The Myth of Attribution


One of the slides that I discuss in virtually every conversation I have with businesses is one that I call the myth of attribution. In any system of measurement, we prefer boolean and discrete rules of behavior. If this, then that. It’s a problem, though, because that’s not how purchase decisions are made. It doesn’t matter if you’re a consumer or if you’re a business – it’s just not the reality of the customer journey.

Case in point is my purchase of an Amazon Echo. I saw the buzz online when it first launched, but I really didn’t have a need for it. At the time, I also wasn’t a prime user. But as I moved more and more of our business purchases to Amazon, joined Prime, and received shipping within a day, my attitude of Amazon changed.

I still didn’t know much about the Amazon Echo, though. One day on Facebook, Mark Schaefer made an interesting comment. He mentioned that he was speaking to his Amazon Echo more and more like it was a person in the room. As both a tech geek and Amazon enthusiast, I was intrigued.

First-Touch Attribution

Technically, I’d say that was really the first touch of my customer journey. I moved from Facebook over to Amazon where I read the product page. It looked pretty cool but I couldn’t really justify the expense at that point. I then moved over to Youtube to see what kind of cool things folks were doing outside the marketing material.

I returned to Amazon and read through the 1-star reviews and didn’t really see anything that would prohibit me from purchasing the device… outside or the price. I couldn’t quite justify the new toy at the time.

Last-Touch Attribution

For the next week or so as I navigated the web, some re-marketing advertisements for the Amazon Echo popped up. I eventually succumbed to one of the ads and purchased the device. I’d write a few paragraphs about how much I love it, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

The purpose of this post is to discuss where the sale of this Amazon Echo would be attributed. If it’s first-touch, it would be attributed to Mark as an influencer… even though he’s not a influencer for devices and technology. I’d say that Mark’s comment about the Echo was more of an awareness action in my customer journey. No where before Mark’s comment was I aware of the Echo’s sophistication and variety of features.

If the attribution model is last-touch, paid advertising and re-marketing would be the source of the sale. But they really weren’t. If you ask me which marketing strategy actually convinced me to buy the Echo, I’d respond:

I don’t know.

It wasn’t any single strategy that made me buy the Echo, it was all of them. It was Mark’s comment, it was my search for user-generated videos, it was my review of poor reviews, and it was the remarketing ads. How does that fit in Google Analytic’s conversion funnel? It doesn’t… as don’t most customer journeys.

I’ve written about inbound marketing’s chief complaint and attribution is the key.

Predictive Attribution

There is an alternative but it’s quite complex. Predictive analytics can observe sales behavior across all mediums and strategies and as you make adjustments, it can begin to correlate the relevant activity to the overall sales. These engines can then predict how lowering or raising budget or activity in a certain marketing strategy will impact the overall bottom line.

As you’re looking to your marketing efforts, it’s imperative that you recognize that even marketing that doesn’t have a directly attributed conversion has an overall impact in the customer’s decision-making process. And the impact is well-beyond our marketing efforts – the entire experience of a prospect contributes to the journey.

Here’s a simple example: You own a store and cut your cleaning staff. It’s not that your store is filthy, but maybe it’s not as spotless as before. The result is that your sales drops as many finicky shoppers simply don’t feel like it’s as clean as the other neighborhood store. How do you account for this in your marketing efforts? You may have even increased your marketing spend at this time but overall sales declined. There’s no “super clean” line item in your marketing budget… but you know it has an impact.

Today, companies need a baseline of content. From a clean, responsive web site, to ongoing articles that build their credibility, to use cases, white papers, and infographics. All of which are shared, and value added through social channels. All of which are optimized for search engines. All of which contribute to an email newsletter that nurtures the prospect.

It’s all critical – there’s not one that you trade for the other. You may wish to balance them appropriately as you see their impact, but none is optional in a complete online marketing presence.

What do you think?

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