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What is Marketing Attribution Software?

Over the years, various attribution techniques have been developed and deployed as Software-as-a-Service (Saas) applications that marketers have come to rely on. This class of software has come to be known commonly as Attribution Software.

What is the Attribution Problem?

Marketers, especially digital marketers, have and still do heavily rely on click path data. Oftentimes, the medium that drove the last click receives the credit. Typically these are very low funnel channels like SEM PPC, affiliate and retargeting which has led to overinvestment in these channels. By overvaluing those channels, marketers are ignoring or undervaluing other prospecting channels that may have contributed to the conversion or sale. To solve this, attribution software companies have created multiple solutions to assign proper credit to the various media channels in a marketing portfolio.

What is Attribution Tracking and What are Attribution Models?

Attribution tracking can be performed multiple ways. One method is to use tools like Google Analytics, Segment or one of the many Open Source tracking pixels. Tracking a single user across multiple platforms/publishers and marketing channels for the purposes of applying fractional credit to the marketing touch-points the user was exposed to, is commonly referred to as multi-touch attribution (MTA). Essentially you’ll be tracking clicks, not impressions. Keep in mind that in almost all cases you will not be able to capture impression level data and pipe it into your models as many publishers and walled-gardens do not share it. Impression views are a major portion of the overall picture and the lack of this visibility is a big detractor to using MTA.

Enterprise MTA platforms such as Neustar MarketShare, or Nielson VIQ set up the tracking and for their customers. The methods they use to deploy their tracking services across your media varies, but because they rely on their own proprietary tracking infrastructures and not the platform’s/publisher’s tracking, it can be prone to breakage and data reconciliation issues.

Once tracking is set up you’ll need to consider which type of model you’ll use. Attribution modeling is a method for assigning credit to advertising intended to drive sales. The most common and simplistic approach for attribution is called last-click attribution. This method offers 100% credit to the last click in the user’s path. In general, last click attribution is considered overly simplistic, over credits lower funnel tactics (such as retargeting and affiliates) and is used in a limited tactical way by marketers for making decisions.

First click attribution gives credit to the first media touch point that delivered the visitor to the website and delivered a conversion, or sale. This is probably the least used method for attribution, but can be helpful to show which top of funnel campaigns are more effective than others.

Some common multi-touch attribution Models are:

  • Rules Based Weighted Distribution ex) 60% first touch, 30% last touch, 10% other touchpoints – This puts the majority of the weight on the first and last touches. The problem with this model is you still must decide what you want the weights to be for each touch along the path to conversion. It requires a lot of diligence, review and updating often to keep it close to a version of the truth.
  • Rules Based Even Distribution – Credit is divided up equally across all touchpoints in the path to a conversion. It’s not a common model and is less accurate than weighted or Algorithmic.
  • Algorithmic – This model uses machine learning to objectively determine the impact of marketing stimuli along a consumer’s path to conversion. Building this type of model is extremely time consuming and labor intensive. It is also fraught with data breakage/leakage.

What is an Attribution Tool?

The primary goal of attribution tools (or MTA tools) is to provide marketers with an out-of-the box, or semi-customized attribution tracking & modeling to help marketers understand how much credit should be given to each marketing touch-point. There are free or cheap attribution tools and software available like Google Attribution and Rockerbox. These entry level tools will provide a better attributed view of your marketing than using last touch. However, there are severe drawbacks to these tools. a) They are click based so if your site does not or cannot drop a cookie, you won’t see that person. b) Upper funnel impression based channels like YouTube, TV, Display and others are very difficult to account for. And c) walled ecosystems like Facebook, do not provide access to user or impression level data.

Neustar MarketShare provides an enterprise level multi-touch attribution platform which encompasses a full suite of technology services designed to track, model and report against user level marketing data and provides consulting services to help interpret and use the data. While their offering is more comprehensive than the providers mentioned above, they are still subject to the same limitations. Where Neustar Marketshare does excel is in their Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) and consulting practice. See What is Marketing Mix Modeling? for more on MMM.

Measured Marketing Attribution & Incrementality Measurement

For making more impactful decisions rooted in incrementality measurement, proven to be the most reliable and accurate way to measure marketing contribution, we have developed advanced methods to account for the limitations of MTA models.

One example of this is the ability to accurately measure marketing contribution within walled gardens because many of these platforms enable experimentation deliberately or coincidentally. This is fundamentally different than MTA. In platforms like Facebook it is possible to select and target audiences in randomized ways but target them differentially. This enables us to design experiments and test audiences for different marketing treatments. Incrementality measurement is a direct substitute for MTA and is very complimentary to MMM.

Measured’s advanced cross-channel measurement provides true incrementality measurement across all your media channels where you can make decisions based on proper attribution. Learn More!

Author

Trevor Testwuide - CEO

Expert in business strategy and marketing measurement.

 

Multi-touch attribution is more challenging today due to limited tracking options, identity and cross-device resolution hurdles, data leakage and the massive amount of time it takes to implement.

 

What is cross-platform attribution (or cross-channel attribution) and why is it difficult?

The goal of cross-platform attribution in marketing is to gain clarity on the interplay and contribution of influence that each channel/tactic/campaign has on driving conversions over and above baseline sales.

It’s a task that has proved to be very difficult for many reasons including but not limited to:

  • Walled gardens are typically inaccessible to third-party tracking of impressions
  • Identity resolution across media platforms is quite low
  • Cross-device tracking is difficult and match rates are extremely low
  • Instrumenting a tracking infrastructure by a third party measurement provider has proved to be fraught with breakage and data leakage
  • It is extremely time consuming to implement without the help of a partner

Video: Landing a source of truth cross-channel media reporting dashboard

 

 

What are some cross-channel attribution tools?

MTA – collects individual, or user-level data, for trackable addressable media and conversion events in order to determine the impact of each media event to the desired conversion at the customer level. By summing the impact of each addressable media touchpoint on each customers’ likelihood to convert, MTA quantifies the total media channel lift provided by addressable media. MTA does not account for the impact of non-addressable media, and furthermore much addressable media is either non-trackable or lost due to the innumerable challenges of tracking data at the user level.

Incrementality Measurement – Incrementality in marketing refers to the incremental benefit produced per unit of input stimulation. Incrementality is the lift in desired outcome (awareness, web visits, conversion, subscriptions, revenue, profitability) provided by marketing activity.

Incrementality in marketing is especially needed for channels where ad impressions such as display, Facebook, social, or even TV are hard to measure. To measure incrementality, the audience is broken out into test groups (exposed to the ads) and a control group (suppressed from seeing the ads).

MMM – MMM is a top down (aggregate marketing data) and very artistic statistical exercise where one or more models (e.g. econometric, multi-linear regression) are leveraged to extract key information and insights by deriving information from multiple sources of marketing, economic, weather and financial data. MMM is also a high-touch consultative approach that is very manual with little to no automated data inputs, whereas MTA and Incrementality, when deployed properly, is a very automated approach leveraging preconfigured connectors that extract the required marketing data, across many channels, on regular cadence. (It’s important to note that MTA can take 6 months or more to deploy, whereas Incrementality can be up and running with reporting in 4-6 weeks.) See this article for more on why always-on automated experimentation is the future of marketing measurement.

Author

Trevor Testwuide - CEO

Expert in business strategy and marketing measurement.

 

Multi-touch attribution is more challenging today due to limited tracking options, identity and cross-device resolution hurdles, data leakage and the massive amount of time it takes to implement.