Cross-Channel Attribution: A Bad Idea That Gets Worse With Time

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media. 

Today’s column is written by Kevin Hill, founder and CEO at VuPulse.

Sure, I’d love to be able to tell you that attribution has been solved and all your marketing and ROI worries are done and gone.

Well, you obviously know that isn’t true. Unfortunately, however, it will probably never be true.

When the idea of marketing attribution first emerged – around the time we were making that long slog of a transition from traditional, offline ads to digital, including digital media, paid and organic search, email marketing, etc. – marketers became excited at the prospect that their marketing efforts could be accurately measured and neatly weighted, scored and tied to a contribution to company revenue. Great, sign me up.

Not only would this solve the ever-present John Wanamaker issue of wasting half of your marketing dollars, but it would also make it easy to optimize your entire marketing spend, prove to your CEO that you’re a smart CMO and thus extend your tenure beyond the 43-month national average.

Yes, the industry evolved with the rapid changes and developed smart concepts such as single-source (last-click) attribution, fractional attribution and, most promisingly, algorithmic attribution. But the reality is, we’ve been waiting and are still waiting for true, cross-channel attribution to happen in a meaningful way.

There are a couple simple reasons why it’s not. First, consumers like change. They like to try new things, apps, media and mediums. Even if you did find and set up the perfect attribution model, how long would it perform successfully until obsolescence kicks in and that perfectly crafted and optimized well runs dry?

Second, marketers must also change. Those who won't or don’t experiment with new technologies are simply left in the dust, but many technologies are simply too new to be integrated into cross-channel attribution models.

Finally, the perfect platform is a desert oasis. Comprehensive interactive attribution is entirely possible, but true cross-channel attribution, covering all online and offline marketing channels together in one spot, is a pipe dream that may never be realized.

Sure, Marketo and Pardot are excellent CRM tools. TweetDeck is great for Twitter, and Hootsuite is great for all things social. HubSpot should be able to tie everything together but doesn’t. Zoho has many channels covered but sadly not all of them. And of course, Google Analytics is the mother of all conversion and attribution – for web traffic, search, display, AdWords – but whatever you do outside of that, count on having to look for another resource.

Getting proper data into the mix only complicates the problem. For example, in the cable and TV industry, TV networks would very much like to find an attribution solution, but unfortunately most MVPDs don't often share ratings data. The networks themselves may be able to glean data from the one or two ungated episodes per season on their site but most of the real data lies in a walled garden. Similarly, movie studios generally only receive sales data from select digital retailers, so they also often get stuck.

Complicating matters is data that is almost always muddy. In the cable and TV world, you have STB data, digital MVPD data, vMVPD data, digital retailer data, automated content recognition and connected TV data – just to name a few – with nothing to tie it all together. How will marketers have access to accurate data inputs for attribution platforms if the world of data is still so convoluted, fractionalized and, quite frankly, a mess?

So, what’s the future of cross-channel attribution? Will the marketing gods anoint Beckon or Datorama as the be-all, end-all dashboard to our attribution dreams? Perhaps. Or will we all be having this conversation year after year? Unfortunately, my bet is on the latter.

My suggestion to marketing professionals is to keep practicing and honing their craft, taking advantage of the latest tools and innovations and to stop wishing for an über-tool that will automate them out of a job.

Follow VuPulse (@VuCard) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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