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Give display the credit it deserves

Give display the credit it deserves John Busby

In today's mobile-first world, where consumers spend more time interacting with apps than watching television, one may expect smartphone users to do most of their shopping online as well. However, despite our increasing online usage, consumers still make most purchase decisions offline, in a store or over the phone. In fact, it is estimated that mobile search, display, and social will generate more than 162 billion calls to businesses by 2019, proving that even though our lives have become increasingly digital, phone calls are still an effective and highly-used way for consumers to connect with a business. 

With this shift to mobile preference, the consumer's path to purchase becomes even more complex. Mobile provides various additional platforms -- websites, apps, social networks, and blogs -- for consumers to gather information; they can now take a blended approach to using the channel or channels best suited for their needs. This leaves marketers frantically tracking disparate touchpoints as they look for ways to help them understand how advertising spend on search, display, and other media channels influence sales -- especially sales happening offline.

What do ads look like in a mobile-first world?

As advertisers begin allocating dollars to catch the eyes of mobile-first users, mobile advertising is growing faster than all other digital advertising formats in the U.S. Moreover, display advertising is expected to be the fastest-growing mobile ad format as digital ad dollars quickly shift from desktop to mobile, and ad products improve. U.S. mobile display ad revenues are expected to grow 96 percent from 2013 to 2018.

While the investment in display is increasing, unlike search ads, display impressions are not known to drive conversions directly. Let's take phone calls, for example. It takes hundreds of thousands of impressions to generate a phone call via click-through. However, although consumers may not make a phone call directly from a display ad, those same ads are likely to influence consumers to make a future phone call. In other words, because display ads are not directly resulting in an immediate call, the majority of inbound phone calls are not being measured by marketers.

Think about it: if you spend your time playing fantasy football, you will likely see a mobile display ad from a cable or insurance company. If you are in the market for these services, you may not decide to call about it that day, but seeing that ad may spark you to make the call a week or two down the road. For companies that get most of their sales through national call centers, this connection is very hard for marketers to make. As such, they lose the ability to understand what campaigns are performing best, preventing them from investing in those campaigns that are truly driving sales.

Challenges of display attribution

Because display campaigns are now multi-touch, omni-channel, and personalized, it is very difficult for marketers to determine attribution across every touchpoint, for each and every customer.

With access to unlimited brands and stores at the tip of their fingers, consumers are waiting to compare quality and price rather than making impulse purchases. There is no need for them to take immediate action as a result of seeing an ad, thus slipping under the radar. 

And of course, when a consumer views a display advertisement in a web browser, and then later purchases a product online with that same browser, it is relatively easy for marketers to measure this interaction using cookies. But, what happens if the consumer instead makes a phone call to that business from their smartphone? The consumer now needs to be tracked across multiple screens for a marketer to be able to connect sales to online ad exposure, which is increasingly difficult with a growing number of channels.

Giving credit where credit is due

It's true, consumer's behaviors have changed in this mobile world, and it is not making marketers' jobs any easier. But by including attribution for inbound calls, brands in industries that typically see high volumes of their sales coming through offline channels, such as calls and in-store purchases, will see cost per conversion for that display campaign reduced by more than 45 percent.

With mobile, display advertising has become an increasingly important space for marketers -- it's no longer an option to test and experiment. By accounting for phone calls, companies will be able to measure the ROI of programmatic campaigns by connecting offline actions with display impression data, no matter when the consumer viewed the ad, giving them a major advantage in the marketplace.

For click-to-call commerce, display can finally get the credit it deserves.

John Busby is SVP, consumer insights and marketing at Marchex

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet. 

John leads the Marchex Institute, our analytics and insights team which publishes findings on advertising campaign performance, consumer data and market trends. John oversees all whitepapers and analyses and is a key strategic advisor to our...

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