Online investment and offline sales - How do you track ROI?

Online investment and offline sales - How do you track ROI?

We’ve recently heard from a number of businesses who are unsure how to track the effects of online marketing on offline purchasing behaviour.

If you’re wondering the same thing, rest assured you’re not missing out on something obvious. it’s a conundrum that leaves many businesses, large and small, scratching their heads. Here are some ways of getting around the problem.

Ask Google
Yes, Google has reportedly been collecting up data about offline purchases and linking them to online user IDs and web histories, aided by Mastercard. So in theory, you could seamlessly track an individual’s journey from ad view to in-store purchase. If you haven’t heard about this, it’s not surprising – neither have the 70% of US credit and debit card customers the information has been collected on, according to TheNextWeb.

The Store Sales Measurement feature is currently “available to a limited number of advertisers” according to Google, and Mastercard is denying all knowledge of the shared customer data. So although it’s an interesting indicator of where the technology is headed in the future, the service won’t be for everyone.

To turn to another Google facility, there’s the Maps app, which can be used to link online ad views to store visits. Given the dominance of Google Maps and the reach of its ad network, linking up views and visits is an idea with legs, although it’s not going to be precise enough for some businesses who want an exact one-to-one match between clicks and sales.

Leverage customer loyalty
The classic link between offline purchasing and customer tracking is the loyalty card. The customer swipes their card at purchase, identifying themselves to your business, and at the same time they earn points or receive special offers based on their preferences. Tesco, Boots, Nectar/Sainsburys, Waitrose & Partners and many others have turned this into a fine art, with some long-standing loyalty cards attaining a brand status in their own right.

To turn your loyalty cards into an offline ad conversions tool, you need to be able to match your customer’s data to an online identifier that will also track their interactions with your ads. This might mean leaving a cookie on their device when the customer is logged into your website. You can then link their ID with ad views and clicks across a wide network of websites, and see who has viewed an ad and subsequently made an in-store purchase – provided they swiped their loyalty card, of course.

Loyalty schemes are a viable option for large retail businesses with the resources to build an ecosystem that pays out in the long term, but they’re likely to be too cumbersome and costly for small businesses, or those with a smaller numbers of higher-spend customers.

Vouchers and discount codes
If you’re looking for a tried-and-tested approach, you can use ad-specific discount codes to track which ads brought the customer into your store. For example, if they quote a code or show an on-screen QR voucher that’s unique to them, your retail staff can scan it and then link the ad to the purchase.

This strategy does the job in terms of connecting an online visit with an offline purchase, but it has the disadvantage of always being linked to a discount. You need to give the customer an incentive, or why else would they bother to recite a code or open your promo email in store? A more sustainable option might be…

Social mentions and hashtags
Invite customers to hashtag their purchases in posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or even Tumblr if you’re that way inclined). This is a real sweet spot for fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands where the target customer is online savvy and the purchase is aspirational and exciting – something they’re already motivated to share with the world.

Tatty Devine does this to great effect with its #mytattydevine hashtag. Customers receive a printed card inside their jewellery packaging, inviting them to share and tag photos of an outfit incorporating their new jewellery. Interestingly, there’s no prize or reward offered for the use of the hashtag, but it still receives a healthy number of users – over 30,000 on our last count.

Why is online to offline such a big leap?
Digital marketing has been around for a good while now, but there’s still a significant sticking point when it comes to connecting online campaigns up with real-world sales. There’s a good reason for that. Offline sales are in-person sales, and are inextricably linked to a human being’s physical presence and personal identity. They’re very difficult to anonymise.

At the same time, the digital marketing industry has immensely powerful and specific tracking and data collection in place as standard. It’s somewhat controversial of course, but the one thing that maintains the basic acceptability of companies holding this much personal data is that it’s anonymous.

Linking online data with offline purchases removes that cloak of anonymity, leaving the customer very exposed indeed. As with so much of the debate around tech and marketing, the crux of the matter is privacy. Opted in, aware and enthusiastic customers – like those hashtagging Tatty Devine for example – may be the magic bridge the industry has been looking for.   

Talk to the tree
We’ve supported clients from all kinds of business areas in bridging the gap between online and off, with recent projects including Spatone and RESCUE, both in the beauty and wellness sector, where we used online activity to successfully drive offline purchasing behaviour. If you’d like to chat to us about your marketing strategy, get in touch.