Attribution Anonymous: A 12-Step Program

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Aaron Goldman, Kenshoo
Aaron Goldman, Kenshoo

How can marketers make cross-channel attribution a reality?

Cross-channel attribution is a major challenge for marketing organizations. We've all had our share of setbacks. Here's a 12-step program to help you recover:

1. Admit you are powerless

The truth is there's no right way to do attribution. There's only good enough. Accepting that is the first step toward making cross-channel attribution a reality.

2. Believe in a higher power

Mere mortals cannot crunch all the data required to make precise calculations about the impact of each ad along the consumer path to conversion. Only sophisticated technologies leveraging dynamic models and predictive analytics can accomplish this Herculean feat.

3. Turn your will over to the higher power

How can a machine possibly know your business better than you can? It can't. And that's why you still have a job. But, you have to trust the outputs of the machine. If the algorithm tells you to give 23.4% credit to Facebook for its contribution to a sale, do it.

4. Make a fearless inventory

Ensure that you have handle on (or at least a list of) all campaigns across all channels. Every consumer touchpoint must be considered, and the value of that interaction must be calculated.

5. Admit your wrongdoings to others

Reach out to stakeholders within your organization and apologize for using the last-click model all these years. Explain that it seemed like the only conceivable way to dedupe between channels. Or, if you're already using a multitouch attribution model (MTA) but applying static rules that treat every conversion the same (e.g., time decay or U-shape), confess that it's an imperfect approach leading to imperfect results.

6. Ask the higher power to remove defects of character

Make sure your attribution platform can account for the nuances of your business that may impact the model's outputs—seasonality, customer lifetime value, competition, margins, etc.—and remove any bias from the model that may not account for these variables.

7. Humbly ask the higher power to remove your shortcomings

Give your attribution platform time to do its thing. Many months and cycles are required to suss out the signals from the noise and make proper evaluations of the marketplace dynamics. Be patient and focus on the long-term results.

8. Make a list of all persons harmed

You're likely to make a few enemies as you carry out your agenda. Some bottom-funnel channels like affiliate and email may not be happy when you start apportioning credit for their conversions to upper-funnel channels like social and display. Make sure there's buy-in from above to help you with these conversations and, ideally, adjustments in KPIs and incentives to get everyone aligned and working toward the same overall goals.

9. Make amends, except when doing so would injure others

If your attribution platform is telling you to cut out an entire channel that's been a staple of your marketing program from years, think twice before doing it. There may be hidden benefits that the attribution platform is not taking into account and, if those benefits are tangible, find a way to update your MTA model accordingly.

10. Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it

Attribution, like any facet of marketing, is not “set it and forget it.” Continue to seek out new ways to improve your approach and tailor your model to reflect business realities. Consumer habits are always changing. Technology is always changing. Stay vigilant and ahead of the trends.

11. Seek to improve conscious contact with the higher power and pray for knowledge

Leverage your attribution platform to derive key insights that can be applied to other parts of your marketing plan. For example, if you dig into the data and see that generic search keywords are getting a lot more credit for starting conversion paths, consider shifting budgets from brand terms to improve your impression share. Better yet, seek out attribution solutions that automatically connect to media bidding platforms to activate these insights in real-time.

12. Having achieved spiritual awakening, practice and evangelize these principles

Once you have “good enough” cross-channel attribution in place and are seeing improved results, shout it from the rooftops. Let everyone in your organization know about the progress you've made and ask them to recommit to providing the inputs needed to continually feed the MTA beast. Recognize that the landscape is continually changing and attribution must remain a priority. This is the best way to avoid relapse.


Aaron Goldman, Kenshoo

CMO and head of freestyle rap at Kenshoo, Aaron Goldman has been running the digital marketing rap game for more than a dozen years. The author of Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google founded digital marketing consulting and matchmaking firm Connectual prior to Kenshoo. Before Connectual Goldman was VP, marketing and strategic partnerships, at search marketing agency Resolution Media; earlier in his career he managed U.S. Midwest sales for ad network MaxOnline. The self-proclaimed marketing junkie earned his bachelor's degree in advertising from the University of Illinois. When he isn't busy Googling himself, Goldman enjoys running around Chicago with his family.


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