Allison WightmanAllison Wightman is head of e-business for Virgin Atlantic, with responsibility for the global flagship, about a dozen associated sub-sites, Commercial Insight and Database Marketing.

We talked about how the airline achieved a 40-to-1 ROI using attribution modelling to manage the online marketing campaigns and attribute sales to the correct channel. The topic is one that will be addressed at the Econsultancy Peer Summit on June 2 in New York City.

What made you start?

We hadn’t done any detailed analysis around our online channel until about two years ago. When we put some focus on it, we saw we had inaccurate reports and digital advertising sales results that were adding up to greater than the web channel delivered in sales.

We realized we needed something that would deliver one version of the truth and we went with Tagman. Some of the other tagging solutions that had been around for some time all fell short. We wanted to look at our results for natural search as well, and Tagman was one of the only tools that did that.

How did you begin?

Initially we implemented the “last click wins” model, which was a change. Since we’ve done that we’ve really been able to see clearly the path that customers are taking towards conversion. In the future, we intend to extend this model to what we are calling a "best click attribution" model where we reward different forms of the marketing mix in different ways.

We want to reward based on the contribution the different parts of the media mix are making to the overall goal. You find customers do different things depending on whether they are in the consideration or the purchase phases.

Content partners are good at influencing, say, choice of destination. A meta search engine may be about closing down a sale at the other end of the purchase path, to do a comparison for best price. You don’t go to a search engine to decide where you want to go on holiday.

The “best click attribution" model is something we plan to review regularly at least twice a year, if not quarterly. We are currently in progress of the analysis to come up with the initial model.

Can you articulate the factors that go into the model?

In terms of what is going into it, it includes all of our online marketing efforts -- whether it’s display, affiliate, or whatever - they are all being tagged. Because all this activity is in Tagman, we’re able to see what each contributed.

Its the level of detail we are now looking at which has moved our thinking on. For example, if a customer’s journey was from email to display to paid search. And then they booked. We’d want to know what media played a part?

Most people might say, “Oh yeah, we know what our CPA is for each part of the media mix.” What we’re doing is going to a whole new level of detail. It was an acquisition email, then a branded search and finally a retargeted banner.

Did they come early in the path or later in the path and what weight do we apply to that? We’ll be working with a partner to analyze that. No tool can effectively analyze all the data for you as well.

Are there changes you’ve made already based on what you’ve discovered?

Yes, part of our reason for implementing this was around duplicate commissions.

For the investment we made in Tagman, in a very short time it paid itself back by eliminating double commissions. We’ve calculated a 40-1 ROI.

Before, for example, we would pay a commission to a direct partner search engine, and we might also pay an affiliate. As a result, that’s why you end up with fewer sales than the money paid out in commission indicates.

“Best click attribution" level takes our understanding to a whole new level. Basically, in time we’ll be able to influence our budget allocation much more effectively. Partners will be rewarded for the role they play in conversion even if they’re not the last click.

Content partners, for example, are likely to benefit as they are rarely the last click yet the effort is greater to produce high quality pages that drive traffic.

Is this a global effort?

Yes. Changes within our marketing department happened at the same time where we centralized most of the marketing planning activity to the UK and that’s made it much easier. Marketing was centralized partly to reduce costs but also to enable us to manage the brand more effectively.

These days we create assets suitable for localization from the outset maximizing best practice on successful campaigns globally.

Were there any big surprises that arose out of your initial work?

Not that I’ve got an example of for you yet. We’re quite excited by the potential though to use it as a lever to direct marketing dollars.

What role does online play in your overall marketing?

It’s a key part of everything the airline is doing. We’re not focused on driving people down one channel or another, we believe the customer should have a choice of all channels
at any particular time to meet their needs.

With all the emerging platforms -- mobile, web TV, tablets -- we’re confident that with the universal tag we’ll be able to manage all activity effectively as they are quite progressive in the way they are developing the product and we’re hoping to work closely with them to innovate in this area. 

How does universal tagging affect download times?

We have over 100 campaigns running globally at any one time. If you’ve got lots of tags from different vendors all sitting on the purchase page, it starts to become a very slow page. Tagman can handle all that. It shows one piece of code, which makes for a much quicker download and improved conversion.

Laurie Petersen

Published 17 May, 2011 by Laurie Petersen

Laurie Petersen is Principal at LP Strategic Communications and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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