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Marketers continue to be ambitious with creative digital campaigns and cross-device usability as new technologies emerge, but many still don’t truly understand which channels are actually working.

Attribution may not be the most exciting subject, but measuring the success of your marketing channels should play an integral role in your marketing strategy.

Don’t take my word for it - top brands successfully riding the omnichannel wave are proving that it works.

Following on from last month’s article on building the business case for attribution, I took a moment to chat to technology innovators at House of Fraser, Virgin Holidays and Red Letter Days, to find out more about their experiences with attribution.

Meet Sophia Evgeniou - Head of Customer Acquisition at House of Fraser

Sophia joined House of Fraser with a strong agency background, so attribution had been on her radar for many years:

“Attribution is still a difficult topic for many companies as there isn’t one set way to attribute and this can be an extremely unsettling discussion point for any business.”

Sophia knew that the only way to approach the discussion at House of Fraser was to demonstrate the importance of data, and explain that it can map out a full view of a customer journey. "You can’t argue with a clear diagram and data, which is why I think that’s the only way to approach a subject as tricky as attribution.”

The top challenge for Sophia was the differences in reporting which leads to the reallocation of budget and setting expectations. Before the attribution model was in place reporting told one story, and the attributed reports told another: 

“This is a challenge to say the least, I needed to ensure that everyone was on board and understood the reasoning behind the model, reallocation and strategy moving forward.”

She also needed to get the partners on board, even though Sophia was aware that some of them would not benefit from the use of an attribution model: 

“The only way to overcome any issue with introducing an attribution model is to keep communicating, ensure that the data is presented clearly and the journey of events is one that tells a story straight away.”

Sophia knew that the value attribution could deliver was the most important focus when it came to pitching attribution into the business.  

However, it is still important to find a balance because “without the technology, we would of course not be able to identify the value.” She clarifies, “within my customer acquisition team, our focus is to identify channels that perform well but also ensure we aren’t cutting out the first or middle touchpoints that have absolutely played a part in a customer journey.”

To do this and really gain value, House of Fraser needed to understand the full journey and impact from each channel. Proving value fast was also a top goal for Sophia:

We had gathered data for quite a few months beforehand, and already knew the impact the attribution model would have on our account and activity, so we could quickly highlight any differences to the business, as well as set expectations fast.

What can you learn from Sophia’s experience?

Whatever the nature of your business, Sophia says that attribution isn’t just for retailers: 

Having worked agency-side previously I have experience in virtually every sector. This helped me gain a great understanding of how different sectors work but also how similar the need for data and customer journeys and the bigger view of the world can be.

Sophia’s top tip for marketers would be to examine and understand the data. “Is there a pattern or any correlation in data or across the customer journey touchpoints? Once you know the data let the data guide you, do not base your attribution or business case on ideas as you’ll probably be very surprised.” 

Introducing James Libor – Marketing Technology Manager at Virgin Holidays

James first recognised the importance of attribution a few years ago when he realised that they had multiple channels optimised to a different model.

This meant that when he calculated the revenue, it was quadruple what they were actually generating. 

My director said: ‘James you keep telling me that our customers are confused, but I don’t understand why?’ So I drew him a complicated diagram that presented our environment for consumers; retail stores, the call centre, website, multiple online channels and multiple devices.

It really put into perspective what our customers are facing. We were in the same place too. We were doing some good things with specific online channels, but it was in silos and we had no real view of performance across the business.

In his experience business design, structure and behaviour is key, “possibly even more so than the personnel. Often people have the capacity to learn and adapt but siloed departments create a barrier for this.”

The challenge for James was addressing the individual and sub-departmental KPIs and objectives. “If the business MI / BI is based on a last click view then those responsible for generating sales will naturally lean towards investment in channels appearing to drive conversion and the most value.”

James knew that the value of attribution wouldn’t be available overnight, so he opted to focus on integrating the technology with a view of the end vision. This meant he could then allow the data to mature and be actioned before the value of attribution is unlocked.

Once they all had a vision of where they needed to get to, James worked with us to develop a roadmap:

“The first step was to get our online marketing data in shape. We implemented a lot of new solutions, like impression tracking, affiliate segmentation and cost and margin imports. I knew where I wanted us to get to and it helped that I wasn’t in charge of a particular channel because there’s no bias.” 

Virgin Holidays were pleased to start seeing tangible results within 12 months, which helped James to prove that it was working. “Budget is often seen as a big blockage, but the way I look at is it’s 1% of your budget to tell you what the other 99% is doing. With that perspective the cost doesn’t seem significant.” 

James firmly believes that “one size fits all simply does not exist,” he explains: 

“Four years ago there were approximately 80 known marketing technology vendors offering solutions to the UK market. Now there are over 2000; end-to-end or best in class layers are becoming more linked and integrated.”

What can you learn from James’ experience?

James would suggest that marketer’s keen to introduce attribution in their business first ask the question and ascertain the business case you want to solve – you can then set out on solving it.

He also recommends engaging multi-departmental stakeholders early on in the process and assigning a project manager internally. 

James’ final tip is to manage expectations with senior stakeholders using set time-frames:

“This is not a day one benefit investment and the longer you run the program the more value you can deliver but be aware there will be a plateau of benefit so be careful not to 'over cook' year three.”

Meet Gerry O’Brien - Ecommerce Director at Red Letter Days

For Gerry, it is imperative that internal stakeholders understand the intricacies of online marketing when changing the way that sales are measured and recognised, he explains:

“The key is to educate key influencers within the business, ensuring they understand the differences between the various models; in this case moving from last-click to attribution.

Third party case studies and real world examples also help demonstrate the benefits and provide confidence when implementing such changes.”

Gerry was responsible for migrating the organisation from a traditional catalogue business, with an excess of 2m catalogues per annum and a 64-personnel call centre, to an online business where 87% of all sales came from online, supported by a call centre of 10 staff.

He has also been responsible for the redevelopment of the company website and the implementation of third party analytics tools to gain insight into customer behaviour.

The company's biggest challenge continues to be understanding customer behaviour and ensuring that it makes the most effective use of its marketing spend. “To support this we need to have an insight into our customer’s journey across multiple devices and channels, resulting in a full understanding of our how consumers interact with our brand.”

By comparing new and existing tracking reports, Red Letter Days were able to see results immediately: 

“The movement of revenue share between channels was of particular interest. The insight enabled us to better focus our marketing efforts on the channels that were delivering the greatest impact on revenue generation.”

What can you learn from Gerry’s experience?

Gerry’s top tip would be to educate everyone internally and put together example scenarios to show where or how investment will deliver benefits and increase revenue.

He also recommends using third party case studies to demonstrate how other organisations have successfully implemented changes and the resulting benefits.

Key takeaways

Attribution is a multi-faceted challenge. Precise requirements for adopting a solution that works for each brand will vary, but I hope that gaining insight into our featured clients' first-hand experiences with attribution will help you to explore the best approach for your business.

To summarise, the key challenges and solutions for House of Fraser, Virgin Holidays and Red Letter Days were:

House of Fraser:

  • Challenge: Changing the data landscape: managing internal and external stakeholders 
  • Resolution: Continual and bespoke communication demonstrating tailored benefits for all stakeholders

Virgin Holidays:

  • Challenge: Adjusting the internal silos restricting overall growth
  • Resolution: Communicating and reiterating the end goal

Red Letter Days:

  • Challenge: Change management and educating teams on the benefits of attribution
  • Resolution: Sharing learnings to focus the teams on marketing efforts that have the biggest impact on business growth
James Collins

Published 31 July, 2015 by James Collins

James Collins is Managing Director for Rakuten Marketing’s attribution solution and contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn

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