Connecting the Customer Journey from Online to Offline

Online retail is on the rise – Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trends report found that e-commerce makes up 15% of all retail sales in the US, up slightly from 14% last year. Still, most purchases continue to happen in stores. How can retail advertisers accurately measure the impact of their digital advertising efforts on these brick-and-mortar sales?

In a hyper-connected world, customers travel between digital and physical stores and everything in between, all while expecting an integrated and personalized experience as they move from their smartphone to their laptop to a brick-and-mortar store. For marketers, mastering this online-to-offline connection is more important than ever, but it’s easier said than done.

Keeping up with the total consumer journey

Marketers have long relied on “last-click” attribution — giving credit to the last interaction a user had with the advertiser — but this is no longer a reliable measure of the customer journey because of all the various touchpoints in the digital age. Examine a typical customer journey below:

  1. Customer searched for running shoes on Google, clicked a shopping ad to the advertiser’s site, then got distracted and abandoned cart
  2. Customer scrolled through Facebook and was served a retargeting ad but didn’t click
  3. Customer browsed a favorite blog and was served a remarketing ad but, again, didn’t click
  4. Customer stopped into a store to purchase a separate item, noticed the running shoes they had been researching, did an online price comparison, and finally purchased.

In this situation, who gets the credit? Is it the shopping ad? The reminder on the customer’s favorite blog, or in-store signage that finally converted the sale? The average customer journey these days looks a lot like this, leading marketers to struggle with the question, “How did this conversion come to be?”

Advertising in a blended search, social, and e-commerce world

It is no secret that Facebook and Google have long held the lion’s share of advertising dollars, but Amazon is quickly growing its ad business, up 36% over last year, with no signs of slowing down. Couple its strong advertising business with its booming e-commerce business and the perfect closed-loop customer journey is possible. A customer sees an advertisement for a product on Amazon or an owned and operated site like Twitch or IMDB, the customer clicks on that ad, and purchases the product directly from Amazon’s website.

So, how do Facebook and Google compete with Amazon’s unique business model and ability to capture purchase-ready consumers with their advertisements? In 2018, Google expanded into e-commerce with Google Home Ordering. Facebook Shop allows advertisers to create a product catalog on the platform to promote and sell their products there. Facebook also has plans to add a shopping function to livestreams, and Instagram is already experimenting with shoppable posts from retailers.

The blurring lines among search, social, and e-commerce only muddy the water when it comes to determining the customer’s journey to conversion. So, how can advertisers accurately attribute their marketing dollars to customer wins? Increasingly, marketers are turning to a multi-touch attribution strategy that includes both online and offline conversions, thereby moving away from simplistic last-touch attribution models.

Connecting the dots between online and offline

Advertisers are expected to spend over $327 billion on digital advertising in 2019, so understanding how digital ad spend will contribute to sales and conversions is critical. True multi-touch attribution helps to solve the mystery of the consumer journey in today’s digital world. Advanced attributions can now sync online ad campaigns with offline marketing touchpoints and conversions, linking a customer’s point-of-sale information with the unique IDs created for individuals once they interact with a brand’s website.  

By taking a data-driven approach to the customer journey, marketers can get a more complete view of their customer interactions while making the most of their marketing spend. We hear from advertisers all the time that closing the knowledge gap on multi-touch attribution and having a unified view of the customer journey are among their largest challenges to be solved. 

Looking at digital campaigns as part of a unified digital marketing strategy across search, social, and e-commerce and how they impact sales in brick-and-mortar stores will be a key differentiator for advertisers in 2019 and the coming years as competition grows even fiercer. The ultimate goal for advertisers is to meet shoppers where they are, regardless of which platform, device, or physical store they happen to be visiting. Adjusting your digital ad spend based on a unified view of customer behavior, both online and offline, is the key to performance marketing success. 

Wesley MacLaggan is SVP of Marketing at Marin Software. MacLaggan has been working with Marin Software since 2008. He is currently Senior Vice President of Marketing at Marin Software. Previously he led the Product team where he was responsible for driving Marin’s roadmap and working closely with engineering to deliver innovative advertising solutions to the market. He has over a decade’s experience developing and delivering analytical enterprise SaaS applications, including four years with Applied Predictive Technologies working on their platform to help retailers maximize the return on their promotional spending. Mr. MacLaggan began his career providing strategic guidance to companies in a range of industries with Mercer Management Consulting. He holds an Economics degree from Dartmouth College.

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