Marketers
(and many publishers) are wrestling with the problem of cross-channel
attribution:  understanding what each channel adds to the entire process.

Producing a breadcrumb trail of user paths is too simplistic. The real key is understanding the incremental effect of each unit of media.

“Why
do birds suddenly appear,” mused songstress Karen Carpenter, “every time you
are near?” Her hypothesis: that they, like her, wanted to be close to you, is
a pretty decent description of the way most online marketing is tracked.

Last
click tracking, for a publisher or a media manager, means having your channel
as close as possible to the final conversion. There have been winners in this method, notably search and some affiliates,
and losers, such as display.

It’s
easy to see why last click is considered to give a skewed view of the online
world. Consumers don’t just pitch up to
a search engine and decide to buy a new laptop, or take out insurance.

Marketing activity aims to target consumers
at all stages of the buying cycle, whether through brand building TV ads, coupons
in magazines or paid search ads.

Marketers
(and many publishers) are wrestling with the problem of cross-channel
attribution, understanding what each channel adds to the entire process. At
one level that’s a simple process: a universal tracking technology that can
record impressions, clicks and conversions for each user.

But
producing a breadcrumb trail of user paths is too simplistic. The real key is understanding the incremental
effect of each unit of media.

Take,
for example, re-targeting people who have come to your site but not converted
with display ads. This is often
considered ‘low-hanging fruit’ and can yield very attractive CPAs or ROI, sometimes
better than search.

However,
there’s a dark secret to re-targeting (whisper it) some of those people would
have come back anyway without you prompting them. You are in fact paying for some conversions
you would have got anyway.

As
you recoil in horror at this discovery, let me reassure you I’m not saying
there’s anything wrong with re-targeting. We run successful re-targeting campaigns for many of
our clients.

The
essential part is in knowing the incremental
effect, and thus what your marginal cost is to acquire those conversions. Then you can really value the worth of the
media channel.

That’s relatively easy to
do with re-targeting by splitting cookie pools into control and target groups,
and, rest easy, our experiments show that it’s still a worthwhile activity.

As
this year develops, the focus on cross-channel attribution is only going to
increase as marketers try to find the right values of the media they are
buying.

Only then can we tackle the
second part of the problem: optimisation. As Ms Carpenter might have added, we’ve only just begun.