Marketing Attribution – Worth the Effort?

cross-channel-strategies-icon

Challenge: Considering the Challenges of Marketing Attribution, How Deep Should You Go?

Marketing attribution is a hot topic. You need to know which programs are worth the effort and expense and marketing must demonstrate its contribution to revenue. In fact, both marketing and sales must both carefully plan and measure their unique contributions to more accurately predict revenue.

However, Sergio Maldonado’s recent guest post on Scott Brinker’s Chief Martec blog raised some very important questions about the veracity of marketing attribution. The article challenging various aspects of marketing attribution is timely and worth a careful read. It also caused me to re-evaluate my ongoing efforts to focus on attribution.

The journey starts with developing a standardized way to tag Leads, Contacts and Opportunities to marketing campaigns, followed by a methodology to differentiate sales from marketing contribution (as well as sourced versus influenced). Adding various program costs and labor investment to the formula provides a more complete picture. However, this tells just part of the story as it analyzes attribution from first ‘form conversion’ to closed deal, without consideration for pre-conversion activities.

Tracking and attributing the activity of all stakeholders before form conversion is more difficult. Furthermore, attribution-to-revenue calculations only provide results for Contacts associated with a closed-won Opportunity, whereas other Leads and Contacts not associated often influence the deal. Therefore, this methodology ignores Leads and Contacts that influence but are not associated with the opportunity as well as all awareness phase marketing touchpoints that positively affected the opportunity.

By focusing only on campaigns with direct attribution, marketing may erroneously optimize for those programs only – at the expense of awareness and early stage funnel activities where attribution is much more difficult. The resulting focus on ‘directly attributable campaigns’ that occur at or after the first form conversion can easily result in a decreased ‘share of voice’ and ignore important early stage touch points. Often, sales prospects are unaware they have a problem or they’re unfamiliar with solutions better suited to their challenge. Awareness programs focusing on the earliest stages of the sales cycle are key to growing sales in the long run.

So if strict adherence to attribution metrics will lead to sub-optimal marketing resource allocation, should marketing invest time and resources in it? Unequivocally yes. At the highest level, Lord Kelvin was right when he said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” The attribution process is not at fault here (though it can and will certainly improve), rather the issue is how this data is used to make marketing investment decisions. Even though early stage program investments are not measurable in the same way that later stage programs are, they remain an important part of the marketing mix. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the marketing team to explain and defend these ‘awareness’ investments for the long-term health of the organization. The marketing team should also look for important correlations to justify these programs (correlations of direct/organic traffic with various programs, for instance).

In my opinion, marketing must continue to pursue attribution while keeping in mind the limitations of the current systems. Marketing investments should be made recognizing that the team cannot measure all aspects of the marketing mix, and more importantly, additional attribution effort investments should be made with an eye on overall effectiveness. While imperfect, I am reminded of the saying, ‘Even one candle sheds a lot of light in a dark room.’ Without attribution, marketing has no guidance about future investments.  But at the same time, marketing programs with impacts that are difficult to measure must not be ignored.

[Important note: Management should also look at the costs and benefits of the attribution process itself to ensure it is worth the effort. Tracking every last ounce of attribution adds significantly in terms of labor and cost, and at some point, these programs reach diminishing marginal returns. How a marketing team should optimize its spend on marketing attribution is a discussion for another time.]

Lesson: Spending time and resources on marketing attribution is critical, but it is just as crucial to realize program and system limitations to make truly optimized investment decisions.

 

Want to Improve Your Program Effectiveness by 10x?

Challenge: Companies promote their products and services via direct marketing, advertising, events and more – but still can’t achieve the impact they need. How about a 10x boost?

We are all bombarded with messages every day – online, offline and even when we are on the sidelines.  Therefore buyers have been desensitized to vendors claims – faster, better, cheaper and will even make you more attractive! First off – we make every attempt to ignore ads thrust at us: we skip ads with our DVR, we try to ignore banner ads on websites and we page quickly past print ads. When we want ‘real’ or ‘untainted’ advice, we look for online reviews by other users.  Amazon’s use of product reviews has completely transformed the buying process. We reach out to our social networks to find feedback from customers just like us. What is the value of a positive review? Huge. Just check out all the controversy about Yelp recommendations – because the reviews matter.

Depending on the study, analysts report that 70% or more of the purchase process is made before the buyer visits the vendor’s website. The dramatic rise of social media use by companies further explains this trend as they try to reach up further into the buying cycle. There are an increasing number of social groups for B2B as well.  Certainly LinkedIn has many groups targeted at various professions.  PracticeFusion and Spiceworks are focused social communities serving medical IT professionals. These are communities where professionals can get answers to their questions and read reviews of products.

In the end, any vendor claim is just that – a claim.  However a claim made by an actual user is trusted and valued.  Hence, in my math, vendor claims are worth one point and user claims are worth ten points.  While not scientific, I think we would all agree that real user feedback is the real deal.  So how do you facilitate and support these reviews, comments and posts?  You need customer advocates – customers who love your company and product so much that they are willing to spend time telling others.  The experience of using your product must be so compelling that they want to raise their own reputation by talking about it. The customer service and other support you provide around your product must surprise and exceed your customer expectations. Your customers need to think –  ‘Wow, that was great!’

So how do you give your customers this goose-bump moment? You need to open your company and your product up to your buyers by doing some or any of the following:

  • Give them free product or other recognition in return for product feedback
  • Be honest and humble when they give you candid feedback
  • Listen and respond to their input; more importantly update your product with their feedback
  • Show them you care – by giving them first access to your next product
  • When you stumble, acknowledge it and correct it
  • Make your product dramatically better than anything they have seen before

In sum, give them reasons to be so excited about your product or company that they want to share their experience. Help them reinforce their status as mavens in the community by giving them something new to share with the community.  Show your lead customers the respect they deserve.

Lesson: You post about your product – 1 point.  Your customer posts about your product – 10 points.  Find ways to create groups of advocates who will support and amplify your efforts.

Branding vs Lead Gen – Can’t we just get along?

Creating an Umbrella for both Branding and Lead Gen

Challenge: Corporate brand guidelines can often stifle tactical lead generation

Every company lives by driving revenue.  In the case of B2B technology companies, marketing ensures revenue results by driving the quality and quantity of the prospects in the pipeline in order for the sales organization to reach its sales targets.  Marketing provides the fuel with which the sales organization can meet and exceed business plan targets.

Many times brand guidelines can be seen (or enforced) in a way that limits pipeline creation.  This can take the form of narrowly interpreting brand principles that stifle advertising innovation or can limit more tactical/direct messaging that drives advertising response rates.  That said, the marketer needs to protect the brand and ensure that every outbound message reinforces key tenets and principles. Color palettes and visual IDs are frequently not the issue here. 

A formal messaging ladder that encompasses key product differentiation is what can really drive alignment.  Messaging needs to be detailed enough to enable the prospect to understand capabilities and differentiation while being consistent with higher level brand promises.  This can be challenging for large organizations with wide product portfolios,  where the messaging ladder also needs to be updated (sometimes frequently) to support the product portfolio.  There needs to be a clear set of messages that marketers can use to create and execute programs – while remaining brand compliant.  In the ideal scenario, the marketing group clearly understands the messaging platform and all creative is developed from the ground up in a way that is consistent with the overall brand. 

Scenarios where brand trumps demand generation must be avoided, and brand guidelines should be broad enough to support product and solution messaging that drive awareness, interest and consideration.  The purpose of the brand guidelines is to leverage messages over the long run and not limit pipeline in the short run. Brand should serve the needs of pipeline creation – while ensuring consistency of overall message, voice and visual structures and constructs. 

I am reminded about a time many years ago when my kids were little and they asked me what I did at work.  What is ‘marketing’ after all?  My answer at the time was, “marketing helps sales people sell.”  Focusing on brand purity at the expense of pipeline development seems to be putting the cart before the horse.  So brand guidelines need to provide a framework where demand generation can survive, grow and become increasingly effective.     

Lesson: Brand guidelines should serve product marketing and demand generation – not the other way around.