Marketing Attribution: What’s That?

A new buzzword has hit the marketing industry: attribution. In what feels like the blink of an eye, industry professionals have gone from “never heard of it” to “can’t stop talking about it.” Ironically, exactly what people are talking about remains somewhat unclear. The consensus is based on a grain of truth, but is now morphing into several different theories. As such, many marketers have a concept of attribution that is vague at best and entirely incorrect at worst.

The concept of attribution needs to be defined and discussed. Popular opinion seems to be that attribution is synonymous with any form of ad measurement, such as last-click conversion, and that is simply not the case. Last-click conversions are exactly what they sound like: the final touchpoint before arriving at the end goal. Attribution includes far more than this last step. Just like the marketing campaigns being tracked, attribution is a comprehensive process and it cannot be defined by just one of the many steps that it includes.

While conversion is of course the overarching goal of marketers, getting consumers to arrive at that point takes careful strategy and planning. With all the advertising mediums and platforms available to us today, there is an array of options from which to choose when determining the best approach for any brand or product. As such, consumers are exposed to an overwhelming amount of advertising and rarely, if ever, is just one ad responsible for the final purchase. Shouldn’t each of these components receive the credit it deserves?

From first interaction to ultimate conversion, consumers use a number of devices and engage with a number of platforms. We watch a commercial on TV, then look up the product on our smartphones, then research reviews on our laptops before driving to the store where we may or may not actually buy anything. Each of these behaviors is a crucial step in the bigger picture. However, it is important to note that it is the behavior, not the individual, that is the essential information. Proper, all-inclusive models take these behaviors into account across the board, without crossing into any questionable territory regarding privacy concerns and personally identifiable information (PII). When handled correctly, linking these anonymous individuals to their devices throughout the path to conversion provides a full view of which assets are truly valuable versus which are essentially wasted resources. This process keeps marketers focused on the relevant data, without having to involve personal details about their customers.

Customer path attribution models require technology that can extract relevant patterns in behavior that advertisers can then put to effective use. This includes everything from which marketing channels are the most valuable, to which TV shows have ad spots that will be the most profitable for your brand, to which banner ad clicks are actually leading to sales. The technology finally exists to collect this data, analyze it and act on it.  To do this requires hundreds of servers and the right machine-learning algorithms that can produce verifiable results and constantly improve.  When armed with this system and the information that it produces, companies can finally allocate their ad spend appropriately, rather than put the majority of their budgets into the last-clicks and ignore the other steps that motivate consumers. This is the true benefit of properly executed attribution. Once this concept is firmly grasped by the marketing industry, wasted ad spend can – once and for all – become a thing of the past.

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