Ask a digital marketer about attribution and you will likely get the following response:
We know the last-click model is flawed, but it’s the best model we’ve got!
Which basically means that the bulk of the credit for any given sale will likely go to the final touch point that delivered the order. But is this fair if conversion has been improved through onsite factors. Why should PPC get all of the credit?
Let’s look at the typical buying cycle of trying to purchase a summer jacket online, and look at how many channels that may have contributed to the experience.
All we know at this point is that I’m optimistic for some sunshine, and that this winter jacket I’ve been relying on for the last few months, can be put to the back of the wardrobe. I head over to Google and I type in the imaginative keyword ‘mens summer jackets’.
The first thing that I notice are the options in Google Shopping. Handy, because I don’t really know what I’m after yet and I now have some examples to trawl through for a bit of inspiration, and I click on a few to take a better look.
However, I’m still tyre kicking, and want to see a bit more before I commit. I liked the look of the ‘Chore Jacket’ (never even knew ‘Chore Jacket’ was a thing?), and now feel ready to drill deeper.
Before I know it, I’ve been back and forth on Google images; blog reviews; Amazon, and even eBay. Not sure how that happened?
After reviewing my options, I decide to finally make a purchase from ChoreJackets.com who have the item that I want. (No prizes for guessing that I made that site up for the purposes of this post).
I key in the brand name, click on the paid link and go straight to the website. Now where on this colossal site is the item that I saw previously on the web. Once on the site, I find my jacket but get side-tracked by a similar item offered in the product recommendations. Before I know it, Ive clicked through and have decided to buy that jacket instead. I’m just about to put in my credit card details when I decide to have a look for a voucher code before I commit.
Result! I find a voucher code after a quick search on Google. And the purchase is made.
So where does this now sit regarding attribution. Well the voucher site company takes the credit for the deal via the attribution report as it’s only fair as they were the last touch point. Right..?
Over the course of my buying journey, I had interacted with Google Shopping, PPC, SEO, Blogs, Marketplace sites, Affiliates, and On-site technologies. Yet the last-click attribution model can only provide one winner.
Who deserved the sale, and more importantly should one channel get ALL of the credit?
Regardless of how you look at it, the one channel we know that won’t see any of the credit, is the onsite technology that increased the conversion rate and resulted in the purchase.
Ecommerce isn’t alone. In the sales world the glory has always gone to ‘the closer’. But what about the touch point that first gained the prospects interest? And what about the media that built up their enthusiasm for the proposition before ‘the closer’ walked into the door to seal the deal?
In sports such as football, the accolades have historically gone to the goal scorer, that made the vital last touch before the ball crossed the line. What about the 10 players behind him, who created the opportunity? What is the value of their contribution? Which is probably why football now recognises the ‘assist’ as a key metric. Players that can continually create these scoring opportunities for their team mates are known for their value, and it is appreciated that the goals would not have happened without them.
Do we show the same recognition for the ‘Ecommerce Assist’? Is it even a thing?
The danger of not finding a way to truly recognise the ‘Ecommerce Assist’ is that it can commercially harm performance in a big way. By de-valuing the key contributors of a sale, they can soon be fighting for survival as budgets are slashed. It’s a controversial argument, but in the example above, did the voucher site actually de-value the sale by offering a discount where a purchase was already emotionally decided upon? And then get financially rewarded as the victorious channel in the process?
Would it be profitable across the business if we decided to do more of this ‘voucher’ activity as they always seem to be ‘the closer’. Maybe yes/maybe no. However, it’s not as simple as looking at one isolated sale, when these brands see thousands of transactions every day.
What would happen if we cut the budgets for Google Shopping, and non-branded keywords in PPC, because we felt they weren’t converting well enough? Would the sales continue to come in without those channels in the mix? These old questions crop up within the digital marketing world and are often re-visited when the question of budgets comes around. Yet there is still ground to be made on getting the attribution model just right.
However, there is another challenge with attribution and the concept of the ‘assisted conversion’ that is even more prevalent in the digital marketing landscape right now.
Are we focusing on the wrong metrics?
Performance marketers know that their channels need to perform and deliver great ROI in order to justify their budgets. But could we be so focused on the channels at an individual level that we miss the bigger picture?
If a technology ends up inadvertently increasing conversion rate of a PPC campaign by 20%, who gets the credit?
Now initially, this may sound like an easy riddle to solve. But depending on the structure of the marketing department, the opportunity to increase the performance of a channel can be overridden by the fear that it may ‘appear’ to reduce performance. This ‘appearance’ is created by sharing the credit for that increased performance.
This is a bit like a football striker wanting to play up front alone, so that he doesn’t have to share the scoring opportunities. Even though having two potential scorers could provide a clear advantage to the wider team and enable more goals.
In both the ecommerce and sport scenario, the increase in performance is created by the ‘synergy’ of more than one component working together. Are we not missing a trick by worrying too much about which one is the final victor?
Maybe it’s time that the ‘Ecommerce Assist’ is taken more seriously and becomes a thing!
So what could the future of attribution look like?
The first key point, is to recognise what channels/ technologies played their part in a sale.
If a sale can be attributed to a single campaign with no influence from anywhere else then great. We all like simplicity and this is a nice easy pathway to report upon. However, more than likely a large portion of sales involves a discovery, an exploration and a decision-making phase. All of which see the shopper crossover multiple channels along the buying process.
Each touch point along the way needs to fulfil its objective of gaining attention, maintaining attention, educating the shopper, and committing them to the purchase. Working like a conveyer belt as each communication promotes the shopper to the next phase of their shopping journey until they reach for their credit card.
If they had never heard of your products and services would they have still bought it? Definitely not!
If you didn’t have adequate content for the shopper to explore your propositions, would the shopper still have bought it? Possibly, though we’d be relying on them already knowing exactly what they wanted and being highly motivated.
And if the shopper was on your site and engaging in your content would they definitely make a purchase? Well we all know that optimising conversion rate is an art and any professional with retail experience will tell you that products rarely sell themselves. You have to walk over and engage the shopper to get them over the line. Your ecommerce platform is no different.
Which is why the thinking around the attribution model needs to evolve to recognise each part of the puzzle that contributes to the sale. Old school direct marketing campaigns may have been much simpler to test and measure, as you could record upon them in isolation. However, just because the digital world allows channels to operate in synergy it doesn’t mean that a better way of reporting cannot be achieved.
We just need to give it some thought.
Test and Measure
These words will not be new to anybody in marketing. But ultimately there is only one way to determine the true value of campaigns, and that is the data.
If you remove this particular traffic source then what happens to the overall sales?
If this technology wasn’t on the site then what would the impact be on the conversion rate?
And so on, and so forth.
Most big brands are already engaged in numerous A/B split tests and multi-variant tests on a regular basis. But strangely these results don’t always get trickled back into the marketing teams that work on the attribution reports to use.
Moving forward, we see an environment where attribution takes into account the two major factors of ecommerce acquisition which is:
Sales = Traffic x Conversion Rate
There are channels which get eyeballs to the website. And there are onsite strategies and technologies which complete the purchase. They have to work hand in hand.
If you think of it like rowing a boat, these 2 entities are your oars. If one is pulling harder than the other then you’re going to end up rowing in circles and getting nowhere. But pulling together they can take you anywhere you want to go.
Most shoppers will need an element of convincing. If you’ve ever been behind the scenes of a car showroom you will learn that there are a team of car sales people that are there to engage people looking to buy a new car. And they’ll have a league table in their back office of which rep sells the most cars.
They know that selling is an art, and that the car isn’t going to sell itself. It is their job to hold the buyers hand and walk them through the process of making their purchase. It is no surprise that salespeople that can maximise the revenue from their traffic are considered very valuable and rewarded accordingly.
So do you think the credit of that car sale will ultimately go to the poster that first introduced them to the dealership? Well it played it’s part in getting the interested prospect through the door but there was a lot of work still to be done to confirm the sale.