Minding the Gap: Measuring the ROI of Traditional Marketing

a bridge broken in half
By Peter Decoteau

The ever-present challenge in marketing is the push and pull of action and measurement; learning, strategizing, coordinating, implementing, measuring, refining, rinse, repeat. Digital platforms have afforded us the ability to “close the gap” between executing our marketing efforts and measuring their success—if not completely, then to a much more precise degree than ever before.

For example, tools like custom URLs and conversion tracking codes allow you to track website traffic from each individual ad running on search, social and digital platforms, follow the user flow on your website and measure how many of those users convert, whether by requesting an appointment through an online form, contacting a clinic, or whatever metric you use to measure a “lead conversion.” In the case of tracking Return on Investment (ROI) for this type of campaign, the gap has narrowed to the short distance that separates capturing a lead conversion and an actual, in-person clinical visit. Bridging that final piece of the gap is a challenge that continues to bedevil service-based industries, but the meat of the data available up to that point can be incredibly valuable in revealing your most effective messages, platforms and content, because it can prove a direct line from user behavior to conversion action.

In comes traditional marketing—historically difficult to measure, but nonetheless vital to most marketing strategies. Traditional marketing involves established channels such as print advertising, radio, television, and even sponsorships and organic word-of-mouth, but whereas digital channels can track concrete numbers based on user behavior, traditional channels rely on much less direct methods of measurement, making performance tracking inconsistent and often misleading. Still, there are ways to begin to “close the gap” between traditional marketing and its impact on consumer action.


Your key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring a traditional marketing campaign should be tied as closely to your end goal as possible. In terms of marketing for physical therapy, that end goal is most likely focused on increasing new patient numbers, though you may prefer to get more specific with regards to doctor referrals vs. self-referred patients, target demographics or other more focused audiences or objectives. While you may not be able to prove concrete ROI for traditional channels, setting appropriate KPIs can provide what I call a “soft attribution” model for success—which is to say that you may not be able to directly attribute a conversion to your campaign, but you can rely on data that suggest a strong correlation between the two.

The most obvious and useful examples of KPIs for “soft attribution” include website traffic, keyword search data, website goal conversions and phone calls. In order to clear the “gap,” you’ll need to jump to some conclusions; for instance, it can be assumed that unusual spikes in website visitors, searches for your business and phone calls during a run of TV spots are most likely related to that campaign.

Additional challenges with this approach include how to measure soft attribution when using multiple traditional channels (more on that below) and what to do when increases in KPIs do not result in increases in your end goal. In the case of the latter, while the ROI may not be there, there is still value to be found in exploring where the campaign fell short. For instance, if website traffic increased but website goal conversions remained static, you may have reached the right people with the wrong message, or perhaps your landing page wasn’t relevant or optimized to the audience or the message. Either way, the group you spoke to took the first step by visiting your website but did not take the conversion action you ultimately desired. Reflecting on and reacting to that those types of insights can lead to better results in future campaigns.


One of the most effective ways to track the performance of traditional marketing is using unique or “vanity” URLs and/or phone numbers. These are one-off landing pages and phone numbers used only as the call-to-action destination for a specific marketing campaign, meant to create a more concrete correlation between message, channel, and audience action. An example may include creating a landing page under the URL “www.PainFree.com” (assuming that name is available) and promoting it only for a radio campaign you’re running about “getting PT to live pain-free.” If you’re running campaigns across traditional channels, you’ll have to create a unique destination for each channel in order to drill down into data for each one.

Likewise, special offers promoted only on traditional channels can provide clear data on how many people took action as a result of an ad placement or event participation, and who those people are in terms of demographics. The most typical example of this type of market tracking can be found in your local newspaper, where you’ll regularly find coupons or discounts in print ads, or on the radio, where you might hear something along the lines of “mention this ad and receive 10% off.” Those offers aren’t just to get you in the door—they’re also a way to track campaign performance. In physical therapy, we may not be able to offer steep discounts or free services, but handing out cards for free 10-minute assessments at the next run of community events you attend can create a level of ROI measurement largely difficult to track in sponsorships and community development activities. At the end of the day, if 10 people take you up on the offer and three become patients, you’ll have hard data to support whether the investment was worth it.


Perhaps the most obvious way to track how people are finding your clinic is to simply ask! Tracking referral sources during new patient intake should be a routine part of your operations, and yet there’s a reason it’s last on this list: though it may be the easiest way to measure ROI, it is often the least reliable. This is mainly because people often conflate or misremember where or how they first heard of a product or service, often defaulting to recency over discovery. For example, a person who hears a radio ad for your clinic may act on it by Googling your name and then navigating through the website to learn more before deciding to request an appointment. While the discovery happened through the radio, the person may still cite Google when asked “how did you heard of us?”

Despite its flaws, implementing a referral tracking method into your patient intake—and especially integrating it into your CRM, where reports can be pulled for specific timeframes and patient segments—can offer trending data to suggest overall impact of marketing campaigns. As a low-effort endeavor, it’s a surefire way to begin to measure the ROI of marketing and advertising on traditional channels. So, while we may be stuck “minding the gap” for the foreseeable future, we can at least take fewer blind leaps of faith in our marketing efforts. 

Peter Decoteau

Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at peter.decoteau@ptsmc.com.

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