Dear Marketers, You Have an Attribution Problem

Posted: October 19, 2010 in Ad Serving, Agencies, Data Driven, Datanomics, Metrics & measurement, Modeling
Tags: , , ,

Hey direct marketers – guess what – you have an attribution problem. You may not realize it yet, but if you are running campaigns in multiple digital marketing channels like search, display, affiliate marketing, and comparison shopping engines, you are double  counting some conversions (sometimes triple counting), over crediting certain channels and under crediting others. Your model needs a fixin.

Attribution reporting tools have been on the market for several years now, but are potentially the most underutilized tools by agencies and advertisers today. In part this is due to the complex nature of the planning involved in making the data actionable – in other words planning to go from attribution reporting to media mix modeling based on the analysis. On the other hand, digital media planners and agencies have been working to the bone and have very little time to innovate and discover new and better ways to work and service their clients.

So when Hollis Thomases from ClickZ reached out to me for input on this important topic, I was more than happy to help. It’s a topic I am quite passionate about. I think she put together a great article that highlights the issue.

Under-utilizing great marketing technology is nothing new. As an industry we have a history of under-utilizing the capabilities of the marketing technologies that are at our fingertips. I’ll never forget when Doubleclick wanted to shut down their Boomerang product, the very first retargeting technology on the market. Our agency was one of a small handful using it, and although circa 2000 it was tough to scale retargeting programs, we managed to run some of the first successful programs for large portfolio companies like Cendant. Fast forward to today. Retargeting has not only become one of the most popular forms of behavioral / data-based targeting, but an entire retargeting industry has sprouted up in the last couple of years.

Granted, there are hundreds of marketing technologies and capabilities pitched to agencies on a regular basis. It’s hard to find the time to vet them all. But we do work in DIGITAL media and and it is important to  be on the lookout for tools and systems that can help provide bottom line impact for clients and agencies. Embrace marketing technologies in particular that help create efficiency in workflow,  accuracy in analytics, and provide better experiences to consumers.

I’d love to hear about any new marketing technology tools that you find useful.


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  1. Kevin Lee says:

    It’s not about attribution it’s about the marginal impact (to sales, or preferably profit) of every media choice you have and the elasticity of that media (ie can you ramp it up at a low incremental cost).
    So, it’s about media mix models that even include things that aren’t usually put in the advertiser bucket.

    • Jason Heller says:

      @kevin – that is the ultimate goal here indeed. Attribution reports are only as good as the systematic approach to creating an econometric model that drives the best bottom line impact.

  2. catalystsf says:

    Attribution is definitely an issue right now for marketers, and unfortunately many marketers default to last click. In most cases they are not even allowing attribution for view through. The fact is that these tools should be used, and used often, so at least the digital side of the fence can be sorted out before you try and examine attribution that includes cross-platform components (that is a whole ‘nother can of worms).

    Great post – i hope that the agencies start to get the message loud and clear!

  3. Our agency, NETexponent, specializes in PPC search and affiliate marketing services. We have been trying to help our clients solve the attribution challenge for a while now. ClearSaling is an ideal solution but its is costly to implement for small to mid sized companies. Therefore, we track order IDs for search and affiliate orders. We then run a regular comparison to gauge the overlap. Its not an ideal solution but it does help quantify the potential overlap of different marketing channels. The big question is what to do with that data once available.

    • Jason Heller says:

      Hey Peter –

      Well that is far more than most agencies are doing, so be proud of that.

      I find that starting out with the answer to “what to do with the data” should be the starting point. No sense in data for data’s sake, right?

      Preparing to test mix models based on the analysis is not a short term endeavor. Of course there are also influencers beyond the digital channels that are within our control that impact the mix as well. So the deeper you dig into it, the bigger a process it becomes. Initially you’ll come to more questions than answers. That’s when you’re on the right path.

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