3 Alternatives for Attributing Offline Sales
Implementing any sales attribution system is difficult, to say the least. With digital and mobile channels dominating the purchase path of today’s consumer, many attribution approaches rely heavily on online data. Consumer packaged goods companies, in particular, struggle to attribute offline sales to their digital and other marketing efforts. The retail purchase data they need to make those correlations is out of reach.
Therefore, it’s imperative for companies that don’t sell directly to consumers to find alternate attribution models to learn whether their marketing initiatives (and, more important, which ones) create offline purchases. Here are three options to consider:
1. Purchase panel studies: The most accurate, and most expensive, offline attribution option is purchase panel studies. Using large consumer panels, providers such as Nielsen Catalina Solutions or IRI track and measure panelists’ media consumption, marketing exposure and retail purchase activity to help companies determine whether and how their marketing efforts affect retail sales.
For example, a toy manufacturer that wants to understand the impact of its email marketing on in-store sales would use a purchase panel study to create two panelist groups of its target audience: a test group of those who open company emails and a control group of those who do not. By comparing the two groups’ purchase activity, the toy manufacturer could measure the value of its email marketing on in-store sales. Unfortunately, the correlation isn’t always exact with panel studies because a given test group may not accurately reflect the behavior of the larger target market of consumers.
2. Mobile panels: A lower-cost, but less precise option is to use mobile device location data to track and measure in-store traffic as a proxy for sales. Consumers’ mobile location or GPS data is matched against specific retail locations — the assumption being that if consumers visit a store, they’re buying.
Two approaches to capturing this data are mobile consumer panels and mobile ad requests. For example, a baby stroller company could use a mobile panel provider to study the GPS data of panelists exposed to the company’s advertising and those panelists’ in-store traffic at the company’s retail outlets. The other approach is to use digital media-buying tools to capture the location data included with mobile or in-app ad requests to measure store traffic.
The drawback of these approaches, of course, is that mobile GPS data isn’t accurate enough or precise enough to isolate the specific store a person entered or to identify which specific product a consumer purchases, if any.
3. Post-purchase surveys: The simplest, lowest-cost option for offline attribution is the post-purchase survey. They may not be high-tech, but post-purchase surveys can help qualitatively determine whether your marketing efforts (and which of them) are driving offline sales. Companies can capture consumer survey data a number of ways by using online survey tools, social media, email and website forms. Some providers also offer this service in-store at the time of purchase.
While survey respondents may not always remember exactly what spurred their purchases, those who do recall marketing exposures or activities can help brands know whether their efforts are on the right track.
While relating offline sales directly to marketing may be difficult, each of these attribution options can help. The accuracy or relevance of each method may differ for each company, but by choosing a method that aligns with your objectives and budget, you can keep an eye on which campaigns are working and which aren’t.
Doug Breuer oversees Response Media’s operations, financial systems, human resources and marketing disciplines.