The Future of Attribution

By Madison Taylor
January 14, 2020
person smiling at their phone

We’re sure you’ve heard this stat before: it takes five to seven touchpoints with your brand before a consumer makes a purchase. No one buys from you the first time they hear about you. In fact, that concept is probably baked right into your marketing strategy. You send emails, publish social media ads and posts, write blogs and whitepapers, and employ any number of other channels to get your brand in front of the right people the right number of times.

But there’s a downside to all those channels interacting and overlapping in a potential customers mind: attribution. With so many potential touchpoints, how do you know which ones had the biggest influence on a customer’s decision to purchase? And without that info, how do you know which of your marketing channels are working?

The Attribution Problem

The problem of attribution has become sort of an arms race. On one side is the ever-expanding number of ways to contact your customers — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Instagram Stories, email, banner ads, PPC — you get the idea. On the other side is a world of software and modeling algorithms that are getting more and more powerful and advanced at the task of tracking the touchpoints that lead to a conversion.

Of course, it’s worth asking if you even have an attribution problem. In your Google Analytics, under Conversions / Multi-Channel Funnels Report, you should be able to generate a Path Length report that will tell you how many steps your customers went through to convert. If that path is three or more steps long, you might have an issue.

It’ll also depend on the way you market. Maybe you pour the vast majority of your budget into sponsored Facebook posts, from which people click directly through to your website and convert. If you don’t use PPC, other social networks, or email, then it’s pretty easy to narrow down your attributions as well.

The Future of Attribution

To help marketing professionals navigate the increasingly complicated jungle of attribution, Nielsen asked 14 industry experts two questions:

  1. How should marketers prepare for an increasingly complex customer journey?
  2. What measurement strategies and tactics do marketers need to be successful today and in the future?

You can download the full report here if you want, but we pulled out some of the most important points below.

Capture the Right Data

The history of attribution was around very simple cookie and pixel tracking—counting of the number of exposures that were created, regardless of whether they were exposed to a person, a bot or a web page.

We know today that roughly 40% to 50% of all impressions are not real. I see the world pivoting from capturing all the data to capturing the right bits of data and making that data smart. That’s the major innovation.

Matt Krepsik, Global Head of Analytics Product Leadership, Nielsen

Invest in Infrastructure

Marketers must embrace the industry’s future: the democratization of data. Right now, marketing is all about figuring out lifetime value of a customer, incrementality, attribution—but how can we measure and investigate those terms better? If more of your organization is empowered to look into the data and understand the business, we’ll get there better and faster.

Understanding the data allows marketing teams to drive their own business more strategically and effectively, which also frees up analytics and data science teams’ time to focus on the long-term marketing strategy and customer insights, which are key to any organization’s growth.

Sasha Bartashnik, Marketing Analytics Manager, Zulily

Unify Processes Across Channels

As customer journeys span more channels, they become increasingly complex and often lead to fragmented data. Marketers looking to analyze omnichannel effectiveness need to unify four processes: reporting, partnership, analysis, and strategy.

Partnerships between analytics and business units bring a data-driven approach to your omnichannel experiences. Each cross-functional team should develop an intimate knowledge of audiences, their needs and behaviors, how they differ across segments, their experiences, and the impact of those experiences on behavior.

Jamie Schissler, VP of Data & Insights, Hero Digital

Unite Channel Data

Today’s buyers not only switch between devices, they hop between channels. HubSpot research has found that customers want to engage with companies across twelve different mediums: website, videos, blog, gated content, Messenger, Twitter, live chat, phone, a contact us form, self-service, email, even Slack.

Marketers should invest in software that can unite all these inputs for them. First, a CRM or CDP that can deduplicate contact records is essential to clean up a contacts database. Marketers can practice database hygiene by periodically running merges (or even automating this process). The best CRMs are moving in the direction of CDPs, allowing marketers to merge web, app, and customer data—then segment and work those leads.

Jon Dick, VP of Marketing, HubSpot

Always Looking Forward

Marketing is no longer a linear, one-way funnel from brand to consumer — it’s a conversation. The massive array of channels, devices and platforms has scattered that conversation into thousands of different outlets.

We have access to more information and more customers than ever before. Our customers have access to that same information, making them the most informed generation of buyers in history. And in most cases, marketers are flooded with more data than we know what to do with.

The solution? Sink or swim. Old techniques and old mentalities won’t work any more. If you’re not making an effort to keep up with the ever-shifting sands of marketing, you’ll get left behind.