Jul
22
2014

Last-click attribution is not a hard habit to break

Published in AdExchanger.

“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 Jay Stocki, vice president of digital services at Experian Marketing Services.

It’s been said that the easier the habit, the harder it is to change. That must be why nearly every day I find myself explaining to marketers why last-click is rarely an effective form of attribution for display advertising yet it’s still being used like a bad habit.

I can understand how the habit forms. Last-click is the easiest form of attribution, it can be quickly explained to senior executives and it does not require cooperation from other parts of the marketing organization. But please just say no. Last-click is a terrible habit.

Case in point: Just 13% of marketers surveyed in an eConsultancy and Google study believed last-click was a very effective method of attribution. Yet 54% said it was their most common form of attribution.

“Last-click attribution is like hiring a sandwich board guy to stand in front of a big retailer, and then giving him credit for all sales from every customer while he is on duty,” said my colleague Brie Pinnow.  “Not the email campaign, loyalty program, TV spots, salesperson, display ads, search or direct mail. Just give the credit to the last ad the consumer saw – the sandwich board.”

When you look at it that way, relying on last-click attribution for your marketing budget allocations suddenly seems foolish. Even worse, giving credit solely for last-click has enabled less-than-scrupulous vendors to play games to boost performance. Instead of trying to influence potential customers down a conversion path, the bad actors simply do their best to get cheap ads everywhere, hoping to stick their virtual sandwich board guy (the last cookie) right in front of the consumer before they purchase.

This has led to wasting money on ads that are never seen or, even worse, on ads that are never actually displayed, such as those displayed behind web pages. As an industry, we need to put a stop to this reliance on such a misleading metric. The urgency to change this habit has become paramount.

But last-click attribution, like any bad habit, can be broken with the right mindset, a solid methodology and, above all, persistence.

The Right Mindset

Like the road to recovery from any bad habit, the first step is to admit that there is a problem. If your marketing spending is divided among multiple channels, you’re already aware that the consumer’s decision-making process is more complicated than a single click or action. Further, as consumers ourselves, we understand firsthand how the proliferation of devices has dramatically changed how we discover, research, compare and purchase products.

So why is all of the attribution based on that one click? Admitting that the attribution and purchase path are out of alignment is the first step in the journey to better attribution.

The good news is that improving attribution methodology is a lot easier today than even a few years ago. There has been dramatic growth in the amount of tools, vendors and experience. The recent update to Google Analytics now enables multitouch modeling through the Model Comparison Tool.  The right methodology, of course, is multitouch modeling, where spending is allocated to a channel based on the performance of its response or impact. The more impactful it is, the more attribution and greater spending it deserves. Agencies, data providers and attribution tool developers are a great source of ideas, technologies and methodologies, and we’re likely to see more investment in this space in order to integrate cross-channel identifiers with custom analytics capabilities in a single platform.

Just Say No

As advertisers shift into mobile and ramp up spend in that channel, those still clinging to last-click attribution will move farther down the rabbit hole of wasted ad spending and uncoordinated programs. If the vision of most marketers is to arrive at an omnichannel marketing capability, the first priority should be to elevate attribution from a functional to a strategic level. Yet, despite all the omnichannel rhetoric, we are still in the early adopter days with coordinated attribution programs.

Attribution is the Gordian knot. There will never be a perfect formula. It will require persistence and dedication, but the end result will be a significantly better understanding of what channels are most effective and deserving of increased marketing spending.

It is tough to break a bad habit. Changing attribution methodologies will cause organizational pain. Some hypotheses will fail. Reconciling data from multiple channels can be excruciatingly difficult.

Take the first steps and stick to it. “Bad habits,” as the Yiddish proverb goes, “are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.”

Follow Jay Stocki (@jstocki), Experian Marketing Services (@ExperianMkt) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


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