Why marketing attribution continues to be a problem

Ask any business about which marketing effort connects them with a new customer- and you’ll get a variety of answers
. “It’s all word of mouth (WOM)” , some friends lett us. Others say: “its face-to-face sales”, its “search advertising”, its” social media advertising”, its “social media posts” etc.
The backstory starts in the pre-internet age. Back then, sales folks were very reluctant to adopt technology because they wanted to keep their leads to themselves. After all, commissions depended on who “closed” the sale. In direct mail and catalogs, the coupon code and a mailed in order form identified which mailing worked. As digital and internet marketing developed, the legacy metrics were adapted and “last click attribution” became important. If you think about it “last click” or the ad that you clicked mirrored the “sales closing” and fitted neatly with the old direct mail coupon code model. All you had to do was to put some tracking computer code on the ad, email. At checkout, if the transaction had a web visitor who arrived from the ad, it was “Eureka” you had attributed the ad spend, specific email or ad to the purchase.
The trouble was that marketing and sales does not work on a last click basis. You do not buy on a single ad. As early as 2016, Search Engine Land had an excellent article by Christi Olson that explained the attribution challenge. Here is how to think about attribution in marketing:
  • What are customers doing today? It all starts with a customer need and your value to the customer. Sometimes the customer does not realize that there is a need and Steve Jobs invents the iPhone. In doing so, disrupts the phone industry, killing the phone booth. Remember, carrying coins to use at the phone booth? While at it, mobile phones also kill digital cameras, GPS devices, music players etc. Asking what the customer is doing today is a great place to start.
  • Are customers really doing nothing? Not true. It is surprising how many organizations rely on shuffling excel sheets instead of relying on a software system. Advanced excel skills are most valuable for fresh out of college employees. If you are selling software systems, there is no point in mocking rampant excel use. Accept, that there is something the customer is doing till they hear about your great product or service.
  • Do customers need to be educated? Yes, yes and yes. And this goes to advertising’s core purpose to inform, remind and persuade. The process of educating the customer is also called the “customer journey” starting at the top of the sales funnel (I didn’t know that I needed Alexa). For low cost items that involve only the customer (eg. a soda) the sales funnel can be pretty quick. As soon as more people are involved ( in most B2B) or the value is high (eg. a car with the family involved) the sales funnel can be long and run into years in complex sales.
  • What about multi-channel ? This Cyber Monday (2019) will be the biggest single day of retail sales online. Estimates are that 85% of the US is comfortable shopping online. While the order may come through on a desktop, the customer does most of her research on a mobile phone. Her research includes investigating a brand on Instagram in response to a friends post or an ad, and lots of video viewing on YouTube. Think of the customer journey as continuing beyond buying . You do want the customer to be happy and become your champion. Sometimes the customer checks out a YouTube video from you or your happy customer who explains a use question. Think of attribution as being multichannel. When a use question finds answers on Google or YouTube it goes towards progressing the buyer through the sales funnel. Each bit helps!
  • Why review, review and review? It’s useful to think about all forms of reaching the customer in the continuum of inform, remind and persuade- the objectives of advertising. Because you have a “Buy Now” call to action button in your ad does not mean the customer will buy immediately. However, when the customer just sees the ad,clicks on it or lands on your website- there is progress being made.Platforms like Facebook report (attribute) sales across platforms like mobile and desktop provided the customer is logged into Facebook. Google Analytics in contrast, relies on devices. So if you saw the Google ad on a mobile phone but bought on the desktop – the (poor!) ad does not get any credit. The important thing is to have a review meeting on a regular basis to see what results you are getting. Tracking tools like Google Tag manager, email tracking code, Facebook pixels are available for free. But they don’t help unless you review results regularly – they  just can’t help. And it just takes an hour a month to review for our clients.

About StratoServe for Growth Strategy.

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