The most common misconceptions surrounding attribution are that it’s not really technically or practically possible and that you already need a fixed idea of how your individual digital channels contribute to make it worthwhile.
Both are exactly that, misconceptions.
The technically or practically possible myth has been dealt with before. We have real attribution case studies to show people exactly how real clients are really doing it. Really. Other suppliers have too.
But, the idea you need an already established view of your digital media campaigns’ role in sales is a greater misunderstanding.
For attribution isn’t just about taking action based on how they contribute, it’s about learning how they contribute in the first place. Once you have begun tracking where and when each channel appears in a customer’s path to conversion – the starting point of attribution – you soon see the typical role each plays.
The results of this phase are rarely a surprise. Affiliates, display retargeting, email and branded paid and natural search tend to deliver a large amount of last clicks.
Brand display and generic paid and natural search tend to feature higher up the chain. But, having the hard proof and real numbers is a step-change.
The instant application of the most basic form of attribution, deduplication, ensures that the last-click model is at last applied accurately.
It means that only the channel that really delivered the last click gets the credit and, therefore, the commission. Just having cookied a customer is no longer enough and that saves an average of 25% of CPA payments for advertisers.
But, there’s much more powerful stuff. When you start to examine the figures, you can gauge the success of a channel, not just as a deliverer of last clicks, but also as a contributor to the entire customer journey.
‘Assisted conversions’ shows you exactly how many sales (and what value of sales) a channel played any part in delivering.
So campaigns that rarely deliver last clicks but feature heavily in many customers’ journeys on their way to buying – generic SEO might be an example – start to be seen in a different light.
Meanwhile, ‘attributed conversions’ tells us the real impact of any particular channel by weighing how often a campaign appears in paths to conversion against how many other campaigns also play a role.
This starts to de-emphasise those channels that feature commonly in customer journeys but less so in those where only a few campaigns appear. Spending a lot of money on a particular channel is almost certain to mean it delivers results but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.
Indeed it might be that spending all that money on campaigns that feature even when hardly anything else does would deliver more.
But, again, this is only the initial stages of attribution. You haven’t paid anyone differently (apart from through effective deduplication). All you’re beginning to see is figures to make a case for the true contribution of all the digital marketing activity you engage in. This might enable you to shift spend to channels you see are delivering more, which is transformative in itself.
The final step, perhaps the one that causes the most anxiety, is ‘applied attribution’, awarding credit and commission differently to campaigns based on where in the path they appear. This is setting attribution rules and can only happen when you have assessed – with your providers – what you all think the numbers are telling you.
So, attribution is real and it helps you learn very important lessons before you even have to think about radically changing your approach.
In the end, it is only about giving credit where it’s due and, for that, it deserves some very large credit of its own.