Tracking and attributing digital’s impact on retail store sales has eluded marketers for years. It’s getting better but it’s still not perfect. In the meantime, there are a couple of approaches to tell retail marketers what the offline impact is to their online marketing – with increasing degrees of accuracy, of course.
The first thing you can do to attribute digital to offline sales is to isolate a couple of markets, ensure you have a predictable baseline of sales, and then add digital marketing. Any lift you experience can theoretically be attributed to the digital marketing stimulus.
Of course, the problem with this approach is ensuring that something else didn’t occur in that market to give you a false positive (or a false negative). The other problem is then extrapolating those distinct market results to other dissimilar markets.
The next slightly more accurate approach is utilizing a media-mix modeling approach. This advanced analytics technique allows a marketer to determine the relative contribution of any channel to their overall business performance. I highly recommend this approach because not only can you determine the relative contribution of digital (or any other channel), but you can also see the relative contribution of the combination of various channels to business performance.
The drawbacks to this approach are cost, timing and data requirements. While highly effective, you need a minimum of two years of daily sales data plus the same time period of detailed media plans, and these models can be costly. The other problem is that they can be predictive, so long as the historical variables haven’t changed dramatically and that includes product pricing, creative strategy, and more. We all know that variables are changing constantly. As a result, the predictive nature of the model becomes less reliable. However, less reliable is still better than guessing.
Next up is the highly reliable coupon method. Yes, people still use coupons. It used to be that people looked in their Sunday newspaper for coupons. Now, however, they have them in their email, on the brand’s main domain or on a variety of coupon sites.
Again, this is not perfect, but a coupon redemption is highly correlative to a channel’s impact on a sale. This is particularly true when the coupon is only available through a promoted digital placement and has a relatively small window of availability to the consumer. The reason for the fast expiration date is two-fold. First, you want to drive an immediate sale, and the second is you don’t want the coupon redemption to be a false-positive because the consumer just pulled it from a coupon site and didn’t see your digital advertising.
There are a couple of other options that require credit card integration or loyalty program implementations. They both have the same success and failure points as any other approach available right now. If you have either of these in place, you’ve likely solved the attribution question to a large degree, already.
There are some interesting things on the horizon with Google accessing credit card data in real time or near-real time and connecting it back to ads served to that consumer. This capability is a lot closer than we think. Despite the privacy concerns this will inevitably raise, we’re not that far away from being able to answer these questions definitively.
In the meantime, these three approaches outlined above are all viable options that answer the question of how much in retail store sales is being driven by online advertising.