The attribution conundrum and how things are measuring up for 2022 

Insighten director Gagan Batra looks at the current state and future goals of digital marketing.

Attribution models have had a bad rap in recent times and it’s true that various models, especially from cross-platform activity, have their challenges. But attribution is key for marketers to determine ROI in 2022.

Traditionally, marketers have only been able to access rearward facing media attribution models to understand the effectiveness of their campaigns. These were not in real-time, had limited scope and ability to influence marketing budgets, and decisions were often disregarded by the business. As such, marketers’ ability to justify and measure the ROI of their media budget was, shall we say, restricted. 

As media channels and technology has evolved, marketers started to develop an algorithmic attribution model, most famously Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA), specifically for digital marketing initiatives to understand marketing performance in the near real-time. 

Then came the “walled gardens” enforcements and “cookieless world”, that limit access to individual-level data, for good reasons. That created doubt in the marketer’s mind as to whether MTA would deliver on its promise, questioning the accuracy of the proposed solutions. 

On the other hand, click-based attribution models within marketing platforms are also evolving. 

  • Google is finally ditching the last-non direct click attribution model in Google Ads but is very conveniently adding engaged view-through for YouTube to its Google Analytics 4 attribution models.
  • Facebook announced an open-source and automated media mix modelling (MMM) tool called Robyn. It aims to reduce human bias, enables frequent modelling outcomes and does not require Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as email addresses, first or last name, mobile numbers or individual log-level data, which does tend to be everyone’s favourite due to increased scrutiny around data collection practices and changes to the privacy laws. 

However, there is a lack of fairness and trust, as the marketing platforms take more credit than they deserve, and collectively report back more than what the business actually does in sales. As a result, what this means to advertisers who use a variety of tactics is still unclear.  

And there are still issues, such as: 

  • Web analytics platforms do not cater for view-through conversions (except YouTube in the case of GA4).  
  • Without ‘clean rooms’ it is not possible to join data with the walled gardens. Data clean rooms allow marketers to join their data to walled gardens datasets to complete user-level analysis on data that is otherwise not available). 
  • Marketing mix models have historically not been fast enough to make real-time decisions.

A key point of consideration is there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each business has different purchase cycles, customer interaction points, budgets etc. 

For example, an insurance business model would be different to a telco, which would be different to a university and so on. Therefore, the levers they pull to generate revenue and sales are also very different. Out-of-the-box attribution solutions simply do not provide the level of granularity or nuance for the majority of businesses.  

So, how do you answer these critical questions:  

  • Are our marketing and media mix effective? 
  • How much should we be investing?  
  • Where should we be investing?

Businesses need to evolve their measurement capabilities to overcome the current data and privacy challenges, future-proof their data collection efforts while tying back the media investment to improve overall business outcomes. 

You don’t need to start with the most sophisticated attribution solution in the world, as long as you are starting somewhere, and confident in your approach. This could be as simple as aligning the marketing measurement framework with the business objectives and commercial KPIs, documenting the primary and secondary conversion points, identifying gaps from a tagging perspective and ensuring the campaigns are contributing towards business profitability, not just sales.  

It also needs to feel comfortable within your business model so it can consistently build and mature over time, towards a unified measurement that takes into consideration both internal and external factors that impact performance. 

A well-built solution can not only provide budget allocation scenarios for campaign planning and in-campaign optimisations but also unlock valuable insights at strategic and tactical levels, improving overall customer experience and company profitability. 

Gagan Batra is the director of Insighten.


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