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There has never been a more exciting time to work in marketing and technology. The world was already digitising rapidly, but the pandemic has accelerated this digital transformation. Companies that have been forced to adapt to evolving customer behaviours to survive now have an opportunity to thrive.

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Marketing Attribution Best Practice Guide

An introduction to attribution platforms

Attribution platforms help businesses answer a range of questions about their audience, the performance of their campaigns and areas where channels may be underperforming.

They do this by applying statistical models to help marketers attribute the value that different customer touchpoints added to a conversion. This is important because it empowers marketers to understand how tactics are performing and allocate their marketing budget towards the best performing tactics. This translates to more effective marketing, more efficient marketing management and higher return on investment.

Why are marketers using attribution platforms?

  1. Evaluate channel effectiveness
    When orchestrating an omnichannel marketing strategy, it can be a challenge to analyse which touchpoints are working, and the role they have to play across a complicated customer buying journey. This can make it more difficult to evaluate what tactics are working, and which need to be improved.

    This is why marketing attribution platforms are becoming more important for marketers. Almost 60% of marketers surveyed for our 2022 Martech Report said that they had added marketing analytics and attribution platforms to their marketing stack in the last 12 months. Further, many plan to add this capability to their tech stacks in the next 12 months. (1)
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  2. Proliferation of channels
    Macro trends including a proliferation of digital channels, digital ubiquity and long periods of Covid lockdowns have accelerated ecommerce and expectations around digital customer engagement. These forces have led to changes in how customers research, interact & transact. This has implications in terms for media investment​ and channel optimisation. As people spend more time and money online, marketers need to decide where they should allocate budget.

    With changing expectations around different channels, marketers increasingly need to optimise tactics across the customer journey rather than optimising channels in isolation. This increases the importance of attribution and analytics to understand those journeys. After all, customer journeys are central to a customer’s experience of a brand. 

Key stats
A 2020 survey by Optimizely found that more than 70% of respondents use multiple channels during their shopping journey. An equally large percentage of respondents said they use alternative fulfilment options like buy online/pick up in store or click and collect. (2)

Kitewheel research found that consumers typically interact with around six channels during a typical shopping journey, with just under half of respondents regularly using more than four channels. These include social media, email, company websites, mobile apps, live chat, and phone. (3)

Mobile is also a widely used channel. PwC’s Global Consumer Insights survey found that smartphone shopping is at a historic high, with 41% of the nearly 9,400 respondents in 26 territories or countries saying they shop daily or weekly via their smartphone versus just 12% five years ago. (4)

  1. Customer data management
    Use of data is a key concern for customers and a growing challenge for marketers. Data is vital for marketers to understand and be able to optimise customer journeys, but there is an issue around trust. Almost 60% of respondents in the PwC survey are more protective of their personal data than they were just six months before. (4)
    Choosing the right marketing attribution platform can help mitigate privacy issues by aggregating, normalising, and managing data from different sources. The ways in which businesses use customer data can help to build trust, such as using data to meet customer expectations and/or make purchasing easier.
    The key here is that the value of giving up personal information must be clear to the consumer, that is, data is given by consumers with the expectation that there will be a clear benefit.
    When used well, marketing analytics and attribution platforms benefit consumers by enabling businesses to personalise and streamline marketing and communications, providing relevant information when and where it’s most useful across the buying journey.

What are marketing attribution platforms?

Marketing analytics and marketing attribution are related and often combined in the same platform, but are not always the same thing. While there is some overlap between them, there are some differences.

Marketing analytics platforms

Marketing analytics platforms such as Google Analytics collect, track, and measure marketing data primarily from digital channels like websites, email, and apps. Many platforms can also track analytics from traditional channels like phone calls, TV, radio, and out-of-home ads.

HubSpot’s Marketing Analytics & Dashboard software is an example of a marketing analytics platform that’s basically a reporting tool where marketers can view performance of their campaigns via dashboard-style interface.

Marketing attribution platforms

​​Attribution models are statistical approaches that help marketers understand which touch points along the customer journey have contributed to a conversion, such as a purchase, download, or website visit, depending on the objective of the campaign.

Marketing attribution platforms got a step further than analytics platforms by doing the statistical heavy lifting for marketers to help them understand the marketing tactics, interactions, and channels that contributed to a conversion (e.g., a sale, purchase, subscription, or lead.)

They help quantify the value of your marketing interactions with your customers and connect the different touchpoints and channels so that you can understand how they work together to generate the desired action.
HubSpot’s Ruler Analytics is considered an attribution platform because it offers “closed-loop” marketing attribution features which include online and offline conversion tracking and different attribution modelling capabilities.

Understanding attribution models

Attribution helps you understand which tactics and channels work at every stage of the customer journey or funnel by incorporating different attribution models. Some attribution models work by allocating credit to a single touchpoint. These are known as single touch attribution models. These include:

  • First Touch: First-touch attribution gives 100% of the credit to the first channel a customer engaged with before the conversion or sale. For example, let’s say a customer clicks on your search ad from Google, browses your website, adds something to their shopping cart, but leaves without buying. The next day, they click on a Facebook ad that takes them back to your website where they complete their purchase.

    Even though the Facebook ad played its part in the conversion, the first-click attribution model gives the credit for the sale entirely to Google. 
  • Last Touch: Last-touch attribution gives 100% of the credit to the last channel a customer engaged with before the conversion. So, in the above example, the Facebook ad would be credited for the sale.

  • Multi-Touch. It is generally regarded as better practice to use multi-touch attribution models. These give credit to more than one touchpoint in the customer journey.

    Multi-touch attribution gives credit to all channels, touchpoints, and interactions that a customer engaged with prior to the conversion. The way credit is assigned or weighted varies depending on the multi-touch model being used. Multi-touch attribution models include:
  • Linear: Assigns equal weight to all touchpoints, regardless of where it falls in the customer journey 
  • Time decay: Gives more credit to the touchpoints closer to the conversion or sale (e.g., bottom of funnel touchpoints).
  • U shaped: Gives the most weight (40% each) to the first and last touchpoints and 20% of credit distributed across all middle touchpoints.
  • W shaped: Gives 30% of credit to first, middle, and last touchpoints with 10% distributed across all other “middle” touchpoints
  • Full path: Distributes credit more evenly across the customer journey, favouring key touchpoints and major milestones typically at the start and end of the funnel. 
  • Algorithmic: Driven by AI and machine learning technology, this model uses complex data and modelling to analyse how interactions across touchpoints and channels work together to contribute to the final conversion.
  • Custom: In addition to the multi-touch approaches listed above, businesses can create custom multi-touch models based on their unique business goals and the metrics and channels specific to them.

Multi-touch attribution models compliment the way modern customers interact with businesses (namely, across many channels and touchpoints).

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What can an attribution platform do for you?

Attribution platforms help marketing teams justify their marketing expenditures and optimise their marketing strategy.

Businesses use them to gain insights into customer behaviour so they can identify the channels, messages, tactics, and strategies that are most successful (and refine their marketing approach accordingly).

An attribution platform can:

  • Help you understand customer behaviour (including buying behaviour). Aggregate and normalise consumer data, collecting it from multiple touchpoints and assigning weight to each interaction based on predetermined attribution models.

    This
    provides you with a clear understanding of what’s working for various customers or customer segments across your entire marketing ecosystem. 
  • Quantify and track the number of touchpoints before conversion. By aggregating and normalising data, platforms reveal how each touchpoint contributes to the final conversion along the journey. These deeper insights are necessary because modern consumers use multiple digital and analog tools to interact with businesses. 
  • Help marketing teams improve channel performance and achieve better efficiency. Armed with detailed information about how each touchpoint performs, marketers can optimise spend and adjust tactics to achieve better performance by allocating extra budget to key channels and reducing or cutting budget in others. 
  • Justify spending in certain areas and assign appropriate credit. With more accurate attribution for all channels and factors that drive leads, sales, and other conversions, marketers can justify spending on media channels, tactics, and technologies that were previously harder to quantify.
  • Optimise budgets. Understanding the channels which are driving traffic, leads and conversions enables you to direct budgets where they will deliver the greatest ROI, or reduce spending on less effective channels.

How do I choose an Attribution Platform?

As with any technology, choosing an attribution platform requires comprehensive research and team collaboration to ensure the tool matches your needs.

In our 4Ps of Marketing Technology model, we present the optimal process for onboarding all kinds of marketing technology solutions. (5)

We’ve narrowed down a few key pointers here.

  1. Internal requirements gathering & RFI
  2. Establishing a project steering committee
  3. Business use cases – User/business focused
  4. Platform use cases – Features/functionality focussed
  5. Vendor scorecard
  6. RFP
  7. Vendor selection – (Too often companies jump straight into their selection and it all goes wrong. Often, they don’t spend enough time and money on what follows either)
  8. Proof of concept
  9. Implementation & configuration
  10. Stack integration
  11. Training & onboarding
  12. Support & upgrade
  13. Vendor management
  14. Audit & review 

We’ve picked out a couple of those steps to help you narrow down exactly which attribution solution is going to suit your business best.

Business use cases

1. Justification of marketing expenditures

  • Weight the impact of a given channel or tactic to a specific part of the buying journal/funnel.
  • Allocation proper credit to all contributing marketing and sales tactics (this is particularly relevant for B2B funnels and high-ticket purchases with long sales cycles).
  • Measuring the impact of awareness to drive revenue and growth (or another end goal).
  • Communicating findings to leadership to ensure buy-in and justify current/future approach. 

2. Optimise marketing spend for improved efficiency

  • Assess how every investment including ad spend, content development, and technology impacts conversions.
  • Test how different channels work together (or not) to contribute to conversions (e.g., mute/enable campaigns then assess results).
  • Get the full picture of how channels and touchpoints interact with each other in the buyer journey (e.g., buyer journey mapping). 

3. View detailed marketing analytics

  • Optimise campaigns based on visitor engagement
  • Predict outcomes of customer targeting and tailored messaging
  • Explore customer needs
  • Understand customer sentiment
  • Grow revenue through insight - driven product recommendations based on past behaviour

4. Map the full customer journey

    1. Optimise user flows across your website, social media profiles, mobile, and physical channels.
    2. Identify friction across all customer touchpoints and streamline roadblocks and issues.
    3. Gain a full understanding of customer expectations and behaviours with the goal of optimising the journey based on customer needs.

5. Lead scoring

    1. Score leads based on readiness to make a purchase or complete an action.
    2. Create audience segments based on lead scoring data
    3. Use audience segments to better target marketing initiatives and content.
    4. Combine lead scoring with attribution models to identify which touchpoints drive high-value leads.

For each of your business use cases, it helps to document exactly what you want your platform to solve. Below is a framework that might help you lay out your argument succinctly:

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Storytime

A framework helps you pin down specific arguments. Expanding on them to outline the scenario in a storytelling format helps formalise your intentions and explain your needs clearly to the rest of the business. For example:

“Our Chief Marketing Officer, Emily, wants to make sure we are giving proper attribution to every touchpoint and tactic across the customer purchase journey. Her team’s analysis of key customer segments suggests many buyers start their research on a search engine, click on a search ad and browse content on our website.

More than 90% leave the website without completing an action such as filling out a lead form. 35% of customers return to the website from our LinkedIn profile then download a whitepaper.

Of these, 20% respond to outreach from a sales representative and 15% go on to become customers after speaking with the rep and viewing a virtual demo. Improving conversion by ensuring all tactics are included in an omnichannel marketing campaign has the potential to reduce our CPA by 12% within these key customer segments.”

Outlining your needs in a vivid and specific way doesn’t just help you get support internally. It is a vital tool for helping MAP vendors to understand your needs and should form a key part of your RFI/RFP documentation.

Once you have your shortlist of vendors, creating a vendor scorecard to rank each vendor on their relative capabilities is the next step.

You could assess each business use case against:

  • Key functionality in the scenario demonstrated
  • Ease of implementation
  • Alternative approaches demonstrated/explained
  • Ease of use – the admin experience for managing the use case
  • Positive impact on end users
  • The likelihood that goals are met

Platform use cases

Each business use case will be supported by a series of features and functionality. These form the platform use cases to frame and score vendors from a different perspective. It’s helpful if you can create a score covering both areas.

Outlined below are some example features and functionalities:

  • Easy setup
  • Predictive analytics/optimisation
  • Customer analytics/segmentation
  • Data visualisation
  • Attribution modelling
  • Competitive analysis
  • Tech stack integrations
  • Comprehensive reporting
  • Data security features
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Wider range of attribution models
  • Full-funnel attribution
  • Cross-channel attribution capabilities including broadcast attribution (TV, radio, offline)

Creating a vendor scorecard

Creating a vendor scorecard to evaluate each vendor is the next step. That way you can take a systematic approach to evaluating products.
Creating a scorecard involves being clear on your use cases so that you can evaluate whether there is functional fit between your requirements and the vendor product. You might also need to evaluate architectural fit to understand what technical support is required to manage integration with existing tools. Beyond business use cases and technical architecture, you also need to assess what kind of training and support the vendor will provide.

We’ve created this basic scorecard with suggested weightings to get you started. It doesn’t cover everything but our Essentials of Marketing Technology contains a comprehensive guide to support your vendor selection process.

Course participants will also receive a much more detailed worksheet to help you evaluate vendors.

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With your use cases documented, vendor scorecard defined, and RFI/RFP created, it’s time to start connecting with vendors.

Creating a short list based on your company profile and preference is a good starting point; events tech capabilities and ratings, focus, functional specialism, industry and company size match.

As you progress to chatting with vendors, we would recommend you:

  • Take your time & prepare. Don’t rush the process. Make sure you have done your research to better understand the space. Ensure you have details of your needs available and your vendor scorecard and questions.
  • Run a custom demo. Make sure vendors have your business use cases and business background weeks before your demo so they can sufficiently prepare and tailor what they present so you can make a fair assessment.
  • Get into the details of your expectations around the technology. Get into the nuts and bolts of your needs/goals to really assess the ease, speed and cost of tech.
  • Review vendor case studies. Ask for customer case studies showing key results of their platform.
  • Get vendor customer references. and ideally direct access to chat with some of their clients.

Making your Attribution platform work for you

Researching and onboarding a vendor is only the start of the implementation process. Whether you’ve bought an attribution platform because you want to begin the process of digital transformation, or you’re looking to refine and refresh your omnichannel capabilities, the journey evolves along with your needs and those of your customers.

To get the most from your platform, you should add the following steps to your omnichannel management process:

  1. Implement a regular review at least quarterly. Make sure each element of your platform is still meeting its success goals and assess where the potential lies for it to make an even bigger contribution to the business.
  2. Explore possible areas of wastage. Are you automating everything you can? Are there duplicate services or workflows in the platform that could be slimmed down?
  3. Engage regularly with your vendor. Not everyone makes the most of their suite of solutions and vendors are ideally placed to demonstrate the full capabilities of their solution. Make sure you’re not missing out!

Summing Up

Appropriately attributing revenue to the right marketing touchpoints is critical to driving sales and growth in the most efficient and effective ways possible. It’s also one of the most challenging aspects of modern marketing. The mix of channels, touchpoints, and possible customer interactions is varied and fragmented.

It’s also getting more difficult to identify users across channels and devices as the use of third-party cookies diminishes, requiring the need for marketers and advertisers to rely on first-party data and other approaches.

Attribution platforms help manage first-party data to create effective omnichannel marketing campaigns. This will become increasingly important to establish proper attribution across platforms, devices, and channels.

And as with anything complex, following a methodical process of investigation, assessment and optimisation is likely to deliver the best results.

Citations

1 Source: Martech Alliance, ‘The Martech Report 2020/2021’, Martech Alliance in association with Moore Kingston Smith, October, 2021. (https://www.martechalliance.com/martechreport)

2 Source: Ed Kennedy, ‘Why analytics are failing CMOs in today’s multi-device, multichannel environment’, Optimizely, February 24, 2020. (https://www.optimizely.com/insights/blog/why-analytics-are-failing-cmos-in-todays-multi-device-multichannel-environment/)

3 Source: Kitewheel, ‘State of The Customer Journey 2021’, Kitewheel, 2021. (https://www.csgi.com/resources/csg-state-of-the-customer-journey/)

4 Source: PwC, ‘December 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey’, PwC, December, 2021. (https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/consumer-markets/consumer-insights-survey.html)

5 Source: Carlos Doughty, ‘The 4Ps of Marketing Technology. The what, why, who, how of martech’, MarTech Alliance, 2020. (https://www.martechalliance.com/what-why-how-martech-marketing-technology)

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