Marketing Attribution – Worth the Effort?


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.



Know Thy Customer Persona

Challenge: Drive inbound leads with content focused on your target customer? Of course. But what does it mean to really know your target customer?

At the heart of every marketing organization is the knowledge of the target buyer.  But what does it mean to really understand your customer buyer persona?  Certainly this includes demographics like age, income, and education.  We can add in firmographics like industry, company size and location.  Is this what we need?  Well, it’s a good start but far from complete.

Building detailed customer persona’s for all of the buyers and influencers in your product’s purchase process is an essential starting point.  Your organization needs to spend time and effort here developing a detailed profile for each role.  This profile should include:

  • A ‘day in their life’
  • Their fears, frustrations and aspirations
  • The ‘customers’ they serve inside their organization
  • How they are evaluated by their boss
  • What they find funny
  • Their office and work environment
  • Their biggest challenges
  • What they do outside the office

One way to think about this is to understand the persona of your target buyer to a depth where you could purchase the perfect gift for them.  By understanding their daily challenges, work environment, current methods of operation and more, then you can correctly create content that they will find interesting and relevant. Your materials need to be helpful, funny, interesting, interesting, thought provoking, etc..  With a detailed persona, you can demonstrate you truly understand their needs through the materials you create.  Therefore you earn the right to be read and have an ongoing conversation with your buyer – online, via email, in print and more.

In my experience, I have been targeting the IT professional.  This person is:

  • Generally male
  • Technically astute
  • Generally less socially outgoing
  • Enjoys finding clever and simple solutions to complex problems
  • Completely out of time dealing with break-fix items
  • Frustrated by end users who can’t his systems correctly
  • Would rather experiment with a new technology than engage with people to answer his questions
  • Enjoys gaming and science fiction (Star Wars, Dr. Who, etc..)

How do you get this information?  Take every opportunity to get on the phone or get in front of customers to learn more about them.  Review materials created by other vendors targeting this market.  Participate in the social media channels where these customers search for information.  Survey your existing customer base.  Run contests to see what captures their interest.  Bring in focus groups of your customers to brief on your product direction and get feedback.

Now what?  Time to publish a detailed persona description internally and get your entire team up to speed on common definitions of your customer.  Create a poster with a picture and key details.  Build a short slide deck explaining key attributes of your persona’s with names and roles.  Educate all new employees on the persona’s you are targeting – so everyone is on the same page.  Test all new campaigns against the persona to ensure they are consistent.

Lesson: Know your destination before you leave.  Take the time to develop a detailed understanding of your customer persona’s and drive this through your organization to better focus and target your outbound programs.