With more than a billion users, Facebook has become a powerhouse in display advertising, but some continue to question whether Facebook ads can drive offline purchases.
That's starting to change, as studies have indicated that online posts can have a huge impact on consumer action away from the platform. This correlation, along with Facebook's commitment to new and improved ad products, means that Facebook is about to become the primary marketing tool for retailers and their brand co-marketing partners.
The long-awaited online to offline correlation comes from a study that recently appeared in the journal Nature that found that a single message sent to 61 million Facebook users influenced 340,000 of them to vote when they otherwise would not have. During the run-up to the presidential election, we saw major candidates, political parties, and a slew of advocacy groups turn to Facebook in an effort to sway undecided voters and drive voters to the ballot box.
It also implies that Facebook can influence offline shopping behavior, too, which is great news for retailers. Physical stores still account for 93 percent of total sales, and circular ads have historically been retail's biggest tool for bringing consumers into stores. Retailers have been looking for a digital way to drive foot traffic.
Several companies have successfully built cooperative marketing structures online. Companies such as OwnerIQ, for example, enable online retailers like Crutchfield to retarget people who visit the web sites of electronics manufacturers, offering the flatscreen TVs they were just studying — at a discount. When it comes to driving brick-and-mortar sales from online, though, Facebook appears to offer the best solution yet. CPG brands gladly pay for retail circulars to help sell their products, and there's reason to believe they could buy Facebook advertising to drive consumers into retail locations.
One company with which we work, ShopLocal, puts a retailer's circular content into a database, including images and all the sale prices and details. In so doing it makes local data portable and extendable, so retailers can build online-only pages of the circular, or utilize QR codes to generate more content than exists in the print world.
The future of retail involves bringing circular content into as many channels as possible in a seamless fashion, to maintain consistent messaging across all media, including mobile, video, digital out-of -home. If the retailers or their brand co-marketing partners import that data into Facebook, they could reach a much wider audience with more precise targeting than typical display.
Facebook offers insight into consumers' interests. So an advertiser using ShopLocal's services could show someone who Likes a particular brand of soap an ad showing the product on sale at a nearby retailer.
Facebook users not only respond to offers, they actually share them. According to the social network, three-fourths of the 100 most popular "offers" claimed were not from users who were initially targeted, but from someone who saw the offer after it was shared. The offers create more awareness when they are shared, and even better is that they work.
BLiNQ Media was recently able to demonstrate an online-to-offline push to an ice-cream store on a day that normally draws very little foot traffic. By asking these Facebook users to mention the coupon, we could measure how many had come because they saw an ad on the social network.
The Election Day study in Nature validated our anecdotal experience. Local-level targeting gives retailers a huge advantage, enabling mom-and-pop stores to compete with big-box chains.
Another key challenge of course is measurement, which ties us back to the examples mentioned before. The Election Day story took years of research, while the ice cream campaign involved a single coupon good at one particular store. It's complex to measure the effects of extending multiple offers that are valid at many retail chains in different geographic regions. For Facebook to succeed at driving offline purchases, retailers must feel confident that digital ads lead to in-store sales.
Third-party solutions are popping up, and Facebook is working closely with partners such as Datalogix, which uses robust in-store retail data to prove that ads work and to determine the right frequency, duration, messaging, and targeting that will produce the optimal offline results.
Showing Facebook users customized ad experiences based on the right creative message, targeting, and frequency localized for the consumer clearly helps drive in-store sales, which is the ultimate goal of every retailer. Retailers can take the first step by viewing Facebook as an excellent place to distribute weekly circular offers, expanding their reach beyond newspapers to drive awareness on the desktop, mobile and offers shared by friends.