Measure the Offline World

I’m a numbers guy. I count the steps on stairways, know how many minutes it takes (and the precise distance) to get anywhere in town that I normally drive, and track fuel efficiency over time. It’s no wonder that when it comes to marketing programs, I track the living daylights out of them, too.

We all know that detailed measurement provides valuable insight for marketers. Enhance a campaign’s performance just one percent each week, and you’ll increase a campaign’s effectiveness by almost 67% over a year.  Your competitors can gain percentage advantages in this manner too. You need to do it just to keep up.

Tools are readily available to measure online campaigns, including near-real-time monitoring. Sophisticated tracking functionality is included with most email marketing solutions. Once properly configured, Google Analytics can help to track such campaigns through to a web sale (if you’re doing ecommerce).

But when you turn to offline campaigns, things change. Wouldn’t it be great to put that same type of measurement into practice in the real world, too?  It’s often possible. It might be a bit of a challenge, but it can be done.

For starters, you have to be intentional with offline actions (sometimes even adjusting processes) to introduce tracking and measurement. Let’s look at solutions (from manual to automated) for a few tricky offline marketing measurement situations.

Tracking Response

Offline measurement is nothing new. Response cards in magazines are coded with the particular issue information. Phone calls to place orders from catalogs begin with a question like, “what catalog code do you see on the back cover?” Similar approaches can be applied to print/TV/radio campaigns that drive traffic to the web. Consider these solutions:

  • Track website visits from offline campaigns using microsites, campaign-specific URLs, or both (in all cases, tied to an analytics package). Instead of sending users to the website’s homepage, create a URL specific to the campaign and publication. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the key is to provide your analytics software with enough tracking information to later identify the source of the visits.

The approach can vary from situation to situation – from a call to visit your Widget Co. site at to a URL like to, simply Any of these can be forwarded to an appropriate page on any site with additional tracking information attached to the URL.

  • Track phone calls generated from both online and offline campaigns using custom toll-free numbers and whisper transfers. Inexpensive toll-free numbers are available for short-term use. Each number correlates to a campaign. As the call begins, the person answering first hears a short whisper greeting (not heard by the caller) that might say something like “this call is from the October issue of Field and Stream”. Tracking this is a simple way to document the call source without even asking the caller for that information.

It’s easy to imagine how a unique phone number would be incorporated into a print ad. But those numbers can also be incorporated into a company’s online marketing and advertising. When a campaign drives a website visitor via a click or a custom URL, phone number injection can replace every occurrence of the primary phone number with the unique number assigned to the campaign, allowing tracking of calls that arrive long after a print ad has turned over responsibility for the conversation to the website.

  • Tracking online sales to campaigns – It’s relatively easy for businesses that focus solely on eCommerce to track the success of campaigns. The initial setup can be a challenge, but the resulting tracking is detailed and seamless. Google Analytics provides extensive tools to gather information on sales, from simply counting the number of products sold and invoices written, to detailed breakdowns of sales by product. Cross-reference this by campaign name to track ROI.
  • Tracking offline sales to campaigns – This is trickier, and primarily because it involves people. When possible, use tools like the whisper greeting described above to identify the source of your leads, and then track that info to cross-reference with future sales.

In every case, your sales people should be trained to ask that question: “how did you hear about us/this sale?”

Of course, there’s always the possibility of using coupons or giveaways to help track. While there is expense involved, the information gained about how successful the campaign was at driving traffic is often of far more value than the cost of the discount or freebie.

Tracking the industry

How is the rest of the industry doing? If the analysis of your numbers doesn’t take this into account, you’re missing a big part of the picture. What appears to be slow growth may be great… if the rest of the industry is in a recession.  Conversely, strong growth could be less exciting if the rest of the industry is also showing outstanding gains.  There’s generally no one metric to track. But government and trade association numbers, along with Google Trends data and any other sources you can put your hands on, can often be blended into a single metric that gives you a numeric idea of the state of your industry.

Moving Forward

Measurement doesn’t always come naturally. However, if you’ll watch for opportunities to measure campaigns at key target audience touch-points, you’ll find that it provides a load of information that you can refer back on when making future marketing decisions.

There may be as many possible ways to track campaigns as there are campaigns. The examples above are just a few to get you going. Here are some caveats to keep in mind as and after you gather numbers:

  • When you interpret numbers, think like a statistician. Is your sample size large enough to interpret accurately to your desired level of confidence? If not, be very careful before acting on this information. You don’t want to significantly change a campaign based on information that doesn’t accurately represent the entire situation. (i.e., don’t assume that because the coin landed on heads the first three times that it will do that all the time).
  • Remember: not everyone follows the rules. You can’t track every visit to your website from a print ad just because you added a vanity URL: some visitors will ignore the URL you provided and just type in your domain name or go through Google.

In these cases, you’re not tracking actual results, but instead gathering info that is useful for comparing the relative performance of print ads. For example, if one print ad drove 70 site visits and another drove 210, you could surmise that the second ad was three times as successful in driving traffic in general (though this doesn’t help you determine how many others might have visited as well).

  • Everything is tied to everything. Watch for patterns. It’s quite possible that you’ll find interesting causal relationships that you didn’t expect!