The idea of highly accurate attribution is all the rage. And it should be. Data science today makes it possible to understand, more than ever, about sophisticated media mixes and their impact on sales channels.
But attribution also remains severely limited. Advertising, including direct response TV, does far more than merely
close sales. Advertising must introduce consumers to the
product or service, move them from mere awareness to wanting the product, and then finally move them to action. Let’s
call this the “plant, water, harvest
With this foundation in mind,
consider these seven rules for
thriving in the era of attribution:
1. Successful attribution
requires a plant, water,
and harvest model. If you
stop planting, you’ll end
up without a harvest. And
if you stop watering, your
plants die. In marketing,
this means paying attention
to the entire journey that
leads someone to buy your
product or service — not
just that point where they
Demand that attribution helps you
understand the entire journey.
2. Never rely only on “last-touch” attribution. Many attribution models
only consider the media that drove
the final contact. That’s because last
touch is far easier to calculate and
track than more important steps.
But usually the most effective last-touch media is also exceptionally
poor at either planting or watering.
3. Avoid black boxes. Vendors and
agencies will claim they have black
boxes that reveal everything you
need to know. They don’t. Even
worse, black boxes make huge hidden assumptions that can damage
4. Statistics underestimate the importance of planting
and watering. In major retail attribution work about
15 years ago, my agency found shocking contradictions
in the data. Statistical analysis estimated one retail
sale for each direct sale. But consumer surveys and
sales data showed as many as 14-15 sold at retail per
direct sale. Why the difference? In this typically noisy
market, statistics couldn’t detect the bulk of the media’s impact — planting and watering.
5. Statistical models are developed
for ideal situations — but markets
aren’t ideal. Markets are very noisy.
And in a noisy market, statistics
tend to overestimate the most ob-
vious things — like impact from
high-profile media airings. That
means they miss the impact of im-
portant smaller actions, like buying
highly efficient, low-cost DR airings.
6. Don’t ask consumers to do your
attribution for you. Many companies
build attribution around asking
consumers to enter promo codes.
Except, no matter how hard you try,
70-80 percent of your consumers
won’t use the codes. Why? Attribu-
tion is not their job — it’s our job.
7. Avoid separate attribution silos. Separating silos can
be as misleading as black boxes. For example, on a
certain campaign, the phone MER might drop, lead-
ing the client to panic. But if, during the preceding
three months, the client’s product had rolled out in
2,000 new retail stores, it’s likely that the MER drop
matched the retail expansion. In this example, the
increased retail profit likely would be higher than the
client’s loss through lower MER. Unfortunately, a silo
mentality might lead this client to believe this success
actually indicated failure.
Go forth and build attribution models. But remember,
there’s no magic bullet. The most successful companies use
attribution to complement traditional research and analysis.
After all, business success requires human judgment and
instinct — that’s what makes it such fun. And when smart
attribution is combined with more traditional work, we’re
able to make amazing things happen. ;
Plant, Water, and Harvest:
The Keys to Valid Attribution
By Doug Garnett