Attribution: What switched-on marketers need to know

When was the last time you bought something from a brand the very first time you encountered them? Just like you, it will be incredibly rare that your customers will have just a single touchpoint with a brand – even yours – before they commit to buy.

As marketers we therefore need to create as many positive touchpoints for customers as we can across multiple channels to improve brand perception, acquire new customers and drive up the life-time value of those customers.

But to create positive touchpoints it’s vital you understand how customers currently engage with your brand across different channels, the value and ROI you can attribute to the activity on those channels, and the data you can use to optimise their performance.

Understanding the value of these customer interactions and then using that to inform decisions is the essence of attribution.

However, there is a significant problem with how a large majority of marketers and brands are approaching attribution.

If you map the touchpoints most brands focus on with their customers to their most common positions in the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) marketing funnel model we begin to see the problem.


The problem with last click attribution

Web analytics over the last 15 years have trained us to ignore 100 years of retail marketing and advertising wisdom to only reward efforts on the smallest part of the funnel.

Web analytics predominantly focus on the bottom of the funnel (targeted remarketing, direct traffic, brand and long tail search, email), with top and middle funnel activity rarely getting a look-in.

The focus on the bottom of the funnel that web analytics takes (only giving importance to customers when they’re that “last click” away from purchase) generally leads to lower overall revenues and higher overall Costs Per Acquisition/Action (CPAs) for a brand.

If we were to increase budget and effort at the top of funnel instead, we would increase the pool of customers who know about the brand and enter the purchase funnel. With more people in the funnel to start with, there’s more potential for higher overall revenues and lower overall CPAs.

We know this is true from our own behaviour as consumers – ask yourself again, how often would you purchase a product the first time you see it – but as marketers how do we embrace this in an informed way?


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The informed way – Attribution modelling

Attribution modelling, right?

It’s the hot topic in ecommerce right now which means everyone wants to be using it. But not everyone is sure why they should be or how to apply it properly.

Too many retailers still use attribution and analytics data to just look back. Approaching attribution as a means to report on what’s happened or to justify channel use only scratches the surface of what’s possible.

Instead, you should be using attribution to plan for the future through Data Driven Decision Making (3DM).

3DM analyses your data, drives the insights from it, and turns it into actions that you can then implement and adapt to create more data before repeating the process.

When it comes to attribution used for 3DM we tend to find there are 5 compounding steps on the attribution tech roadmap:

  1. Tagging and configuration of discrete systems – like GA, Google Ads, Facebook Business Manager and the like
  2. Fully operational last click attribution, with a complete channel grouping and UTM taxonomy
  3. Different attribution models being used and compared in GA & Facebook Attribution – 9 times out of 10, retailers will start with some variant of time-decay, possibly with some first interaction boosting
  4. Google data-driven models, using 360 or Google attribution tools
  5. Using 3rd party tools or proprietary tech to pull in non-google impression data and cross-browser info.

However, what we often find is that brands and marketers think they’re much further along this roadmap than they actually are.

We’ve spoken with marketers who think they’re at stages 3 or 4, but when digging under the surface they’re not even at step 1.

It’s a mistake that’s easily made, so how can you and your brand make sure you’re doing the right thing when it comes to attribution and are ready to take advantage of moving beyond a last click mindset?


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Getting ready for attribution

Unfortunately, we don’t have all the answers for you but what we do have are several extremely important business readiness questions you need to be asking yourself and your team right now:

When it comes to attribution, do you understand the question you’re asking?

Last click is simple as it can be viewed as a 1:1 and transactional relationship. You spend budget on X, you get more X. But the reality is you will (or should) have multiple activities running across different channels and various time frames – far from simple.

Rather than thinking about attribution as a simple and transactional question of “I spent my budget on X, did X perform better?” it needs to be thought of more as a holistic process. The question to really ask yourself is something like “Knowing what I know about X If I were to spread my budget across A B C as well, could X increase more efficiently?”


Once you’ve understood the question do you know what an answer would look like?

Are you looking for a nice, neat repeatable report or a growth hypothesis?


If you then get an answer can you act on it?

You may be recommending budget for channels and activities that will feed the top of the funnel, but do your key stakeholders really buy into this concept or are they still thinking in terms of nice neat channel by channel marketing mix reports?


If you act on the insight, how will you know it’s worked?

Are there key metrics outside of the attribution model itself that you can use to measure the value of the process?


Can we further augment the data to get a “more right” answer?

Of course you can, this is more a question of have you planned for this to be a shift in process and working practice or are you of a mindset where you can simply deploy it and it’s done? If it’s the latter, you need to re-sit the module.



The route to business forecasting nirvana

So, you’ve adopted an attribution process that you and your business can believe in and you’re using it to make decisions. What’s next?

  • Continue to evolve the model – the great thing about making your marketing spend work harder is it can fundamentally change your customer acquisition profile which means the model you used previously may be sub-optimal. If you’re using data driven solutions this evolution over time is largely taken care of but as we saw from the roadmap steps this isn’t always available.


  • Make sure new marketing platforms and channels are added as data sources as soon as they’re onboarded – this is really about maintaining the integrity of your process.


  • Measure the impact of merchandise productivity. Now we get into it. Up to this point we’ve only been measuring marketing effectiveness. Marketing is important but how is your product and pricing impacting the good (or not so good) work the marketing team is doing? Good marketers with a mediocre product may struggle to realise the growth that mediocre marketers with a great product manage easily. In extreme cases without being able to measure merchandise productivity you may find good marketers end up being replaced with mediocre ones.


  • The customer file cohorts – similar to merchandise productivity, do you really know how your customers behave once you have them? How much do your growth targets rely on repeat sales? Is this even realistic? How much of your acquisition is actually just re-acquisition? How does the lifetime value of a customer differ based on when they were acquired or what they originally purchased?


  • Business forecasting nirvana – if you look at your retail performance as the combination of new customer acquisition (marketing), merchandise productivity, and existing customer behaviour, you’ll have a far better chance of your forecasts being accurate. All too often we see these analysed in silos, if at all.


For the switched-on Marketer

In the last couple of years attribution modelling has become one of the hot topics in digital marketing. And rightly so. It really is the best mechanism for improving your marketing performance and efficiency.

Most switched-on marketers (that’s you if you’ve read this far) understand the challenge, but we speak to many retailers who are struggling to implement something workable.

This is no surprise as implementing a proper attribution-led 3DM process often requires a more holistic, integrated, and analytical approach than was strictly necessary in the last click world.

The temptation is to just consider it a technology problem and hope that solutions from the likes of Google and Facebook will somehow solve it, but a tool is only as good as the people using it.

Before you look for a technical solution, we strongly recommend that you assess your ecommerce marketing operation against the business readiness questions and the roadmap in this article and come up with a plan to close any gaps.

And if you need a second opinion or a nudge in the right direction, get in touch. We’ve helped retailers like you improve their marketing efficiency, just take a look at our case studies to see how.

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