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  • Writer's pictureJordan Brunelle

How to Weigh the Effectiveness of Billboards, TV Ads, and Other Traditional Marketing Channels

For marketers in the digital age, there is a temptation to overlook traditional advertising channels. And it makes sense: with all the attribution methods available to us, with all the data and insights we can glean from our digital campaigns, and all the ways we can test and optimize our creative, it feels wrong to just “trust our gut” about billboards, radio spots, TV placements, and physical mailers.

So what do we do? Write off traditional advertising entirely?

No! In fact, we usually see better results when we take a both/and approach. Here’s why: a billboard impression is different from a Facebook impression which is different from a TV impression.

A lot of us know that our customers tend to see our ads several times before making the decision to purchase or fill out a form, but we don’t have clarity on how these different ad types work together to drive results. This is a complicated question to answer, and it’s different for every business.

Often, what happens is the last click (typically a Google brand search) gets credit for the conversion. But the customer saw a billboard and received a mailer and scrolled past a Facebook ad before deciding to search the brand and click the Google ad.

Here’s what we know for certain: a marketing strategy works a lot like an investment portfolio, and a diverse mix of channels performs better over time.

Still, we have to communicate to our stakeholders whether or not the investment was well spent. Somehow, some way, we need to evaluate ROI.

Now more than ever, marketers are finding ways to combine traditional and digital marketing attribution methods to report on the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns, and the result is a fusion that provides insights into otherwise untrackable ad spend.

Five methods for measuring the results of traditional advertising campaigns:

1. Marketing Mix Modeling

In the 60s, we didn’t have Meta Ads, Google Search, or last-click attribution (or, say, the internet), but we had something called Marketing Mix Models (MMMs), and data-savvy marketers still use this attribution method today.

The benefit is that it doesn't require us to track individual customers. This makes MMMs a great tool for measuring the effectiveness of traditional ad campaigns. With MMMs, you will need to collect your historical sales numbers and ad spend data. From there, using Excel or a similar tool, you will be able to identify trends and spot the correlation.

Take a look at the scatter plots below. Facebook has a strong correlation between sales and ad spend, whereas an increase in radio spend doesn’t necessarily correlate with an increase in sales.

With MMMs, you can even create projections and optimize your budget toward the mediums that drive sales. Most importantly, though, you can tell a more accurate story about the effectiveness of every channel, from your billboards to your TV ads to the person flipping signs outside your office.

2. QR Codes

When building a model isn’t possible, it might be time to incorporate a digital tool into your traditional ad campaign. QR codes have been around since the 90s, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that they really found their stride in popular culture.

Suddenly, every restaurant menu, product package, and flier featured a contact-free QR code. With scannable codes becoming commonplace, there’s a new opportunity for marketers to track their print ads, tv ads, and more.

When a local hospital approached us about a brand awareness challenge they were facing, we helped send out mailers to new community members. Each mailer included a magnet featuring a QR code. When scanned, they got directions to the emergency room.

Imagine moving to a new town and thinking, “I wonder where I should go if I ever have a medical emergency?” Well, here’s something for your fridge. It’s convenient, it’s useful, and it’s trackable. Use a tool like Flowcode and start tracking your landing page visits.

Just do us a favor and don’t put QR codes on billboards. Please.

3. Unique URLs

In the same vein, unique URLs provide marketers insight into the effectiveness of their traditional marketing campaigns by showing us how many people saw our ad then visited our website (via that unique URL).

There are a lot of services out there that will help you create tracking links, but the simplest way is to create a new page on your site and set it to noindex. This will tell Google not to show it in search results, ensuring that your page is only visited by the folks who see your ad.

4. Special Offers

Another way to track the effectiveness of your traditional ad campaign is by setting up a special offer, which you only communicate to your audience by way of your ad. For example, you might send out a mailer that features a discount code for your e-commerce store. If you don’t promote this code anywhere else, you can confidently assume everyone who redeems it came from your ad.

5. A Combination Of Two Or More Methods

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes no one method will do the job. When you combine a unique URL with a Marketing Mix Model, or a QR code with a special offer, you can dive one level deeper in understanding how your customers are engaging with your ads.

For example, maybe you’re getting a lot of page visitors from your QR code but few people are redeeming your special offer. That tells us that either your landing page isn’t converting or your ad messaging didn’t clearly communicate the product offering. That’s where testing and conversion rate optimization efforts help continually refine and improve your campaigns.

In Summary

There are times when the data isn’t available, and a “trust your gut” approach may be the only option. Even then, think about conducting a survey to see how people perceive your brand before and after seeing your billboard or whichever ad medium you choose.

The point is this: there are methods to evaluate our traditional marketing efforts. We should never not try. It may require some creativity, some mixing of digital and traditional, and some effort, but the insights we will gather are worth their weight in gold (or ad spend).

And remember, in the words of Don Draper, “Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is."

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