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James Parnwell

James Parnwell

The Attribution Problem: How Are Your Marketing Activities Working Together To Give You Critical Mass?

Digital marketing is not just the way of the future, it’s the way of the now.  So, let’s get down to tin tacks with a few straight, blunt questions:

  • Are you getting leads from your website?
  • Are you getting any leads from your digital marketing?
  • If so, where are they coming from?

Digital leads can come from 6 different places:

  1. Organic traffic – SEO, people that have come from Google
  2. Direct traffic – people that have typed your URL directly into their browser
  3. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc…
  4. Pay-per-click – Google Pay-per-click (or Google AdWords) or Facebook Pay-per-click (Linkedin, twitter)
  5. Email campaigns
  6. Referral traffic – pretty much any other website on the internet that’s not Google

When taking a surface glance at our website traffic and leads, it’s easy to look at it and conclude that most leads came directly from organic or SEO.  Or maybe from a PPC campaign, or straight from an email.  Therefore, we tend to say that the other areas of my marketing aren’t working.  Fullstop.

But hang on…. how do you actually know these other strategies aren’t working?

Let me give you an analogy:

Imagine a family is sitting at the dinner table (pretty homely, I know, but it gives the idea!).  This is the family of Mr & Mrs. Digital Marketing, and their 4 children: Tom, Mary, Matt, and Kate.

Dad looks up and asks mum to pass him the salt.  Because they’re sitting at opposite ends of the table, Mum picks up the salt shaker and passes it to Tom, who hands it to Mary, who passes it to Matt, who gives it to Kate.  Kate then hands the salt shaker to Dad.  Dad turns to Kate and says ‘thanks very much for that – I appreciate you giving me that salt’.

Essentially, Dad has given all the credit to Kate, but in actual fact, there were another 4 people involved in the process of passing him the salt.

This is the point I want to make: we do this all the time with our digital marketing!  It’s easy to take a quick look and say ‘I’m going give my social media the flick because that isn’t getting me anywhere, but I did a Google AdWords campaign and it brought me a good lead’ (Google AdWords is getting all the credit).

Going back to the Digital Marketing family, let’s give each member a position:

  • Tom – social media
  • Mary – email
  • Matt – blog on your website
  • Kate – AdWords

In the example of passing the salt shaker, although AdWords is getting all the credit, three other marketing strategies have been employed in getting the final result.

I think we understand anecdotally, that when people are going to engage in a business, particularly when it is either expensive or complicated, that they need to go through both a learning and a trust phase.   If they don’t understand or trust you as a business, they’re probably not going to contact you.

Now, I want to give you another example using our own business, TheOnlineCo.  Let’s say Jim sees one of our Facebook videos about busting 3 common marketing myths.  He just watches the video.  No clicking – just watches.  The following week he sees our blog (maybe this one, about Attribution and how to know whether your marketing is working).  While he’s reading the blog, a popup inviting him to ‘download our free guide to getting more leads and….’ grabs his attention. Over the course of the next 2 weeks, he receives a series of 5 automated emails.  Finally, Jim types our URL into his browser, clicks through from Google, fills in the website form and asks for help with his marketing.

Let’s summarize it: 6 touch points to get 1 lead, the last of which was an organic or SEO search. If we ignore points 1 – 5 and give all the credit to point 6, we’ve just massacred the entire marketing program!  It all started with a Facebook video…

Different types of Attribution

There is a current push from Google, and indeed we ourselves are advocating a change in the way we view attribution.

Using the example above of the family passing the salt, let’s look at the different types of attribution:

  1. Last interaction attribution: Dad thanks Kate, but overlooks all other touch points
  2. First interaction attribution: Dad gives all the credit to Mum, but not the kids.
  3. Time decay attribution: Mum passes the salt to Tom, who uses it and puts it down.  Sometime later he passes it to Mary and it continues on it’s way to Dad.  Significant time has elapsed since the salt started it’s journey to it’s final destination. In this case we give more credit to things that happened recently.
  4. Linear attribution: every member receives equal recognition and thanks
  5. Position based attribution: most of the credit is given to Mum and Kate, but points in between are given an equal share of recognition.

In this scenario, either Time decay or Position-based attribution would be the best way to go.  At TheOnlineCo, we tend to favor Position-based attribution: we understand that the first touch point is very important, and of course, the last click that brings the lead over the line is also very important, but we don’t want to disregard any of the ‘middle steps’.

But wait…there are BIG holes in our Attribution Plan!

Challenge no. 1

Facebook and Google don’t communicate!

If somebody has seen a Facebook ad, then in time that person clicks through on a Google ad, there is no way that Facebook and Google are going to communicate to link those two interactions.  A problem? Yes.  Can we do anything about it? No.  It simply involves some educated guesswork. Indeed, it’s better to measure what you can, albeit imperfect, than not measure anything at all!  So, monitoring both your Facebook video views and your Google AdWords conversions is far better than no measuring and no video.

Interestingly, we have had cases in the past where we have run an AdWords campaign, then later introduced Facebook.  Surprisingly, the cost per lead for Google has halved within a few months. The only change was the Facebook campaign.  Can we prove it?  No.  Unfortunately, Google and Facebook aren’t friends and don’t communicate.

Challenge no. 2

Real world interactions aren’t counted.

Let’s take a common example: a radio campaign.  A potential customer hears the radio ad while driving to work in the morning.  Later that day he/she opens Google and searches for your service and makes contact.  That radio ad, although it was the first point of contact, will get no credit. Does that mean you should scrap radio campaigns?  No way!  Instead, you need to make educated guesses about what your offline marketing is doing for you.  This principle applies to all offline marketing: TV, newspaper, letterbox drops and word-of-mouth or referral.

Challenge no. 3

In-store purchases break the chain of attribution.

Suppose you see a Facebook ad for an LG Television.  You really like the look of it, so you click on the link – you’re now on the website.  Next step is a trip to Harvey Norman to buy that unit.

There is no way to reconcile that Facebook experience with the physical purchase.

Attribution is an area that is growing and developing all the time.  Although we can’t claim to have reached the ultimate solution yet, it’s important to recognize that any final purchase has generally been made using a series of steps.  Removing one step could cause your potential customer to fall, and your business will lose out.



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James Parnwell
James Parnwell

James is the Managing Director and resident strategist at TheOnlineCo. He is clever and creative with a flair for making complex things sound simple. He has been in the marketing game for over 2 decades and has watched the landscape slowly shift. James has his finger on the pulse of every aspect within TheOnlineCo, meeting with all clients as well as every core team member and strategising a specific plan tailored to each client.

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