Marketers today are facing an increasingly diverse set of challenges. On the one hand, they are pushing out messages at a breakneck pace through a continually increasing number of digital channels. At the same time, they have never had more pressure to be accountable in pursuit of ROI.
To try to make sense of what's happening, many organizations are looking at attribution solutions as the silver bullet for understanding how channels are contributing to sales.
Though attribution can be useful in analyzing marketing activities, implementing attribution solutions is not easy. Too often, it isn't until a significant investment has been made that most organizations realize attribution solution doesn't provide the answers they need.
There is hope, however. To make attribution a valuable part of the marketing process, marketers who want to understand the contribution of channels should take the following four steps.
Step 1: Understand the limitations of attribution
To ensure that an attribution project will succeed, it's imperative to understand the limitations of attribution solutions. Today's solutions use a variety of methods—including first touch, last touch, and algorithmic—to try to accurately assign attribution credit.
However, that remains an elusive exercise because the accuracy of each method is questionable, for two primary issues:
- Attribution solutions don't take into account all marketing channels, often ignoring offline activities. Heavily skewed toward digital channels, they don't look at the complete picture. Attribution models tend to give digital channels credit for the vast majority of conversions by focusing on online events (clickthroughs, signups, etc.) and the most recent marketing activities (promotions, email campaigns, etc.). However, offline budgets are currently larger than digital budgets, and offline is expected to continue to play a significant role in the marketing mix for the foreseeable future.
- Attribution solutions ignore brand lift. Today's solutions assign full credit for conversions to specific channels, and they don't take into account the role of brand-building activities (i.e., brand lift). Attribution fails to account for customers who are inclined to convert because of their strong affinity for a brand. As brand lift is ignored, the contribution of certain channels is overstated, which could lead to potentially detrimental budget-allocation decisions.
Step 2: Establish a data foundation and measurement framework