Season three of Stranger Things released last week and I spent my weekend watching it. (Don’t worry, this post doesn’t contain any spoilers. Read with ease). Episode eight (and much of the previous episodes too) took place in the new, groovy Hawkin’s mall, Starcourt, where the cast battled the frightening Mind Flayer, who was chugging chemicals and turning town citizens into its minions. At the beginning of the season, local workers protested the mall taking away their customers because customers were headed to the big-box stores within Starcourt. Woah. Big news. The story is set in the 80s, but how familiar does this sound? 30+ years later and we’re experiencing the phasing out of malls and boutique stores in favor of online shopping. In a way, we’re experiencing “The Battle of Starcourt” – a battle between online and offline business, and us as advertisers are depicted as the big-bad Mind Flayer, turning everyone into our minions.
For the last year or so, the digital marketing community has been buzzing around the five-dollar term ‘attribution.’ Attribution is being able to follow a user on his or her journey around the internet. Google, Facebook, and other major marketing platforms are creating better and more efficient ways to track users from first click on one device and marry it to every other click, purchase, scroll, and view on every other device thereafter. Advertisers are utilizing all the tools in the box to track behavior. We are focused on showing businesses our value, on providing data that is not available anywhere else, and growing companies’ bottom line through all our digital tactics for less cost than traditional marketing efforts. We’re very much Dusty-bun tracking our Suzie-poo to answer the walkie-talkie call and prove to our friends that Suzi-poo truly does exist.
Even with the growth of digital, customers still like malls. We still like to see for ourselves a product, feel it, try it on, test it out before making the purchase. Brick & mortar stores are still providing value that, as much as I don’t want to admit it, online cannot provide. Yes, we can offer ‘free returns’ and ‘money back guarantee,’ but that’s a bit of a hassle for purchasers. Plus, online doesn’t offer the social atmosphere for adolescents that malls provide.
The digital world has established the importance of attribution, moving away from last click attribution to more sophisticated modeling. Advertisers are realizing that a lot happens between the time a customer first searches to when an action actually takes place. We’ve shifted our thinking to realize we do have some missing links and Google, along with other platforms, are providing the opportunities for advertisers to find the missing links through data-driven attribution and other offline conversion actions.
Everything seems to come full circle. With all our digital technology, tracking, devices, tagging, and remarketing, users are still heading into brick & mortar stores to make purchases. However, that isn’t to say users aren’t doing their research first and aren’t being influenced online by the ads they see. Like Elle and her pals, let’s do our own “sauna test:”
Do I love the ease of purchasing online? Yes. Am I impatient and irrational when I want my product shipped in two days or less? Yes.
Am I, even as a digital advertiser who knows the tricks of the trade, gullible to an ad from my favorite brand that promotes a “limited-time only” sale? Yes.
But. Do I hesitate, thinking: ‘should I try this on?’ ‘I wonder if it really is that soft?’ ‘Is this really a better product?’ Every time.
I’m going to assume that many other shoppers go through this sweat test. The situation is beginning to heat up. Advertisers, store owners, and the Mind Flayer are all feeling the steam.
Us as advertisers hit a wall. And a pretty complex problem. Brick & mortar owners also get flayed. Look at my behavior: I am attracted to an ad, I’m being influenced by the ad, I’m even wanting to convert, but I have doubts. I’m wishing that there is a close-by store that I could visit to see the product outside my computer screen. So I Google the product and find a store that has it, all the while a beautiful image of the prettiest blouse I’ve ever seen follows me around the web. I’ve been flayed, but how should this test be measured? Should the advertiser be credited for this purchased? Because, really, I wouldn’t have known this blouse existed if I hadn’t seen the ad. Or should the brick & mortar store get the credit because that’s how I ended up owning this blouse? Who is the Mind Flayer creating minions in this situation, the advertiser or the brick & mortar owner?
Awhile ago, Google launched the ability for advertisers to track in-store visits as an offline conversion. Since then, Google has been improving the usability to understanding this complex action and attributing it to the right source. This is combing the worlds. It is true to the phrase, E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.” Digital and brick & mortar are able to work together to create the best customer experience. We now have the ability to be a union formed by separate entities.
Tracking in-store visits as a conversion being attributed to digital isn’t common among advertisers yet, but it’s growing. Like advertisers, many businesses have had the bite and are beginning to realize how much digital impacts users behavior, even if the end-purchase happens in the physical store.
I have a client that is working toward getting in-store visits set up with our Google account. I am excited to show to the client and brick & mortar retailers how this process works together. I don’t want there to be a final battle at The Starcourt and I definitely don’t want advertisers to be seen as the Mind Flayer by customers or brick & mortar owners. We’re just a step in the journey to the physical store purchase, just like a physical store can be a step in the digital purchase. As an advertiser, we should all try to close that gate.
For more reading on attribution, check out The Fundamental Guide to Attribution.