The customer journey isn’t linear. It involves multiple sessions across diverse media and influenced by multiple marketing channels. Understanding how well they work means understanding how they work together. Econsultancy’s new study highlights the promise and challenge of marketing attribution – the practice and technology that help marketers understand how their media truly performs.

Our latest report, Marketing Attribution: Valuing the Customer Journey, was conducted in association with Google Analytics, and it outlines the value in looking beyond channel specific measurement. 

Marketing attribution is the practice of determining the role that channels play in informing and influencing the customer journey. This research, conducted in association with Google Analytics, makes it clear that digital channels don’t operate independently. Their interplay is unique for every company and every product.

Marketers spend more on digital with each budget cycle, and they want to know how best to allocate to a bewildering range of options. Typically, the tools available to them have provided visibility into the very top of the funnel (views, clicks, opens) and the bottom (sales, registrations, leads). Marketing and budget optimization have overlooked most of the funnel, where influence and research occur, and where 100% of opportunity gets whittled down to 2% conversion.

For most companies that are engaged with it, attribution is still in its infancy. 83% of the survey respondents have only been using attribution as part of their practice for the past two years. A surprising 28% have only started in the past six months. The main reason companies are currently adopting attribution, according to 62% of those surveyed, is to justify their spending in digital. But this is only the beginning of what marketers want to learn.

By understanding the full customer journey, marketers can optimize their spend and create the most effective media mix when planning future campaigns. In the case of retailers, attribution can assist them to adjust affiliate payments to reflect that multiple channels have contributed to customers using a coupon. This is a big move away from the current affiliate model where full compensation is given for simply providing a coupon used in a sale.

Attribution is increasingly common at larger organizations, but is moving rapidly into the mid-market, whether as an in-house effort or an expectation of an agency. Access to the technology of attribution has pushed adoption past a tipping point. Built on the foundation of nearly universal web analytics adoption, attribution will likely become standard within digital marketing departments over the next few years. At many companies, the practice begins with the desire to better understand the interplay between paid and natural search, but that spear tip leads to deeper analysis that goes beyond SEM.

There’s a significant gap between the online and offline worlds. Organizations that are attempting to cross the chasm between online and offline are rare; attribution efforts tend to be in the separate camps. Those that do combined attribution tend to like what they find; powerful, complimentary effects by digital on offline, and vice versa.

Still, the opportunities in digital alone are significant. Digital is poised to pass print spending for the first time in 2012, and it continues to grow while offline channels ebb, so making improvements in digital spending and understanding is vital. Even though most commerce takes place offline, for many sectors, the research and decision-making process is mostly or entirely online.

For more on attribution goals, benefits, methods, and changes to channel investments,  this new report is now available to download. This is an area where most marketers have just scratched the surface. With our continued deluge of data, attribution will only become a more integrated part of the marketing and sales process. The more it is applied, the smarter we can become as marketers.

For access to Marketing Attribution: Valuing the Customer Journey, produced in association with Google Analytics, please click here.