The CMO’s guide to attribution

Attribution is the delicate blend of art and science that credits a marketing conversion to the various inputs and stimuli that prompted a target to take action. However, the basket of castoff crafter’s yarn in your average thrift store has fewer tangles than today’s typical customer journey. Prospects and current customers weave in and out of channels and touchpoints so quickly and fluidly that it’s difficult to answer even basic questions like “which spending actually earned us that business?”

Unfortunately, many marketers are answering attribution challenges with turf wars, spray-and-pray budgetary allocations, and/or a lot of shrugging. This makes CMOs grind their teeth, and with good reason.

In the name of better marketing investments, and healthier smiles, we present the CMO’s quick guide to marketing attribution.

Anything’s better than last-touch attribution

The oldest, and easiest, form of attribution is the last-touch model. Whatever the target sees right before conversion, be it a toll-free number on a TV ad or a weekly email blast with clickthrough call-to-action, gets all the credit. While important, that last touch could be building on the impressions and education provided by dozens of prior touches. Without further evidence, there’s no reason to assume the last-touch channel was actually the most persuasive or impactful.

“Marketers that still employ a ‘last touch’ attribution model on campaigns will most likely assign credit to a media partner that is not delivering value,” writes Technology Business Research in a pre-release draft of the report “Improve Data-Driven Marketing With Advanced Attribution Tools.”

Overweighting credit to last touch will lead to skewed investment results. Further complicating matters is that most marketers can’t dig deeper. According to TBR data, fewer than 30% of advertising buyers have fully deployed data management tools necessary for advanced attribution. Consider this your own call-to-action: almost any effort at all to spread around fractional credit will be better than last-touch attribution.

Understand your buying cycle before you tackle attribution

You can build better attribution models when you understand the way customers buy from you. Voiceover marketplace engages in a variety of lead-generation tasks, from search and social to live events and partner marketing. To draw a ring around the rapidly expanding problem of attribution, locks a lead into the lead source which initially put that prospect on the company’s radar. Under that umbrella, the service tracks every subsequent contact and campaign with that lead.

“Our leads are only ever going to have one lead source, but we might have 12 different campaigns that are providing ongoing touches,” says David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO.

Ciccarelli believes that last-touch is important to understanding conversion, so the last-touch is considered the primary contributor to a sale in the model. But to build a more complete picture of how the customer was influenced to purchase, every other touch over the past month is also given partial credit. “Ours is a tight sales cycle, so we do our weighting just on the campaigns seen by the lead over the last 30 days,” he says.

Build a bridge between online and offline activities

Digital campaigns are so much easier to track that it can be tempting to throw all of the attribution credit just at verified digital touches. Like last-touch attribution, that can be a dangerous and costly mistake. CMOs need to apply their resources to finding ways to bridge the gap between online and offline touches, in a way that feels like an authentic and fluid part of the exploration and discovery process for the prospect.

Marketing strategists love scoffing at QR codes. There’s practically a cottage industry of analysts predicting the format’s death. But despite the constant grousing, they remain one of the most direct and flexible ways to bridge the offline and online world. A QR code-equipped piece of collateral of almost any size and shape can take a prospect into any digital experience that can be launched on a smartphone, from a mobile website to an app launch.

Unless you only post your QR code in one place, however, they don’t do much for attribution unless the payload URL includes metadata that reveals some information about the source, be it a business card or a billboard. Marketing automation systems today can customize QR codes on the fly, meaning that every recipient of your printed collateral has a unique code to scan. That can substantially improve the chances of gaining useful attribution insights, as well as providing a more personalized experience for the scanner.

“Rules management engine can deliver, from the same QR code, different content to iPhone user versus an Android user, and different content to someone in Boulder or New York City,” says Laura Marriott, CEO of QR platform developer NeoMedia.

Ruthlessly re-evaluate your attribution model

As your channel mix changes and your charges find new and interesting ways to reach out to customers and prospects, your attribution model must also evolve. If results start looking unintuitive or old channels aren’t delivering the same return they once did, develop a new model rather than rejecting the data and sticking with a losing strategy.

“You have to be as unsentimental as you can be about your marketing,” says You Mon Tsang, CEO of ChurnZero. “You can measure cost-per-win, cost-per-lead, cost-per-opportunity in each channel very quickly, if you are taking an unsentimental view.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.