Brands face the attribution challenge


Digital is heralded by marketers for its measurability, with last-click attribution at the heart of their tool-kit. As digital becomes more fragmented and the number of consumer touch points online and offline continue to grow, last-click and other attribution models are under pressure to deliver the answers to increasingly complex questions.

Ebiquity, brought together leading marketers to discuss the challenges of digital attribution, from last-click through to agency relationships, to see how the industry can progress.

Watch the video below, read on to find out more or download the full article as a PDF.

Around the table (Anti-clockwise from bottom right)
Federica Aperio, international practice leader, digital, Ebiquity
Joe Clift, former brand and customer marketing director, Lloyds Banking Group
Matthew Mills, chief executive and founder, Shomei
Philip Smith, head of content solutions, Marketing (host)
Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, RSA Group
Andrew Warner, senior marketing director, Expedia


Is digital marketing able to build brands and move beyond its image as a direct response medium?

Pete Markey Understanding the path to pur­chase is challenging. About 60% of our sales occur online, but channel blurring is huge. Understanding the path from aggregator, to website, to direct phone call is difficult, and consumers treat us as one business regardless. Tracking is just one part, but ensuring this jour­ney is fantastic throughout is key. The mistake is in thinking all the leads are in the door at the top of the funnel; everything that happens underneath is just as critical.

Joe Clift
The fundamental challenge is manag­ing customers through that journey, integrat­ing that operationally so they regard it as seamless. Because people research so much before even engaging with a site or call centre, when customers hit the site, the experience needs to be even better. The stakes are so incredibly high and the onus on any business to make that work is enormous, especially in a larger, more complex business, that may not be typically digitally developed.

Matthew Mills
Ultimately, it’s about shareholder value, but the customer journey and the relationship with the brand is essential. The task in the digital space is making it a red-carpet experience. Logistically, it’s not easy doing that for everyone at every point against many different competitors. It’s a broad chal­lenge with no single answer.

Andrew Warner
Click-through last-touch ratio is prevalent because the time in which to prove things is getting shorter. Brand heritage still has an impact, but that accountability has gone.

This measurability is increasingly driving the way marketing is structured in some companies. Often, digital is pre-defined by organisations outside of marketing because of its measurability. That’s where it has become more limited in scope and is selling itself short.

Online and offline are increasingly blurring, yet many organisations force a split between online and offline attribution methodologies. Some of the traditional and proven marketing techniques often get overlooked.

What are clients’ touchpoints and where do agencies come in?

Federica Aperio Things often get lost in trans­lation between a client’s business objectives and the initiatives their media agency deploys.

We discuss with clients how to set the right KPIs, which are less media-driven and more business-goal-oriented. Some clients still look at performance as click-through rate, yet inter­nally they talk about sophisticated ways of engaging customers. It’s a difficult balance when evaluating a media plan solely on click-through rate. It’s a difficult conversation.

We also see blurring between seller and buyer and they are involved in both sides of the process. It’s difficult to see the true value com­ing from the agency when there is a vested interest in trying to up-sell. Fundamentally an agency’s business model is not geared toward that at this point in time. It’s about getting back to the fundamentals, demystifying and provid­ing clarity for a client and realising online is no different from traditional marketing principles.

JC There is an onus on agencies to be clear about what their role is and what it can be. Everyone in the chain needs to be very clear what the digital context is, its role and its limita­tions within a business plan. Digital marketing needs to prove that it pays as well as it says it can, or realise it’s just one part of the communications landscape.

MM We need to be very clear what we want each element of digital to do. Looking at click-through rates for all digital activity is clearly wrong. The same measure can’t be used for everything.

It’s love-hate on the last-click. It’s a very blunt measurement

Pete Markey, RSA Group

How does mobile fit in?

FA Mobile is an additional touchpoint and we will never be single-touchpoint consumers

again. It won’t get any easier, but it’s about understanding your consumer and how they interact with those devices.

PM It’s also what role those devices play; understanding the role of each channel, whether it be sales or a complementary experience and also where the customer is, who’s using it and how it fits in with the rest of the strategy.

MM The reality is, they [new platforms]are just challenges. Social media is just a good use of technology and a desire to say hello.

AW We have seen a change in customers. There’s much more choice, they have access to much more information and there is more responsibility on them when making purchases online. It’s an interesting dynamic.

JC There are those who feel empowered by that and there are those who’ll run from it.

Is there a journey from last-click, and what else can be measured?

PM It’s love-hate on the last-click journey. It’s a very blunt measurement. How do we find a way of attributing the right things in the right areas? I know we have Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers, but what do you do with that, how useful is it, and how does it fit with everything else? We have the basics, but

with social it becomes trickier.

MM Last-click is simple but incredibly blunt. Attribution is a science and can be directly challenged, proved and quantified. The art is understanding context, interpreting correctly, drawing out insights and acting upon that.

FA Click-through and view-through metrics are relatively quantifiable; then there are jargon and acronyms such as cost per engagement, but no one has defined what an engagement means. Ultimately, the KPIs are different for different organisations. Many businesses in sectors such as FMCG, which don’t have an online component to servicing a customer, have issues comparing digital with offline, which is about broadcast reach and frequency.

MM The question is whether you have the data to make the big bets and the data to adjust and measure. Some brands are moving their entire budget to social media, but there isn’t enough wholesale, actionable data to justify this. There is, however, enough data to test new channels and new activity.

What other challenges are there and how might you meet them?

AW There’s a difference between all of us understanding digital to the same level within an organisation and between organisations. People may also understand all the separate parts, but the challenge is fitting it together.

Organisationally, it’s harder for people to want to understand it all. Integration across discipline specialists is difficult. I want to understand multi-touchpoint attribution not just digitally, and to institutionalise that.

MM We all know what the measures are; what we don’t know is whether they are right. Once cause and effect has been measured using all the data, you are able to ask it any question. Last-click is one of the many attribution models needed to establish cause and effect. There will always be a number of causes and one effect but it’s about narrowing down on a consumer-by-consumer basis what they are.

PM I’d love that it was one cause and one effect. That’s the challenge; it’s the diversity of it. The question is what is it that really got us there? Having the skills and resources in your team and choosing the right agencies to work with, especially so they don’t add more confu­sion, is key.

MM I find there’s a lack of traditional marketing understanding, knowing that things work in combination, from those in the purely digital space. Education is key.

FA It’s easy for specialists to remain in their fragmented world but addressing consumer needs and finding the best way possible, whether online or offline, to reach them and communicate with them, is historically a marketer’s issue. It’s understanding who your consumer is and how to reach them.

JC There needs to be a little bit less obsession with data and a little more of an obsession with insight.


Key Points

  • Digital marketing is increasingly complex
  • Whereas last-click is simple to understand… but it’s flawed
  • Marketers are keen to move on BUT
  • To replace it, attribution models need to avoid adding further complexity

This round table was first published 14/03/12 in Marketing

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