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This post is part of the #JUMPchallenge, a blogging competition designed to raise awareness of how to join up online and offline marketing, launched to support Econsultancy’s JUMP event.

This post is by Merinda Peppard, and was originally published on the Efficient Frontier blog... 

Research from Ofcom shows that people squeeze nine hours of multi-media use in to seven hours of media usage a day. That’s a lot of simultaneous surfing, texting and viewing. It’s also a massive opportunity for retailers to cross-promote their products.

Many TV adverts now encourage viewers to visit the website for the best deals, or to search for a specific phrase. The issue for retailers is how to track the resulting sales back to its marketing ‘trigger’.

Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario one

 Jim is desperate for a 3D TV. He knows that it’s going to be a big purchase and isn’t certain about what he will get for his money, as the technology is so new. So, Jim decides that he’ll do an online search for ‘3D TVs’, which brings back details about various models currently available.

From this search Jim finds out that Samsung has a TV on the market, and that it is currently in a few high street stores. Jim heads into town to see the TV in action, aware that it’s a lot of money to spend on a TV, and wanting to be sure of his decision. He gets home even more certain that 3D is the right choice for him, but knows that he saw the TV cheaper online. So he goes straight to the high street retailer’s website and clicks on the product he viewed in the shop that afternoon. 

While the retailer will be able to track that Jim visited the website and purchased a product online, most won’t have a system in place to show them that going to the shop played a part in his decision to buy, nor that it was a paid search link that prompted him to go to the shop. 

Scenario two

Jane needs a new laptop. After spending a while searching online for the best make and model for her needs, she sets her heart on a MacBook. But Jane’s old laptop weighed a tonne and she had to be sure that the new one didn’t, so she headed down town to see it for herself. While there she decided to buy the laptop there and then, avoiding the wait for delivery.

In this example, most retailers won’t know that it was their online activity that prompted Jane to buy in-store. And yet research that we saw presented by Yahoo! indicates that as much as 63% of sales researched online are transacted offline. For advertisers to know where to put their money – online ads, TV, search, point-of-sale promotions – they need to know which channels are driving the sales. 

But even that is simplistic. We know, for example, that TV is a great trigger for a product search (sometimes before the TV ad has finished). That search prompts a store visit. And that people’s journey differs depending on the product they are buying. It’s just not possible these days to disconnect marketing by channel. 

Tracking offline sales

In many cases, it is possible to track where an offline customer sale came from. Most journeys start with a search. You could serve up an offer in the search results that can be redeemed online or in-store, on presentation of a unique identification number. That number lets you track where the customer started the purchase process, and so you know which search terms are making you money, even if the customer didn’t click and buy online. 

For customers that prefer to research online and then book or buy over the phone, a simple way of tracking the start of their journey is to ask them for an email address over the phone, to confirm the booking or sale. The customer then verifies their email address on the advertiser’s website. The customer can be identified from the cookie dropped onto their computer the first time they visited the site, and so links the customer back to their original online search. (Of course, this doesn’t help if the customer verifies their address from another device.) Another option is to assign a unique telephone number to each channel, so you can tell where a customer came from by what number they called. 

If advertisers are to invest in the marketing channels, or combinations of channels, that offers the highest return on investment (and to pay the right price for them), they must understand the line between online and offline customer action. 

This is one of the entries in the JUMP blogging challenge, and we're looking for more bloggers to contribute by posting an article. The closing date for entries is September 17. 

The winner will receive a 'blogging hamper', which includes an iPad, a press pass to JUMP, free Econsultancy membership, some strawberry jam and more. More details here

Graham Charlton

Published 16 September, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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