Improving Radio’s Attribution Scores


(By Spike Santee) Advertising attribution is the hot topic of the day. Advertisers want to know whether their advertising is working and if they are getting a return on investment. Media want to show attribution in order to sell more advertising. Instead of click-throughs and views, radio advertising can demonstrate attribution where it really counts — at the cash register.

The actual decision-making process a consumer uses to buy a product or service is a complex series of steps taken over long periods of time. This process is called the Decision Journey or the Path to Purchase.

To illustrated how complex the decision journey can be, Prabhakar Raghavan, SVP, Google Ads & Commerce, describes this example of a woman from a recent Google study. She spent 73 days in the decision journey. She interacted with more than 250 touch-points (searches, video views, and page views) before purchasing a single pair of jeans. She also visited several blogs, browsed large merchant sites, searched for local retailers, and watched product reviews on YouTube.

Raghavan attributes the length of the 73-day decision journey in this example to the desire of the consumer to enjoy her time shopping, to engage with brands that inspire her. She has a limitless array of choices. She wants to make the right choice.

According to The Nielsen RADAR 140, March 2019 report, this very same consumer was most likely listening to her favorite radio stations for more than 100 hours over the course of her 73-day decision journey to buy that pair of jeans. Instead of the 250 different Internet touch-points, this consumer’s radio listening was probably limited to just a handful of stations or influencers.

Many of the touch-points described in the Google blog post are Internet based, they are one-time touch-points. The consumer checks the resource, finds the information they are looking for, and then they move on to the next. However, with radio, the touch-points come from the same trusted source over and over during the decision journey giving the radio advertiser many more opportunities to influence consumer behavior along the path to purchase.

With most digital offerings, the advertiser is attempting to be in the right place at the right time with the right offer. Isn’t that, and hasn’t that always been, radio’s claim to fame?
The key to better attribution for radio advertising lies in crafting a more creative advertising message because the future of search is the spoken word, not keystrokes on a device. The future of search is “Alexa,” “OK Google,” and “Hey Siri.” If an advertiser wants to stand out among millions of search results, they can use radio to make their brand name the words the consumer searches for.

In a recent Google/Ipsos study, 85 percent of consumers said they will take a product-related action within 24 hours of discovering a product. They may read a review, check prices, or even make a purchase. With radio advertising, the advertiser can repeatedly drive that product-related action directly to the advertiser’s website and not to a search engine.

But in the study cited by the Google study, the customer still took 73 days to complete her decision journey and make the actual purchase. That should be a lesson to all advertisers who are seeking instant gratification from their advertising. Because the Internet is so vast, it is very difficult and expensive in the digital realm to be in the right place at the right time with the right offer all the time.

Radio advertising’s lower cost and repetitive nature can revive product interest, if the online search ended with no decision. Radio advertising, and a well-crafted creative message is, in effect, an influencer. The reason the listener is listening to the radio station in the first place is because they like the entertainment and information they get from the radio station. The listener is already engaged and has an open mind for new product information.

The desire for advertising attribution is nothing new. “Keyed advertising” has been around for years. In years past, advertisers would place the same print ad in different publications. But each ad had a key, or a special code, that would tell the advertiser which ad was delivering a better ROI.

Companies will run the same ad in different publications or in broadcast media, but the ad in each medium will have a different telephone number for a response. The advertiser can then attribute the advertising response based on which phone line rings.

You hear keyed advertising in commercials that encourage the prospect to use a promo code on their website. The advertiser only needs one website but with different promo codes from different advertising sources, the advertiser can then attribute the results based on the promo codes.

Radio call letters or station identifiers make for great promo codes in a radio commercial because your listeners love your station, you play their favorite music. Your call letters or station identifier are easy for your listeners to remember and then use when they visit the advertiser. If you get enough of your advertisers to use your call letters as key words, you’ll start to train your audience to tell advertisers your radio station sent them in, even if the advertiser isn’t using keyed advertising or promo codes.

If you would like some help getting started, just let me know.

Spike Santee is the author of The Four Keys to Advertising Success and the president of Contact Spike at (785) 230-5350.


  1. My respects to Spike for including what I believe is the necessity, if radio is to flourish as an influential medium: “Well-crafted messaging.”
    Meanwhile, I had the “Path to Purchase” explained to me some years ago. I was told, “If you, as a potential customer, are UNconsciously influenced dozens and dozens of times over time, that’s a standard and common situation.”
    (This is also radio’s great opportunity.)
    “If, however,” he continued, “Dozens and dozens of product searches are conducted as a CONSCIOUS strategy, either you are not yet in the market, or – you are crazy.” 🙂

  2. If the Google/Ipsos study is the guide to understanding consumer purchase behavior (and 75 days to buy a pair of jeans? Really?) than it stands to reason that there is not one medium out there that is the absolute “go-to” when it comes to attribution.

    Advertising is a push pull funnel with consumers entering in a variety of places and stages. Broadcasting “pushes” the message while the internet “pulls” you through (search, social, mobile, video). In tandem, they work in powerful ways to impact consumer behavior. The reality is that consumer choice of mediums today is so broad that it’s more difficult to develop effective reach and frequency but it’s necessary because the features and benefits of both on-air and on-line media are critical for success at the cash register.

    The attribution notion is a seductive one that both seller and client want to believe in. While radio has historically provided elements of attribution (some noted in this piece) we kid ourselves if we believe that one medium is always and solely responsible for success.

    According to one of Gordon Borrell’s studies, 92% of local SMB’s are buying a combination of traditional and digital media together. If you believe in that stat than it stands to reason local clients are buying both because they know attribution is not found in a single source.


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