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Make Marketing Attribution Work: Four Steps to Successful Implementation

In a world where offline and online channels meld in a single marketing mix and every dollar of media spend needs to be maximized, measurement has had to evolve—and fast. Enter marketing attribution, a modern-day approach to marketing measurement that illuminates how prospects and customers engage with a brand—across all channels—from the top of the funnel to conversion. It enables marketers to understand how the different elements of the marketing mix work together, unveiling exactly what is working (and what’s not) so marketers can create and execute marketing strategies that more closely resemble the reality of how customers engage with the brand.

Making the move from traditional “last click” measurement to attribution is not as technically or tactically challenging as often assumed. Although each situation is unique, there are four basic steps to bring attribution from concept to reality.

Discovery and research

Begin with a careful, customized exploration of the organization and its marketing DNA. Areas to consider include:

  • Marketing challenges and objectives
  • The quantity, quality, and sources of performance data
  • Opportunities to marry offline and online data
  • Expectation setting around inaccessibility of “walled” data
  • The quantity and types of channels in play—and how they relate to program objectives

The aim of this step is to configure an attribution solution that is viable in the context of an organization’s day-to-day reality. The output is an initial sense of how and where to start to implement attribution into campaign planning and optimization strategies.

Initial implementation

With marketing attribution, a phased implementation approach is typically best, as it allows the marketing organization to see initial results that demonstrate the system’s performance and builds momentum for expansion. The “initial” phase can be defined by a specific pair of channels, business units or product lines, or a precise time period.

At this point, the technical audit is conducted, which includes determining the method for collecting, aggregating, and normalizing all relevant data. For example, which data needs to be pulled, where it will be sourced (ad servers, search tools, proprietary databases, etc.), and how it will be imported into the attribution software. A universal taxonomy will also need to be applied across all inputs. Fortunately, most attribution vendors will do the heavy lifting on this part of the process, working in collaboration with in-house technical teams and third-party providers of the data. The role of marketers here is often simply to provide insight into the ideal output they would prefer to see on the other end of the system.

In conjunction, operational issues like team structure, workflows, performance and compensation, and goal setting needs to be addressed, as well as training. Topics to cover include the attribution mindset, software use, approach to analysis, and putting optimization strategies in market.


After the initial data has been run through the attribution software, the first set of results will be generated. These will be displayed in the format defined during the technical audit and the attributed results will appear side by side with the last click performance metrics most teams are used to seeing. In addition to displaying results using the attributed metrics, the attribution software will generate a series of recommendations based on the influences and synergies between all the components in the marketing ecosystem.

Next, the software will measure the attribution model’s performance by comparing the actual performance to the initial predictions. The system now begins to self-perpetuate as the cycle of measuring, analyzing, and optimizing continues. With each cycle, new performance data is automatically fed into the system and adjustments to the attribution model are made, creating ever-more accurate predictions of the results the recommendations will produce.

Optimization and expansion

By the time initial initiatives have proven the efficiency and budgetary benefits of attribution’s depth and accuracy, it’s easy to expand the implementation across additional channels, business units, product lines, geographic areas, and more. In addition to tactical expansion, marketing attribution can be leveraged for strategic optimization. With better and more holistic data, organizations have a clear picture of where marketing wins come from, how to allocate budgets more effectively, and what may be possible for new testing opportunities.

From day-to-day media buying to big picture planning, attribution provides marketers with the analysis and recommendations they need to continuously improve marketing results and ROI.

Manu Mathew is cofounder and CEO of Visual IQ. This article is based on Visual IQ’s recent eBook,
Exploring the Art and Science of Marketing Attribution.

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