American Marketer


Mobile measurement: Crumbling cookies and the importance of offline

September 16, 2013

John Busby is vice president of the Marchex Institute


By John Busby

As consumers spend more time on their mobile phones and less time on PCs, it feels like we need a support group for digital marketers who optimize marketing tactics with data received from cookies.

I can imagine Bob from Agency X announcing to Re-targeters Anonymous that every time mobile gains a point of market share, an angel loses it wings.

All lines up
Cookies, of course, are tremendously valuable tool for digital marketers because they tell us how many times a consumer has visited a Web site and the Web pages they have visited.

Many marketers also use data derived from cookies to target consumers who have visited other Web sites that match their customers’ preferences, and leverage this data in smart ways to improve returns on advertising spend.

Mobile marketers are not able to leverage cookies in the same way "traditional" PC marketers have. One reason is that consumers spend much of their time in mobile applications, away from the visibility of cookies.

A second, and more important reason, is that most purchases made from mobile devices actually happen offline, either through an in-store visit or phone call. It is this phenomenon that can place Bob on the road to recovery and see the promise of mobile measurement.

We call these types of purchases “online to offline,” and the amount spent by consumers who research online and purchase offline is staggering.

In 2013, Forrester Research estimates that $1.32 trillion in sales will be “online to offline.”

As consumers increasingly use smartphones to research online and buy offline, Forrester expects this figure to expand by $330 billion over the next three years. In fact, this growth in “online to offline” through 2016 is larger than the entire ecommerce market.

Measuring online-to-offline purchases offer great promise to marketers because they involve human connections, and a human connection – either through a phone call or in-store visit – provides the richest source of data possible in understanding why consumers are buying your product or service.

Calling it
For example, here are a few of the things a marketer can measure from a phone call:

1. Are your customers and prospects happy or not? Consider our recent phone call-based study identifying that consumers from Ohio swear most often when calling a business (Washington was the most pleasant).

Phone calls are like a real-time, always-on focus group for understanding customers.

2. Which features of your product or service do consumers ask about? An advertising campaign for a hotel chain may promote free breakfast, free Wi-Fi and a room upgrade. Phone calls can tell you which one matters most.

3. Were any competitors mentioned? This might tell a marketer which foes to go after in a future marketing campaign.

4. Which products or services were purchased? Do consumers prefer cable, Internet, phone or a bundle?

5. Using call-tracking numbers (CTNs), which marketing tactic produced the phone call? With unique CTNs, marketers are able to count the number of successful phone calls produced from each marketing tactic.

6. What types of consumers are choosing to buy (or pass on) your product? Aggregated demographic information can provide marketers with consumer profiles on lifestyles and preferences of customers and prospects.

Setting store by
In-store visits can be equally fruitful for marketers:

1. Using coupon codes, which mobile marketing tactic produced the in-store visit? Coupon codes, such as trackable phone numbers, can be used to separate the winning marketing tactics from the losers.

2. Which products or services were purchased? For a big box store that sells thousands of products, this information can inform creative and produce higher response rates in future ads.

3. How long does it take for a consumer to purchase a product? Put another way, what is the shelf-life of a mobile ad and how far down the purchase funnel are consumers for each marketing tactic?

4. Using your CRM data, is each marketing tactic reaching first-time customers or repeat customers?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are countless additional learnings from human connections that mobile marketers can leverage.

So I encourage marketers as they transition from a PC-centric to mobile-centric marketplace that with some diligence in measurement they can successfully move beyond the cookie and close the gap from online research to offline purchasing.

John Busby is senior vice president of the Marchex Institute, a Seattle-based research and analytics team that publishes findings on mobile advertising and the digital call advertising industry. Reach him at