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When It Comes To Attribution, We Need A New Normal


Salford-based ResponseTap creates products that enable marketers to optimise campaigns; call centres to increase efficiency and conversions; and customers to enjoy an improved experience. 

Here, Matt McGillicuddy, Content Marketing Manager at ResponseTap, discusses the different options available to marketers around budget management…


It’s amazing how quickly a phrase can slip into our everyday conversations. But ‘new normal’ has done it. 2020 so far has been like going through a teething period with everyone else in the world – we’re hurt, confused, and a little tired from it all. But maybe we’ll emerge stronger. More capable. And more aware of what our real assets are…  

Your marketing, for instance, can’t be thought of the same way anymore. It’s likely that we’ll be picking up a restaurant menu in vinyl gloves for the foreseeable, and marketing’s no different. It must be handled with care. 

As the news keeps reminding us, you just can’t afford to take any chances. The coronavirus is hacking down marketing budgets at the fastest rate since 2009. 65% of CMOs have reported ‘significant or moderate budget cuts’. As an increasing number of companies are forced to do more with less, we have to make sure that everything is totally optimised for the highest profit and the best ROI. 

We’re talking about removing random ad spend, muddy decisions, and simple, surface-level data that doesn’t tell you which campaigns are really working in the context of the whole consumer journey. That all comes back to attribution. Or rather – using the right kind of attribution. 

As our idea of normal changes, so should the ways you qualify and measure a good campaign. To ensure you don’t pull the plug on your top marketing tactics, you should avoid one particular phrase. 

Cut ‘last-click attribution’ out of your marketing 

Easy setup. Clear metrics. The most obvious touchpoint, you might think, to a sale. Yet last-click attribution isn’t the most useful benchmark for campaign results. It’s not even the second or third best. 

When you use last-click attribution, you aren’t accounting for the nudges, prompts, research and conversation that led someone to buy from you. That is, every engagement that happened before they converted – whether it was through paid ads and social posts or browsing sessions and phone calls. By ignoring all that, you’re losing so much valuable insight. 

This is particularly relevant for offline engagement, which can be just as important as anything your customers see or do online. A mere 11% of buyers research and purchase solely on the internet. The rest flip between phone calls, Google, YouTube, in-store visits, TV ads and more. 

As 2019’s UK Search Personality Of The Year winner Arianne Donoghue put it in a recent on-demand webinar on budget optimisation “[Marketers] have been using last-click in the industry for so many years, and I wish we could just kill it with fire. It naturally favours certain channels – ironically, those pushed by analytics and attribution platforms themselves.” As long as the last click is all that counts, you have a skewed view of what’s classed as genuinely useful marketing, and it’s shackled to online stats alone.

We only have to look to a world-beating brand like Adidas to see the dangers of bad attribution. Last year their Global Media Director, Simon Peel, admitted they ran afoul of the last-click model – the only model they’d been using. “We had an understanding,” he said, “that it was digital advertising – desktop and mobile – that was driving sales. And as a consequence, we were overinvesting in that area.” 

Adidas ended up feeding 77% of their advertising into digital ads for loyal buyers. Four years later, sales were down. They knew they’d slipped up. Now they have what Peel describes as “a long way to go” before they’re back on top form. 

So if last-click attribution is far from ideal, what is? And is it hard to implement?

Specific advice for budget cutters:

If you’re in a pinch and looking to redress your attribution modelling to get a clear picture of which channels generate the most revenue and enquiries before making budget cuts, don’t spend hours setting up a customised or algorithmic attribution model. If they’re not set up already, now isn’t the time to adopt them. Embarking on a project like that will burn resources and could end up being counterintuitive (particularly in the short-term). Use a positional model instead. It will give you the information you need. In other words, by prioritising the existing activities that pique interest and drive sales, it will show you which activities you need to keep to stop your pipeline drying up or becoming congested. 

What should be the ‘new normal’ for attribution modelling?

In Arianne’s view, you need to take “the situation and the channels you’re running” into account as you’re making your decision. “If you’re doing a lot of impression-based activity – for example, YouTube or display ads – that’s very hard to track through any attribution model […] A position-based model that gives more credit to interactions at the beginning and end of the journey, less in the middle, can allow you to understand what starts and helps the customer convert.” 

Positional attribution is a close cousin to the linear model, which divides every point of the consumer journey equally. But, uniquely, the positional approach assigns more value to the first and last touch. You can focus on whatever creates awareness, or is most persuasive for a sale, in a given campaign and then turn off the supporting engagement that’s least essential. 

Of course, there are even more accurate models – such as a custom system with unique rules for each campaign. However, these require a fair deal of understanding and analysis. And that’s where an algorithmic model can come in handy. It uses real-time data for an accurate, moment-to-moment view of touchpoint performance. If the data’s reliable, you have a full picture of how, when, where and why people are engaging with you. 

Arianne agrees: “The ultimate goal – if you can find a platform that supports this – is a data-driven model. It looks at the value of every single interaction with your marketing and website. Credit is scaled accordingly based on the value delivered. It’s like a step up from linear – everything gets some credit, but it’s value-driven, instead of being split straight down the middle.” 

Whether you prefer a positional model or have the capacity to adopt the algorithmic style, last-click attribution needs to go. It’s been a blight on marketing budgets for far too long. In the new normal, there just isn’t the freedom to leave it there, blowing smoke, while you remain unaware of what you can really afford to lose. 

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