Online to Offline attribution — Does it work?

(P.S: This post is qualitative in nature.)

Many consumers start any buying activity with a search online, but typically go to a store to check out the product and even buy it there. Does this mean that the walk-in was triggered by the online search or did the digital (re)marketing campaign work effectively? This has been a question dodging marketers from the time online advertising became popular and started occupying a decent portion of their budgets.

Nearly 85–90% of commerce still happens in brick & mortar retailers even today. So, addressing the issue of attribution becomes critically important for anyone who wants to get companies to spend their effort and money on online marketing. Getting Brands, Retailers & consumers to understand that online ads (mostly mobile) is critical for them will become key for continued investment in this area. Hence, providing convincing measurement analytics which can lead to proper attribution will become more important than it was earlier. The technologies used at this moment primarily use smartphone apps or web technologies that can operate within the realms of a smartphone. This means that the data is always extrapolative and not definitive as they will rely on whether people have allowed those apps to track them in the background.

According to Google Micro-moments study, close to 82% of people use their smartphones just before they are going to make a purchase at the store.

The world is going mobile, and location will be the basic building block of future advertisements.

Two companies that are ideally placed to handle this issue are Facebook & Google with their apps and the amount of consumer data that they currently hold with them. However, they both have data that is slightly complementary to each other. Google has a lot of location/movement data while Facebook has a lot of data on consumer usage.

Google I/O – Contextual APIs

There is work happening around Awareness/Nearby APIs at Google and on using ‘Ads nearby’ by Facebook. But, at this moment Facebook does not properly know about the retail destination while Google does not know about what the person did at the retail destination. (With Snap & PlaceIQ things might become more competitive in the future.). Another issue for most advertisers (especially small-mid-size) is that they have no clear way of verifying the data provided by Google or Facebook.

Proximity Data:

The last few years has see the evolution of proximity data from being a good tool for analysis to being an useful parameter for making business decisions on how to tailor campaigns/information. There are different technologies that are in various stages of use, but the 3 more popular seem to be the usage of Bluetooth Beacons, In-Store WiFi & using GPS in case a smartphone App is in use. A brief on using Bluetooth Beacons is below. I will follow up on WiFi & GPS later.

Using Bluetooth Beacons & Google Nearby:

One way to measure foot traffic that can be attributed to the Online ad is to use Beacons & your own app (or use 3rd parties apps within legal limits) to measure the in-store traffic. If someone who clicked on the ad walks in, then using the data generated by the app it should be possible to at least identify that the same person walked into the store. However, this would still mean that we don’t know about user intentions, but this would at least be a step forward. This should be possible both with Google AdWords & Facebook Pixel/Business.

Last year, Google introduced the Physical Web service which runs on Chrome or as part of apps. This presents a smart way of tracking offline visits to a store by an user who clicked on the online ad, provided the user clicks on the Nearby or Physical Web notification that pops up when the user is in-store. This is an comparatively easier way for tracking the visit as it does not need an app installation, but still needs user participation.

Google Nearby is another interesting way to connect with consumers in proximity. Nearby works as part of Google Play Services which would mean that every Android Phone in the world is a customer for these messages.

Location based Digital Ads, wherein the visibility is limited to a few kilometers of an outlet, using Geofencing can lead to higher conversion rates if used at the correct time. Given that these ads can be served not just around the store but also in places where consumers of the store frequent, an optimization of the ad for a specific location can lead to higher returns for every dollar spent.

Given that clearer attribution will become as important as a ‘Click’ on an online ad, this area is going to become more competitive and exciting going forward. We will probably see more sophisticated deployment of proximity systems or smartphones becoming smarter to provide businesses with that data. Proximity Data has to become more granular & definitive for retailers of varied sizes to use them as part of their business decision making.

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