Why Marketing Attribution Modelling Is No Laughing Matter

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What is it that compels you to take action? Our Group Marketing Director John Newton talks attribution, and what it was that sparked his decision to watch 'Joker'...

Driving through Birmingham city centre late one evening, I saw a digital roadside billboard running an ad for Joaquin Phoenix’s film ‘Joker’.

The next morning, I looked up the showing times for the film on Google and booked some tickets. It got me thinking. Which was more responsible for the sale?

Was it Google, or was it the billboard?

Perhaps it was the positive movie review I read on Empire a few days  before. Or the trailer I watched on Twitter weeks before that.

Both must have had some influence. But of course, this wasn’t the first time I had heard of the Joker.


The Clown Prince of Crime and mE

The character appeared in ‘Suicide Squad’, with a ubiquitous trailer that used a rock soundtrack to stand-out from other superhero movies. I didn’t much like the portrayal of the Joker in this film. Did seeing it make me more or less likely to choose to watch ‘Joker’?

Then there was the ‘The Dark Knight’. It was supported by a digital campaign that won both a Cannes Lions Cyber Grand Prix and Cannes Lions Silver Cyber Award. The Times dubbed the campaign “perhaps the most successful example of viral marketing ever”.

And 1988’s ‘Batman’ landed with a massive marketing blitz which generated $1.5bn in merchandise sales. This includes $75m from t-shirt sales, leading to a global shortage of black material.

Did these groundbreaking campaigns have an influence too?

Or should I look to the re-runs of the Batman TV show I watched as a child, or the comics I read?

The truth is the answer involves all of the above. But ask which had the biggest effect on my decision to buy a ticket - or add a relative weighting - and I couldn't answer you.

What I do know is that marketing activity bought and paid for decades ago directly influenced a decision years later.

What this means for marketing attribution modelling

This is the challenge with attribution. Can any of us know what prompted us to decide which car to purchase? Or what led us to choose our partner over all others?

Yet as digital marketers we're constantly striving to find out how much credit each channel - Google Ads, organic search, email, display, affiliate, native ads, paid social, direct - should get for the sales that we make.

There are a number of marketing attribution models in use: Last Interaction / Click and First Interaction / Click, plus multi-touch models such as Linear, Time Decay and Position Based.

It is important that we attempt to use tracking to allocate spend to the channels driving the most customer spend, conversions, revenue and profits in your business.

But we should remember - especially when talking to senior management - that the road to a sale is far more messy than we might admit.

Why 100% accurate attribution is a bad joke

  • Short cookie expiry dates, Do Not Track and offline activity mean that online analytics tools cannot hope to measure the customer journey with accuracy.
  • Marketing attribution modelling can provide guidance on the return on investment of different touchpoints in the funnel, but never the full answer.
  • Brand building campaigns pay dividends over much longer periods compared to short-term promotional campaigns.

Which means that marketing attribution that looks at what contributed to sales today may miss the effect of brand building on delivering sales tomorrow.

In the face of quarterly goals the importance of brand building can fade. But anyone walking the aisles of their nearest discount store will find familiar yet unloved brands retailing for mere peanuts. This is what failing to continue to invest in a brand looks like - the destruction of value.

Indeed, simply building reach and frequency metrics across all channels will improve your chances of prospects becoming familiar with your products or services.

And as research has proven, it is the abundance of light and infrequent shoppers that makes a marker leader, not brand loyalists.

Most brand building is an inheritance

The reality for most marketers is that the brand power you enjoy was paid for by your predecessors many years - sometimes decades - previously.

Your duty is to 'pay it forward' by investing in brand building activity alongside your sales-led campaigns.

Even if that means most of the rewards will only be enjoyed by your successors...


Got a question about attribution? Get in touch with our experts for further advice.

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