Go beyond matchbacks to solve the attribution fallacy

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Jake Hall
Jake Hall

One of the first things a client usually wants to discuss when building a new marketing database is order attribution and matchback techniques. This is the process whereby we relate incoming orders to promotions or offers that a customer or household has received.


The unavoidable truth, however, is that any matchback is an imperfect tool to help the marketer draw the right conclusions about their marketing investment. Just as we can't build a house with only a hammer, we can't evaluate marketing efforts with a matchback alone — no matter how sophisticated. I would never advocate eliminating the matchback; instead, I would suggest a multifaceted approach consisting of an integrated marketing and campaign database, diligent multichannel testing and control strategies, and a well-reasoned matchback to help bring it together. 


Step one in this approach is building a multichannel marketing database. Integrating as much campaign and behavioral data as possible is critical to understanding the big picture of how your customers are engaging with your brand. This should include order and mail promotion history, but also e-mail promotions, opens and clicks, website browsing, referring keywords and campaigns, retail transactions, Facebook check-ins and whatever else you can get your hands on. 


The other half of step one is bringing all this disparate data together so you can actually 
create that all-important 360-
degree view of the customer. 
Ensure that this data is thoroughly audited and understood before the database build goes too far. It's much more painful to deal with junk after everything is built on top of it.


Step two includes diligent testing and control strategy. Matchbacks can guess at the relationship between overlapping campaigns and channels, but only a diligent test will provide a solid answer. Properly constructed multivariate testing can help keep budgets and quantities in line. Incorporate e-mail and Web engagement into your print campaign selection process — knowing if a customer is engaged can help make selections within marginal segments.


Lastly, a good matchback should help you see all this activity together and develop a balanced view of the multichannel activity and marketing investment. The key is attribution not to a single event, but to a particular contact strategy or sequence of events. Our customers are perfectly comfortable seeing us across multiple channels and we should be, too.


 Jake Hall is director of database solutions at SolutionSet. Reach him at jake.hall@solutionset.com.

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