average footfall bump of X% within 2 days. Once again, if you can link your promotion to a redeemable code that can be used in a store which is only promoted via the promotion medium you are wanting to track, then the correlation can be much more closely followed.

Here is a shining example of the complex inter-relatedness that now exists between offline and digital. On the simplest level, you can use technology to measure offline footfall; but at the same time, you can dig deeper by using the same data to measure the impact of digital and other marketing on store visits.

If you want to use digital tools simply for the purpose of logging performance, that’s all well and good – but there’s more to be gained by using improving measurement technologies to gain novel insights.

Applying the digital measurement ideas to offline measurement

Now, this brings us to what we regard as a very important point: by making in-depth measurement possible, digital has changed the way marketers think.

As marketers, we have always thought ourselves a creative bunch, and hopefully, we always will – but since digital came along, the profile of the ideal marketer has shifted to include more analytical or scientific traits.

We’ve come up with a whole cornucopia of ways to measure all things digital, and though we never used some of these techniques before digital, many of them are backwards compatible with offline marketing. Purely for thought-sparking purposes, here’s how we might re-purpose some aspects of these built-for-digital ideas to measure an offline campaign:

Single Customer View

Perhaps the most important digital marketing phenomenon of recent years is the Single Customer View. In a SCV, you can see all the data you have on a customer, from across all your digital marketing channels, gathered in the same place.

You almost certainly can’t apply an SCV to all your offline customers, because for the most part, you won’t have a way of accessing the required level of detail on the people your offline marketing reaches. What you can do however is begin to link offline activity to your single customer view data. Doing so can be as simple as offering digital receipts at time of purchase. Customers value a digital receipt because unlike their paper counterpart, they don’t get lost or put through the wash. The great thing for your single customer view is that the digital receipt can be emailed. That gives you a customer reference point for the offline transaction, and will greatly help to fill in some of the offline customer activity. The key to success with this technique is ensuring your offline sales teams are all consistent in offering email receipts.

You can also make use of some of the thinking behind SCV to inform your offline marketing decisions at audience group – rather than single customer – level.

Imagine you’re placing print ads in two different publications. Your market research tells you that there’s an exceptional level of audience overlap between the two – let’s say that 80% of those who read one will also read the other. You can accordingly apply the same thinking that’s behind SCV to this situation.

In other words, you could consider your marketing across these channels to be loosely sequential or cumulative – just like B2C communications in a Single Customer View. This perspective may open up interesting new possibilities for your offline campaigns – e.g. isolated selling points in each ad; a sense of narrative from-ad-to-ad, etc.

Cross-channel funnels

We’re not talking ferries here. A cross-channel funnel is a sales sequence involving multiple B2C communication channels – sometimes crossing between digital and online.

Broadly speaking, offline marketing is becoming increasingly attuned to the possibilities of working intertextually with digital channels and it makes perfect sense that it should. We doubt your customers label themselves as an offline or an online customer, so why should you view your communications to them through this rather silo-ed lense? Remember that cheeky-yet-so-very-clever Google Home-triggering Burger King advert from a few months back?

Over the coming years, marketers will continue to grab column inches – and customers’ attention – by inventing new and entertaining ways to stagger their communication funnels across a combination of digital and offline channels.

A/B testing

You could be forgiven for believing that A/B measurement techniques are a digital discipline, but in fact, these marketing techniques were created and pioneered by print classified Advert innovators in the early 20th century. It is, of course, a bit more time consuming to set up than its digital equivalent, but the results can be very illuminating if you take the time to construct the experiment and gather the data for review.

A/B tests tell digital marketers what works best in a given context. For example, we might identify a few different random samples from our email marketing list, and then serve those samples the same email – but with a different header on each. By looking at which of the two emails gets the best click-through rate (or whatever other conversions we’re aiming for), we can ascertain which is the better header to send out to the rest of our customers.

A/B testing is a digital discipline, but it can also pay dividends in your offline marketing.

Try setting up an A/B experiment using the unique URL/discount code technique we discussed earlier in this article. Select some small samples from the same audience (e.g. readers of the same newspaper) and serve alternative versions of the same ad to each (i.e. with different call-to-action copy). This will, of course, require some flexibility on the part of the advertising provider.

You will now be able to see which approach to your advert resulted in the most direct traffic to your dedicated campaign landing page. This insight can be used to improve the current campaign, and also to engineer more effective campaigns for the same audience in future.

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