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.