The Black Hole of Direct Attribution


Marketing attribution, the process of identifying the “touches” that led to a sale, has never been more popular. Now, with social media marketing playing an ever-increasing role in marketing campaigns, companies are scrambling to trace the dollars spent on campaigns to specific sales. How many widgets did that tweet sell?

It always surprises me when I encounter a marketer who uses direct, singular attribution as the core of their marketing analytics. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the allure.

The ability to assign sales numbers to the media spend that was required get there is extremely valuable.  Direct attribution helps you justify your media spend - something that, for some marketers, is their entire job function. But for the smartest among us, direct attribution information can help steer future spending, and really plump up the return on marketing spend.

What surprises me is not the value these CMO’s see in attribution – it’s the importance that is (mis)placed on one part of the marketing mix when attribution is assigned to only one asset.  And this isn’t an isolated occurrence. Almost a quarter of marketers surveyed by Forrester last year defined attribution as the first or last touch point. This doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s best expressed as a question – “can marketers maximize revenue/sales without understanding the complementary value of all media?”   Is defining performance through direct attribution better than nothing?  Sure.  But making isolated decisions using only direct attribution can lead to significant performance issues.

Direct attribution puts significantly too much value on the “deciding” channel, while ignoring the other channels that helped the consumer ultimately reach the buying decision. Maybe that email campaign did result in the purchase of that widget – but assigning direct attribution to that email campaign fails to acknowledge the value of the two-month relationship the consumer had with the brand Twitter feed, the outdoor signage that he walks by every day getting into the office.

The valuation of so much marketing is lost when attribution is assigned to only one channel. Additionally, the potential value of new strategies (social media being but one example) can often be overlooked or underrepresented in this environment. When a company focuses too closely on connecting revenue directly to activity, it can stifle the growth of potentially successful strategies. These fledgling strategies can fail under the burden of revenue responsibility before they have had a chance to mature and bear fruit.

The CMO’s that turn away from direct attribution aren’t turning their backs on quantitative analysis. These CMO’s know, instead, that one does not market in a brand vacuum. It is the rare customer indeed that will part with her money the first time she hears about a brand. Sales are not generated in a vacuum – and attribution shouldn’t be assigned within one either.

New Call-to-action

Category: Marketing ROI, Marketing, attribution

Mark Voboril

Mark Voboril

An accomplished marketing executive, Mark Voboril brings two decades of hands-on marketing, media, and communications experience to his role as the leader of the company’s Services Practice for Strategy, Analytics, and Optimization.

About this blog

At Pluris, we believe that we all can do a better, more efficient job at marketing to our most important customers. On this blog, we'll discuss how strategy, database management, offer optimization and analytics can help us all be better marketers. Sometimes, we may just talk about sports.

Subscribe to Email Updates

New Call-to-action