By Matt Pigott - August 16th, 2016

Marketing Attribution: first in a three-part series

Data gathering protocols have improved, data analysis is improving, but the all-important component that completes the circle is marketing attribution, and it’s a hot topic right now. Knowing that data-driven marketing is one of the most effective ways of gaining real value from budgets, CMOs have it at the top of their agenda. Research from AdRoll this year found that 84 percent of marketers consider attribution vital to marketing success. This figure was three times higher than the previous year.

It’s taken a while for the idea to percolate, but brands are recognizing that visible and measurable customer behaviours and interactions, across multiple touch points, are among the most valuable metrics at their disposal. Despite the value of this information, however, attribution marketing remains complicated.

Channels are proliferating with the speed of copulating rabbits. And while one rabbit in a cage is easy to feed and care for, several thousand hopping about in a borderless field is a much greater logistical challenge. Getting things under control is a top priority. But the right tools and strategies are needed to do it.

Which are the best channels for the job?

Weighing the effectiveness of marketing channels, leveraging the ones that work best by allocating them more budget, while tweaking or dropping those that are underperforming, is an increasingly important part of the marketing role. But even this is an oversimplification of what attribution entails.

Attribution isn’t simply deciding if something is working or isn’t, but asking the most important question – why? If some aspect of strategy is underperforming, for example, it’s worth considering that it might not be a platform problem, but some other issue relating to the content. Or it could simply be that content and platform are mismatched and that the content needs repurposing. For attribution to work, analysis of the data needs to scratch well beneath the surface so that content can be effectively optimized.

Customization is key

In one of our recent Incite pieces, Jennifer Corbett, VP of audience development and marketing at Discovery Communications, revealed that customization of content for social channels was key to gaining fans and followers. Without this customization, even top quality content was lost on an audience that didn't mind, as such, but was looking for a different experience. How did Corbett’s team discover this? Through careful analysis of data inflows. Which revealed that although there weren’t any fatal platform or key audience issues, the content simply wasn’t being optimized in harmony with user expectations.

Attribution marketing will let you know if people aren’t receptive. If your fantastic new video content is two minutes too long, or you’re overloading potential customers with onerous swathes of information when what they really want is bite-sized chunks, your data will let you know, and you can then do something about it. The core question CMOs need to ask then, is: if the content that’s believed, in-house, to be top shelf, but isn’t performing well, is it because the there's something wrong with the channel, or is it because the content needs pulling apart and repurposing. Often, it's the latter.

Combine data and creative for best outcomes

Ultimately, to gain optimum results, brands can’t rely on machines and smart algorithms alone. Minds need to go to work on the data. Then, through an iterative process, minds must drive the evolution of that content until it dovetails with audience expectations. Some trial and error on the creative side will be necessary, though with data providing clear signposting, and analysis of that data helping to plot a clear path on the strategy map, errors should be minimal.

That said, while data can provide strong evidence of a particular channel underperforming, it’s the analysis of that data and the questions posed that lead to the best creative solutions. Data needs the support of creative to have any material use, and creative needs the inflow of data if it's to set off in the right direction, delivering content that amounts to a great end user experience.

Knowledge is only power if you do something with it

While data will let marketers know what users are up to – how they’re reacting to content online, how they're behaving on different platforms, and even – when tracked through loyalty cards, or through mobiles interfacing with beacons and other tracking devices – what they’re up to in store, at some point a data-based strategy will need to be devised. Simply knowing what's happening isn’t attribution; it’s how that knowledge is then assessed and implemented through strategic actions with two central aims – to improve the customer experience and increase ROI.

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