Marketing Attribution – Worth the Effort?

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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.

 

Drip Email Nurturing – Who Wants to be a Drip?

Challenge:  Drip email campaigns often are not customer responsive

It is common for marketers today to identify customers with common characteristics and drop them into a drip email program because it’s easy and can automate outreach to thousands of customers.  The drip campaign creative can be tightly tied to a product or specific value proposition.  However, all too often the process is something like this:  ‘Prospects with this criteria/engagement are ideal for this product so let’s drop them into the ABC drip series.’  On the surface, it sounds like good marketing: targeted list, customized messaging and marketing automation. 

However, this process neglects the fact that these prospects are not uniform in any way.  No matter how tightly we segment our lists, each prospect is truly unique.  In common practice, drip email campaigns are static, having a fixed number of messages at somewhat fixed intervals with fixed messaging.  Those that operate at a higher level have some activity-driven content to alter the messaging throughout the drip to more tightly align to the prospect, but this is as far as most drip programs have progressed.  However, with effort, we can aspire to much more targeted marketing.  Take Amazon, for example, where recommendations are made based on recent purchases and web visits.  I love Amazon because it is timely, relevant and easy to use.

What we need to strive for is something much more responsive.  We need to integrate a broader set of inputs to drive a more relevant set of messages for each prospect.  These other areas of input may include: last website visit date, website pages visited, other contacts at the same company visiting the website, organic/paid search terms, previous products purchased, industry, and more.  Unfortunately this creates more complexity for the marketer, but it creates a more relevant and timely set of messages for the prospect, which is far more important. Additionally, marketers should consider alternate outreach vehicles like a call or mailing. 

While the typical drip program is better than ‘spray and pray’ email marketing, the goal should reach higher.  Think of prospects who look forward to receiving email messages.  Imagine doubling open and click-through rates.  This can only happen with significant changes that make your messages much more relevant to your audience.  What this takes is monitoring key data elements available in your marketing automation system and leveraging these to send the right message with the right offer at the right time.  This is certainly a tough task – and one that will increase complexity over a static drip program.  However the result will be dramatically higher engagement levels.  

So drip nurturing can make the sending company look like a real ‘drip’! 

Lesson: Let’s strive to optimize our outbound programs by including a variety of inputs driven by the actions of the prospect to ensure timely and relevant contacts that move the relationship forward.