Solving for cross-device complexity with multi-touch attribution

Multi-touch attribution isn't new, but technological advances have brought it within reach and made it more important than ever, says contributor Chuck Moran.

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I’m going to let you in on a secret: Marketers are human, too. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

Because marketers are human, we understand the richness of the customer journey, from initial inspiration or yearning to final sale. But dealing with that complexity is not always easy.

As marketers, we have more ways to reach potential customers than ever before, with new channels maturing at remarkable speed. Now it’s not only mobile, desktops and tablets that we must factor into our media plans and attribution models, but also new channels, including connected TV, smart homes, virtual reality and augmented reality.

Each channel contains different opportunities for brand exposure — whether social, display or pre-roll — and we must now contend with micro conversions that might occur along the way, increasing cross-platform complexity and the impact of remarketing efforts.

And the data! We now have so much information at our fingertips that tells us who our customers are and illustrates where they are along the customer journey. This should be a marketer’s dream. The power we possess to target and reach our customers would be unimaginable to previous generations of marketers.

More data = more decisions

Yet the job of a marketer seems to be getting more difficult rather than less. All of the devices and all the available data have created a level of complexity that gives many marketers nightmares. With so many touch points, how do we know what’s working to optimize our marketing planning and programs? How do we ensure that we aren’t overserving potential customers, wasting resources and potentially turning customers off through oversaturation?

In an era where consumers are becoming more attuned to what data they share and how it’s used, how do we strike the right balance? Contending with complexity requires extra thought, analysis and resources. As another format or channel is added, it becomes exponentially harder to do proper attribution. And how do you weigh the impact different brand interactions have on the path to purchase or action?

It’s OK. Take a breath. Greater complexity in our marketing channels and tools better reflects the complexity of customers’ lives. If we can harness this complexity, we can get closer to our customers, to understand and serve them better.

Moving to multi-touch attribution

One key way is to shift attribution strategies, using complexity to your advantage. Many marketers, for many years, have relied on the simplest form of attribution that they could measure. It could be first-touch — giving full credit to the first impression that was made with the lead or customer.

More commonly it has been last-touch, attributing the sale or conversion to the last marketing interaction. Last-touch operates on the theory that the most important interaction was the one that finally flipped the switch in the customer, moving them from no to yes. The simplicity of last-touch attribution is appealing, and that appeal has led to its being the most common method for AdWords and many programmatic platforms.

However, marketers — because they are also humans and customers — know our own paths to purchase do not travel in a straight line. We know that the momentum to make a purchase is rarely 100 percent contained in the final interaction before purchase. In this age of so many marketing interactions, we know that sometimes we’re even served interactions after we’ve made the decision to buy.

A complex marketing ecosystem calls for a more complex attribution strategy. Multi-touch attribution gives credit to all the marketing interactions along a customer journey that led to a conversion. The models for multi-touch attribution range from the simple — a linear model that gives equal credit to every touch point along the customer journey — to the complex, such as a customized model based on an algorithmic methodology. What level of complexity you engage depends on many factors: your budget, the number of channels and campaigns you are running or how your measurement aligns with other business goals.

However, any movement toward engaging the complexity through a multi-touch attribution strategy is going to provide you with better guidance that is more aligned with how your customers are truly converting. And because attribution modeling is ever improving, you are always going to be optimizing the best way to spend your marketing budget.

You no longer need to be P&G or Unilever

Multi-touch attribution is not new. Savvy marketers have been using complex attribution models for a while. But historically, this meant an investment of resources to gather and properly analyze the data that was out of reach for many organizations. Fortunately, the sophistication embedded in state-of-the-art marketing tools has leveled the playing field. Multi-touch attribution is more accessible and more actionable, and you don’t need to be a Procter & Gamble or Unilever to accomplish it successfully.

Sophisticated attribution systems let you know what’s working — how and where your target consumers are interacting effectively with your brand. The benefits are exponential. This information should transform how your brand or client approaches media, designs its creative, invests in specific media and social channels, activates influencers and engages in branding and advertising.

Precise attribution uses data as an engine to better power your entire marketing organization. This can have a halo effect, as well,  as it informs how your executive team allocates resources to better align with consumer needs or guides your senior executives as they map out long-term strategy.

In a future column, we’ll look more specifically at the nuanced ways of assigning value to customer activity in a multi-touch attribution model.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Chuck Moran
Chuck Moran is responsible for leading RhythmOne's creative products team to find unique opportunities in a dynamic, digital marketplace. With over 20 years of digital marketing experience, Chuck has developed a broad understanding of the connected consumer and how brands can engage them through technology-driven, creative solutions and programmatic buying.

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