The new reality of multi-screen conversions compounds the already difficult challenges of accurate attribution and ROI calculation. That’s on top of the persistent but largely ignored fact that most internet-influenced consumer spending happens offline.
Digital marketers have mostly avoided trying to account for offline conversions in the past because they’ve been so hard to track on a per-campaign basis. Yet e-commerce is still only about 6 percent of overall US retail (billions vs. trillions). By contrast online-to-offline spending is at least 10x the value of e-commerce.
Now, the awareness of much more complex multi-channel consumer behavior and the lack of cookies in mobile have prompted a number of innovations in tracking, as well as what might be called the rise of “real world analytics.”
Yesterday the New York Times wrote about Drawbridge, a company using a complex methodology to track people as they move from device to device. There are other startups such as AdTruth offering similar, comprehensive cross-device tracking and analytics.
Last week at SMX East Google made a major announcement called Estimated Total Conversions (ETC). It’s a new multi-screen approach that represents the future of Google analytics. It relies on signed-in Chrome users and some extrapolation to larger audiences. It aims to capture when a user starts on one screen and transacts on another. The program will also report phone calls.
However the most interesting aspect of ETC is the offline component. Starting next year Google will start to estimate store visits based on online ad exposures. From a digital marketing perspective this is radical stuff because of the larger and long-term implications for traditional online metrics such as impressions and clicks.
There are many others doing similar things that are well ahead of Google in measuring offline store visits from mobile and online ad impressions. Startups such as PlaceIQ, Placed and JiWire are all now tracking store visits. These tools are in market today and they’re now being used by mobile ad networks Millennial Media, xAd, Verve (and JiWire). Offline ad tracking will soon be mandatory for all mobile networks.
Facebook and Twitter are also heavily involved in linking online ads to offline sales. Facebook has a range of data partners helping the company track online impressions to offline sales and thereby “close the loop.” Twitter is working on similar programs.
Mobile devices now make it possible to track people all the way into stores. And the emerging indoor location ecosystem will permit in-store behavior to be combined with online data for more precise targeting and a more accurate and holistic model of the multi-channel consumer.
Privacy is a complex issue here and has to be managed carefully by networks and marketers. However it can be handled. For example, under the right circumstances (for perceived benefits) consumers will willingly share their location data.
This new world of cross-device tracking and offline analytics promises to disrupt and change the way that marketers think about attribution but also about targeting and online advertising in general. Thanks to smartphones the online and offline worlds are coming together.