Hot on Their Trail

How to use the net to track offline customers
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the December 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you're using an ad-tracking program, you're likely monitoring the profitability of your internet marketing efforts. That's if your customers buy online. But can your customers order by phone, fax, mail or in person? If you aren't giving credit to the online ad campaigns that generate offline business, you might cut programs that are making a significant boost to your bottom line.

This doesn't mean you should necessarily funnel all customers through an online form. Perhaps you capture a higher number of sales by offering customer support to those who want to connect with a live person. Or maybe customers spend more because your in-store salespeople recommend items in addition to the original purchase. So continue using the internet to drive offline sales-just track the originating source of new business. Consider the following:

  • A special toll-free number: Assign a unique phone number to each online marketing campaign. For example, you would need five numbers for five newsletter sponsorships. You can include the phone number in the ad or within the landing page for the ad.
  • Coupons: Coupons are a great incentive to buy within a specific time frame. Printable coupons can help you track offline sales if customers are required to give them back to your company along with payment. Assign a tracking code to each campaign, and include that code in the associated coupon. Tell your retail stores or payment collection centers to send the coupons to you or to your marketing agency, so they can be added to your ad revenue reports before they're thrown away.
  • Printable order forms: If you allow customers to fax or mail payments to you, put the assigned ad program tracking code on the order form.

You'll typically need to create your own tracking codes in-house. Many internet tracking solutions generate hideously long tracking URLs that would look out of place on coupons or order forms. Though, for simplicity's sake, you could use the name of the campaign, exposing your marketing efforts to potential competitors isn't a good idea. Instead, use numbers, letters or a combination of both to create a customized naming convention.

It might seem overwhelming to monitor dozens or hundreds of tracking codes that flow through various offline sales channels. You can initially group campaigns together by type. For example, instead of tracking five newsletter sponsors separately, group them under one code. That will give you an indication of performance by campaign type, such as newsletter sponsorships, banner ads, search engine paid listings and link trades. When you're ready, analyze campaigns individually because you'll find winners and losers within each type.

By tracking offline sales generated from internet marketing, your ROI report should look even better.

Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Sedaowns an internet marketing agency and is author ofSearch Engine Advertising.

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