Opinion: The value of media attribution

Hari Shankar, director of client services and director of Perfomics APAC, discusses the importance of understanding the impact of usage of multiple channels on the consumer.

Oct 23, 2012 02:34:00 PM | Article | Hari Shankar


It is not an uncommon trend these days within digital marketing and media circles to come across an on-going debate between clients and agencies on the weight to be given to different media channels for driving outcomes, be it sign-ups, conversions or sales.

In more advanced markets like the U.S, this discussion has already assumed the form of a practice that has evolved enough, for marketers to make robust business decisions based on the inter-channel relationships, which in turn is driven by pure, simple understanding of consumer online behaviour.

This first of this two-part article series attempts to understand what this animal called attribution is and what its ramifications for marketers could be.

Thinking Attribution:

Let us say ‘au revoir’ to those days when a straightforward display or email marketing or paid Search campaign could be executed, and the results directly emanating from these individual channels could be measured and attributed back to the respective channels; thereby giving credit wholly to the efficacy of individual channels. Let us welcome these days where the impact or contribution of the various digital channels / tactics to an advertising campaign transcends the traditional, simplistic view above and goes on to measure the inter-relationships between each of these channels towards creating the final outcome.

Attribution, to the less informed, is simply understanding the impact and usage of multiple digital (and non-digital) channels on the consumer, while he is en-route to the final culmination point in that journey – a sale, a sign up, a download whatever that may be. Attribution modeling is the practice of arriving at quantitative weights derived from the understanding above, to multiple channels so that business decision-makers can take informed decisions on media budget weights, messaging /promotion strategies and other critical media planning / buying parameters with the view of driving optimal efficiencies to programmes.

Attribution modeling therefore relies on advanced data modeling techniques that stack up the investments marketers have made in display, email marketing, PPC et al against each other and this is done both with the usage of automated back-end tracking / analytics tools as well as statistics based computing techniques using advanced software packages.

The value of Attribution:

Although we will delve deeper in to consumer purchase funnels, multiple channel attribution applications etc in the next part of this series, it is pertinent to give a macro-view of the layers within the attribution sphere for now.  

Attribution as a technique is not just limited to the cross-channel attribution thinking alone but also at the very grassroots levels of individual media channels. Let us take Search marketing as an example to illustrate how attribution can add massive value to media planners & strategists (and of course, the agency and client as a macrocosm).

Let me take the the attribution system from the Google stables called ‘Adwords funnels’ which I am positive, my fellow search marketer ilk would be gung ho about as well.  What the Adwords funnels system does, when activated in a campaign is to give a comprehensive view of the various ‘consumer search paths’ represented via the keyword searches they used, before they got to the final point – a conversion on the landing page for example. The system not only shows the keywords used by the searcher who clicked on paid search ads to visit the site but also, the keywords searches used by the searchers who clicked on Natural search results in their journey. To understand the true implications of this, let us list out a few areas that the marketer would get an insight in to with this system:

· How long was the consumer journey before a conversion occurred?

· What are the types of keyword searches used in this path (consumer psyche)?

· What type of searches led to paid search clicks versus organic search result clicks?

· Did the searches for my ‘brand’ keywords result in the final conversion on site?

· What value should I assign to each of the searches in a path towards the conversion?

· How should I reallocate my paid search budgets across keywords and across PPC / organic?

· How should I change my messaging strategy to address the search path?

· What are the new audience types I should target as a result of the search keyword mix?

· What are the various types of keyword search paths that lead to a conversion?

While these are some of the most important insights that one can glean from the Adwords Funnels tool, the list is truly endless if one were to take it further in to the types of landing pages that each of the campaigns lead to versus the keyword search paths used.

Attribution is worth the Effort

Attribution tools not only allow marketers to understand the synergy between media channels (and also be delighted in seeing how the resultant optimisation efforts start to drive higher sales, revenue, ROI etc)  but most importantly create a total renaissance from a mindset perspective. The old ways of giving credit to the ‘last touch channel before a conversion occurred’ will give way to a totally new perspective of realising the role that many channels play in effecting those valuable conversions and being able to assign budgets against them.

Of course there are a lot of challenges that marketers face while trying to create an attribution eco-system due to existence of legacy systems, inconsistent tracking methods within and across channels, organizational blocks etc but suffice to say that it is a much lesser conundrum these days to deploy an attribution tool in a robust fashion and the pay off that marketers get as a result far outpaces the challenges involved in deploying such a tool.

The article first appeared on Campaign Asia