John Wanamaker, the pioneer of modern marketing, once famously quipped "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

What would Mr. Wanamaker think if he could see the digital tracking mechanisms that we have at our disposal today? Savvy marketers can track astonishingly granular information about their ad campaigns and customers. (One of the most dramatic examples was that time Target knew a young woman was pregnant before her family did!)

As marketers, we all know and love the tracking capabilities that digital campaigns offer. But what about offline campaigns? How well can marketers track responses from offline marketing campaigns?

Do Offline Marketing Campaigns Still Work?

Before we jump into how to track offline marketing campaigns, you may be skeptical whether offline marketing campaigns provide value in today’s digital-first world. Surely offline marketing campaigns are just for businesses that are lagging behind the times. Smart, cutting edge businesses all focus on digital now, right?

No so fast!

Offline marketing can be a powerful marketing channel, even for young audiences. Many users feel bombarded by information online, and appreciate being able to slow down and interact with information in a physical format. For example, rumor has it that we Millennials live life through our digital devices, only vaguely aware that there’s a physical world outside of them. That’s largely a myth, though. Offline marketing channels are still providing strong returns, including among younger audiences. Research shows that:

  • Millennials are more than twice as likely to read direct mail thoroughly (USPS)
  • Physical marketing materials have a greater emotional impact on viewers (Millward Brown)
  • Direct mail response rates are increasing, and are the highest they’ve been since 2003 (DMA)

The majority of consumers prefer companies to use a mix of email and offline channels to reach them. So don’t ignore offline marketing just because it’s not as hip as digital marketing!

What Offline Channels Can Be Tracked?

You can track most offline marketing channels, including:

  • Print ads
  • Direct mail
  • Billboards/signs
  • Events
  • Radio
  • TV
The key to tracking offline responses is using trackable response mechanisms.

6 Trackable Response Mechanisms For Offline Campaigns

  1. Tracking URLs can be used in any offline medium. You’ll frequently see them used in TV infomercials. Just setup the tracking url (eg to redirect to a tracking url on your website (eg You can also show viewers a tracking url that uses your main domain and a subdomain or subfolder url (eg but many respondents will simply leave the tracking part off and go to the main domain. Here’s a campaign you’ve probably seen that uses a tracking url:
  2. PURLs, or Personal URLs, are most commonly used in direct mail campaigns. Each respondent is given a unique URL (eg This allows you to not only track granular data about who responds, but allows you to make and deliver personalized offers to each recipient. This is a somewhat advanced feature - you’ll need to find a printing company that supports PURLs if you want to use this tactic.
  3. QR Codes are great for use at events or anywhere else that people are likely to respond with their smartphones. Simply set the QR code to direct users to a tracking url (eg
  4. Tracking Phone Numbers can be used any time you expect responses via phone. I’ve used CallRail in the past with great success, but there are several companies that offer similar services. They provide phone number(s) for a given campaign (in your area code) that invisibly redirect callers to your main phone number. The campaign data, caller ID, and recordings for each phone call are provided to you in a web dashboard. Tip: customers may save the tracking phone number to call you later, so don’t cancel the phone number once the campaign is complete.
  5. Promo Codes are great when you’re giving users a special offer - a coupon, discount, free gift, etc. Give them a promo code (that’s associated with the specific campaign you sent them) in the marketing materials and require the promo code to redeem the offer. Keep in mind that many customers may forget about or not want the special offer, and may respond without the promo code.
  6. Text Message responses are great for any campaign where your target audience likes texting. Ask respondents to send a specific message to a shortcode to get the promised offer (coupon code, ebook, etc.). Your text messaging provider can then track the responses for that specific message and shortcode combo. Here’s an example from a Sherwin-Williams campaign:

How To Track Without Trackable Response Mechanisms

If you’re not able to track campaign responses through the methods listed above, you can use data matching to track where responses came from.

Let’s say you sent out a postcard mailing to promote an event at your local business. You want to know how many of the recipients came to the event, and how many purchased. You can do this through data matching:

  • Capture customer/visitor data at the event (for example, get credit card billing address when making a purchase, ask for phone number/address when signing up for a test drive, etc.)
  • Match the captured data to your mailing list to see which of the postcard recipients came to the event. The data won’t be perfect (some people might give you their work address but you mailed to their home address, for example) but it’s a great way to get some data to start measuring campaign results.

If you’re planning to use data matching, there are a few things you should plan before you start the campaign. Specifically, you need to choose your foreign keys (that’s database-talk for a field you use to match up two separate sets of data).

What pieces of data will you have that will be in both your database of contacts promoted to and your database of responses? Most commonly, your keys will be one or more of the following:

  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Mailing address

You can use a specialized program, or just an Excel sheet with VLOOKUP to match the two data sets. Be sure that you standardize the formatting first, or VLOOKUP won’t be able to match 123-555-1234 with (123)555-1234.

Organize Your Tracking Data

With most of these tactics, you won’t have a handy dashboard that keeps track of all your campaigns and metrics (like Google Analytics provides). So it’s important to carefully organize your reporting before you start creating campaigns. I recommend creating a master spreadsheet to list all of your campaigns and their response mechanisms and tracking details.

Here’s a Google spreadsheet with a sample set up. It’s a pretty basic setup, but you can customize it to fully meet your needs. Your spreadsheet will probably look a bit like this:

Merging Online & Offline Tracking

As the digital and physical worlds continue to blur, I’m confident we’ll see get more and more options for tracking marketing campaigns.

For example, Google is testing a storefront conversion tracking option. This solution allows advertisers to track when someone visits their storefront after clicking on an ad. Google is apparently using location tracking from Google Maps and other apps to track when a given user enters the storefront. Google says the reporting is "based on anonymous, aggregated statistics. Store visit data can't be tied to individual ad clicks or people."

What are your favorite tactics for tracking offline marketing campaigns? What challenges have you run into, and what solutions did you find? I’d love to read your comments on this post, or reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter.