30-second summary:

  • Build a coalition of key influencers like the CEO, CFO, CIO, board, or P/E leadership to support your approach and respect the future changes that come from it.
  • Marketing attribution solutions are hard to understand but you don’t need to understand how to build one to find the right one for your business.
  • You should deeply understand your company’s business goals, priorities, in-house skillsets, and existing customer tracking and data sets before getting started.
  • Being able to articulate how better attribution insights will enable you to make specific future decisions is important.

John Leeman on marketing attribution solutions

Marketing attribution is fraught with jargon that makes it tricky to research and understand what solutions your company needs. Let’s cut through the noise. Here are four steps to finding a respected marketing attribution solution that fits your company’s measurement needs and budget.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Create a coalition of supporters

Create a coalition of supporters

Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter thinks a broad coalition of supporters is required for any transformation to be successful. I think this also applies to selecting and succeeding with an attribution solution.

Marketing attribution is not an area that can be understood quickly, even by marketers (hence this article!), and for people in finance, IT, or merchandising it can be even more confusing. But if you are truly trying to drive different investment choices, potentially even sourced from other business functions into marketing, you need to have others believe that what you’re saying is true.

Just like assessing your internal data and tracking landscape, you need to assess the influencer landscape. Understand what each coalition candidate thinks and work to address those perceptions during your evaluation process. Things to look for:

  • Do they appreciate how a multi-step purchase journey works or not?
  • Do they appreciate the premium value of a new customer purchase?
  • Do they believe in models for decision-making, or only audit-level transaction data?

If you can successfully convert your coalition into true believers in marketing attribution-led decision making it will be easier to sell your attribution-based recommendations later.

Step 2: Using a marketing attribution guide or going it alone

Using a marketing attribution guide or going it alone

Your next decision is whether you would like to run this process yourself, with your internal and agency teams or whether you’d like to get some objective outside help. I would not recommend hiring your media agency to “grade their homework” as it were.

If you can afford to pay for some objective help asking and answering the questions about which methodology and suppliers are right for your needs, and learn some useful external benchmarks along the way, I would invest in an outside expert consultant to lead your coalition through the process. A firm I’ve learned a lot from is Sequent Partners.

Sequent Partners is a specialist marketing attribution evaluation boutique. Together with the Advertising Research Foundation, they host Attribution Accelerator, the only exclusively attribution-focused trade show and they are constantly reviewing the latest published attribution validation and innovation research studies from industry thought-leaders. Sequent Partners offers an attribution “Operational Audit” customized consulting report which can be well worth the cost.

Regardless of whether you decide to seek help or go it alone, you will discover that the marketing attribution solution category has been maturing quickly over the past few years with more tools, data sets, and software solutions coming to market each year. You will need to determine the best methodology for your business and coalition, and then the right company within that methodological category.

Step 3: Clarify the business goals and audit your current measurement capability

Clarifying the business goals and audit your current measurement capability

You need to look in the mirror and acknowledge what you know and what your general organization knows about the 1st party sales data, digital media tracking tags, and the marketing cost data you now collect.

My teammates in media (internal and agencies), eCommerce, CRM, Finance, and IT have been invaluable coalition partners when I’ve gone through this process. Vetting and deploying an attribution solution can often require a non-trivial time investment from your coalition partners too so be respectful of how this work fits into their other priorities when setting up the project timeline.

In briefing potential suppliers, you should also be prepared to reveal more than you might feel comfortable revealing about your business for them to be able to explain how their product/service will serve your specific needs.

“Your attribution choices can’t exist in a vacuum or outside your other business goals and factors so we need to understand what those factors are before we can say whether or not we can measure and optimize them.” according to Chelsea O’Donnell, SVP at AdPredictive, a closed-loop measurement and media optimization solution, and I agree.

Get an NDA signed and allow vendor partners to understand your business as well as possible.

Step 4: Have a vision of the future!

Have a vision of the futureAfter you take stock of where you are today and where your business needs to go in the future, you should try to envision what you would ideally like to affect with the attribution solution of your dreams. Why are you bringing on an attribution solution in the first place?

  • To simply find improvement in marketing ROI or sales?
  • To understand the integrated impact of all of the different marketing and customer experiences in driving growth?
  • To use as a defensive tool against of marketing dis-believers within the company?
  • To drive more customer-centric, data-based decision-making into marketing and across the company?

If you understand your company’s general business goals and priorities (growth over margin, segment A over Segment B, short vs. long-term horizon, ability to in-source analysis or not, etc.) you can be a great arbiter of this process.

Attribution solution salespeople always ask me “How much improvement do you expect to get from your attribution”? This is an impossible question to answer without an attribution solution! I think they’re probably just trying to gauge how realistic my attribution optimization goals are, which is fine.

Assessing your expectations for success from an attribution solution is where the supplier’s industry benchmarks can be most helpful. If you need a 50% improvement to rationalize the cost of the solution it would be nice to know that the average lift for your category or marketing approach is usually only about 15% in the first year.

Either way, you should find some category benchmarks for products or services like yours that are running similarly scaled programs. Don’t wait to ask for these benchmarks either. If you get suppliers to sign NDAs to be sufficiently briefed, ask for this information from as many suppliers as possible. You can then assess where you stand relative to those.

No doubt the percent of improvement in the same areas will plateau over the first many optimization cycles unless there is a lot of dynamism in the channels you’re measuring. That’s why it’s important to have a vision and find a solution that can help you achieve it.

After you define your vision, you can start filtering the kinds of solutions that best fit your needs. Here are a few examples of the three broad categories of solutions:

  • Through Unified Attribution solutions (which combine the below MTA and MMM methods into a single solution) like those from Ipsos MMA I’ve discovered ways to allow customer and market data to drive enterprise optimization inside and far beyond marketing.
  • While Multi-Touch Attribution solutions (MTA) like Elsy (recently acquired by videoamp) focus on using A.I. to populate software with future media factors that allow you to project future media plan outcomes more granularly and accurately.
  • And next-generation Marketing Mix Model solutions (MMM) like OptiMine dramatically reduce the cost and time of traditional MMM solutions which were famous for their endless cycle time and custom analytics costs.

And there are 100 more that have one special feature set or another. One class of solution will be a better fit for what you are trying to achieve than another. But relax, you won’t have to be an expert in all of them to find the right one for your company if you follow this process.

John Leeman is a CMO consultant. He has formerly worked as the Head of Marketing at Samsung and as the VP of Integrated Marketing at PetSmart. He has held other executive leadership roles for the past 15 years. From 2006-2011 John helped P&G and American Express through their media agencies Carat and Mindshare resp. John also ran his own consulting business for five years, serving B2B and large and small DTC (Custom/Shopify/Amazon) clients. These include Verizon, Myro Hyperion Solutions (now Oracle), Axioma Risk, and Quantitative Brokers, to name a few.

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