Offline Tracking

152: 5 Ways to Know If Your Offline Media is Working

Thanks to Google Analytics, it’s both free and easy now to track individual banner ads, listing pages, and social media posts. For auction companies with certain kinds of online bidding platforms, it’s also now possible to decipher which of those digital media directly produce bidders and buyers.

But how do you know if your physical media is working? How do you A/B test to know what headlines and photos and layouts make your offline media more effective?

Tangible media like signs, print ads, and direct mail can be tracked, but it’s less scientific. Like email reporting, uncontrollable variables make accurate reporting all but impossible. Collected data might be insightful and potentially representative, though, even if it’s not exhaustive or proportional.

There are five basic ways to track your offline media’s performance. Each comes with at least one drawback to compliment the data it provides. You can use several of these at once per medium to get a bigger, better picture of their efficacy and efficiency.

Custom QR Codes

QR codes are free to generate. You can create custom URLs with Google URL Builder that allow you to tag the media type (or publication), the campaign name, and more. You can create multiple custom URLs for the same campaign—one each per advertising expression. You can then convert each of those URLs into different QR codes to place in different advertising media. Google Analytics will then report their results separately.

The downside to this tracking method is the QR code itself. In the time it takes to find their QR code reader app on their phone and then scan the code, the recipient is more likely to just Google search your company or asset—or ask Siri to search for them. Then, your recipient shows up in Google Analytics as an organic search result. Nobody, even Google, can tell you what medium led someone to search for your assets, events, or services.

Alternate URLs

URLs are cheap, especially in proportion to most of the hundreds of campaign budgets I see each year. The idea here is to use different web addresses in different media. When the recipient types in that address, they are redirected to your website (or a landing page on your site). Google Analytics shows this as a referring site in your audience acquisition list.

Believe it or not, but my clients and I have been able to easily find great URLs to use. One of my clients uses the same URLs for the same individual media across all campaigns. I also have clients who buy URLs for specific auctions, especially when they’re working outside of their normal asset category or normal geographic area.

The biggest mistake I see made with this method is choosing long or complicated URLs. There are a lot of options, if you use the word “bid” instead of “buy” or “auction.” Once you make it easier to Google your company name, these URLs become less likely to be used—let alone accurately trackable.

I’ve talked to entrepreneurs worried about diluting their URL branding with this method. If you do a good job branding your media and crafting your online user experience, though, consumers will remember your brand. Every day, we click on tons of links with a gazillion characters. Alternate URLs will not be a consumer deterrent.

Multiple Phone Numbers

For half a century, advertisers have used different phone numbers in different media to track interactions. Multiple service providers now allow you to plug multiple phone numbers into an online tracking system. On top of recording phone calls and showing you at what point in your phone tree they hung up, some of these companies can even tie these phone call statistics into Google Analytics.

The Internet has nurtured more and more of Western Culture into self-helpers. A large portion of Americans would rather text than engage in a phone call. An even greater percentage of people would rather grab information online than ask a sales representative, especially over the phone. So, you might not get enough phone traffic to give you actionable intel.

Personal URLs (PURLs)

This variable-data technology creates a URL with custom codes at the end of a branded URL. Often times, advertisers use the recipient’s name as the part that follows the “/“ in the web address. You can point these URLs to custom landing pages or to websites with variable data that conforms to a subscriber’s stated interests. (Universities use this when mailing to high schoolers, since the motivations for college life are diverse.) Service providers offer both proprietary reporting and integration with Google Analytics.

Again, the challenge here is to make the URL as short as possible or as appealing as possible. You have to sell the recipient’s personal benefit of that destination enough to overcome the cumbersome amount of typing. Otherwise, the user is likely to Google search around your extra effort.

Transactional Polling

For onsite events and live transactions it’s easy to ask bidders and buyers how they heard about your auction. It can also be a required multiple-choice toggle for online bidding. Since purchasers are more valuable than online viewers, this is the most important analytic to capture.

The problem is that self-reporting has proven to be suspect at times. For one thing, bidders or buyers sometimes can’t remember where they learned about your auction. (One of my clients had bidders report a medium he didn’t even use.) For another, some people will inadvertently report the medium they prefer. If your other media tracking runs parallel with your polling results, this data is valuable, though.

In a digital world, print media has the potential to be a tangible disruptor and a more personal interaction. Direct mail allows a broader range of sizes and formats than online media. When produced and placed well, signs are often the leading medium for obtaining auction buyers. Just because it’s more difficult to track them doesn’t mean they are necessarily less effective.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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