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The great marketing attribution myth

18th Jun 2012
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Many businesses don't believe they are ready for attribution, mostly because they don’t have the data to support it. In this piece Jon Baron explains why this is a misunderstanding and why businesses should consider this form of marketing.

It’s been said by many that to make attribution worthwhile you need a fixed idea about how your individual channels contribute to a lead or a sale. Indeed, many believe that it’s not technically or practically possible without this data.

This is a common misunderstanding and simply not true.

If you’re thinking about attribution, it helps to be armed with the facts. Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

Attribution isn’t just about taking action based on how channels contribute. It’s about learning how they contribute in the first place.

The starting point of attribution is tracking where and when each channel appears in the path to conversion. Once you’ve started this learning process you begin to understand the role each one plays.

At this stage of the process, the majority of last clicks come from affiliates, display retargeting, email and branded paid and natural search. No real surprise there. Brand display and generic paid and natural search do tend to feature higher up the chain.

Applying the most basic form of attribution and using the last-click model. Deduplication ensures that it is applied accurately and you’re not paying twice on commissions. It means that only the channel that really delivered the last click gets the credit and, therefore, the financial reward. Already, you can save up to 25% on commission fees.

Attribution enables you to gauge the success of a channel. Not just as a deliverer of last clicks, but also as a contributor to the entire customer journey. Think of it this way. Imagine a simple online purchase from Boden. A reader on the Daily Mail website sees a display banner for Boden and she thinks about summer wear. She visits Boden and other sites and deciding to order some new summer shirts types Boden into Google, and makes a purchase. The paid brand search ad will get all the commission. This clearly gives misleading data on which advertising expenditure truly drove revenue.

So, campaigns that rarely deliver last clicks but feature heavily in many customers’ journeys on their way to buying start to be seen in a different light. In fact, it might be that spending all that money on campaigns that feature even when hardly anything else does would deliver more.

Attribution does provide the information you need to shift marketing spend. Now you’re beginning to see figures to make a case for the true contribution of all the digital marketing activity you engage in. This might enable you to shift spend to channels you see are delivering more, which is transformative in itself. Here’s a flavour of some real client stories showing how attribution has transformed their marketing strategy:

A client stopped sending direct mail to their core customer base. Why? Because they tracked unique urls from the catalogue and found they were wasting money. Their core customers already know to come to the website.

A client has dropped doing paid brand search. This has reduced spend with no effect on results.

A non-ecommerce client used tag management data to prove that online advertising influenced offline sales. This concrete evidence changed the way they approached marketing on a global basis.

So, attribution is real. Being proactive helps you learn very important lessons before you even have to think about radically changing your approach.

Above all, don’t be put off exploring what can be a very effective, let alone lucrative approach to marketing, just because you think you’re not ready or don’t have the resources to apply it.

Jon Baron is co-founder and CRO at TagMan.

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