Commentary

Stop Thinking Digital To Get The Attribution You Deserve

In our data-driven world, guesses, feelings and estimates about how ads are performing are unacceptable. Advanced analytics tools are helping us see exactly how customers are moving down the digital path to purchase, and which marketing activities are responsible for driving those actions. But what if you’re a digital marketer who works in an industry that does most of its business offline?

I work at an agency that serves luxury brands in the travel industry. Our brands serve consumers who are making expensive, complex or emotional decisions, like booking their honeymoon or a trip for the entire extended family. Online systems are not set up to handle all the nuance and details — multiple adjoining rooms, food preferences, specific individual needs. Consumers’ decisions are influenced and informed by digital ads and searches, but they make purchases by having a conversation with a representative.

When a purchase happens offline, it’s typically attributed to the call center or some other inbound channel; the digital path to that call being made is lost.

To get a full picture of marketing ROI, we must start to think of ourselves as marketers, not strictly digital marketers. I’ve only been able to solve the attribution challenge by looking at marketing beyond digital — and understanding how offline purchases are influenced by online behavior. Here’s why I recommend you do the same:

You’ll realize standalone metrics are less meaningful than you thought

Nearly all marketers use a seemingly simple metric: return on ad spend. In industries where people purchase something with a single click, or where product price is mostly fixed, this makes sense. But for marketers who promote experiences — cruises, hotels, guided tours, etc. — the numbers tell a very different story. Say you’re a marketer for a hotel brand. If you change nothing about your ad campaigns but room rates drop by 50%, your ROI will decrease. Or, if room prices double while bookings drop by half, the raw numbers would show no change in ad performance.

Travel and luxury marketers need to close the gap between what we’re measuring and what’s actually happening. Which brings me to my next point.

You’ll uncover hidden revenue by quantifying the entire customer journey

If a traveler books a room online, then calls to add spa treatments, the hotel and the marketers should capture — and get credit for — those additional purchases. Without making a connection between the digital ad and subsequent offline actions, that value is never connected, and insights for additional media spend based on content of these calls are missed.

To capture that revenue, you need to understand who’s calling, and what’s happening when someone picks up. We use call intelligence software, Invoca, to connect online ads to offline actions. We’re looking for more than just how many people are calling from specific ads — we qualify the call, get a deeper understanding of what the customer asked about, and note the action that they took. This type of information gives you clear attribution to the ad that drove the purchase — whether it’s one trip or a series of bookings. It also provides insights, like a caller’s geography, gender or age, that inform our ad strategy.

You’ll stop pausing paid search ads that are working (but look like they aren’t)

Without connecting the dots between online research and offline purchases, you may unknowingly kill the campaigns that are working best.

Here’s an example. Our agency conducted a paid search campaign for a destination hotel in Texas known for its golf course, spa, and other amenities. In reviewing our digital metrics, it initially looked like the golf-related keywords were performing poorly. Hairs away from stopping the campaign, we used call intelligence software to connect those online ads to phone calls coming into the sales desk. We learned that the golf course was so important, guests wouldn’t actually book a room until they secured a tee-time — which you can only do over the phone. The ads were actually driving high-value sales, we just couldn’t see that by looking at clicks alone. 

Consumers don’t think of their experiences with a brand as “online” or “offline;” they have come to expect one, consistent path to purchase no matter how they choose to interact. As digital marketers, we need to evolve our mindset, too. Understanding how our ads impact that entire journey — and getting credit for them — is essential. Our jobs depend on it.

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