Cross-channel analytics – tackling the question of attribution
John Wanamaker, considered by some as the Father of Modern Advertising, once stated, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” One of the things search marketers love to make noise about is their ability to track their efforts. In fact they (including myself) wear it like a badge. But, as much as the tracking capabilities of today would wow Wanamaker, there are still a lot of clicks that aren’t easily attributed to revenue.
For marketers, the question of accurately tracking revenues often comes down to a conversation about attribution. And for some, the ‘last-click wins’ model, which remains an industry standard, is just not good enough. Consumers may click on more than one link before they purchase and it’s only some of the time that this works in the search marketer’s favour, as when a customer sees a Facebook ad which sparks a search, which in turn results in an online conversion, and a ‘point’ for search marketing. Other times, it doesn’t work in the search marketer’s favour, such as when a consumer searches, clicks, browses the site, but then ends up buying an item off the back of a retargeted banner ad.
I would argue that when looking at cross-channel behaviors, advertisers need insight that goes well beyond an attribution model – what they need is cross channel analytics.
Cross-channel analytics seeks to provide insight into the journey the customer takes to conversion. This can take multiple forms, including understanding which channels combine to drive conversion, what popular paths are across and within channels, and finally, detailed analysis of specific visitor paths. By analysing customer behaviors, instead of only trying to quantify attribution, businesses can gain greater clarity of the effects of each individual channel and importantly how they work together.
Although there are many advantages to cross-channel analytics, for the purpose of this article, I’ll touch on just three.
The first of these is ‘funnel analysis’. Cross-channel analytics enable marketers to determine which channel combinations result in the highest return and gain visibility into the popular paths to conversion. With this insight, marketers can invest more in channels that combine effectively to drive sales, and align messaging across these channels. For example, understanding the impact that retargeting has on certain early funnel search terms may justify additional investment in search. It also may drive marketers to change their search ad copy to focus on driving awareness and interest, leaving the retargeting ads to drive the subsequent sale.
The second benefit I’d like to discuss is ‘latency/time impact’. By analysing consumer-level data across the path to conversion, marketers will be able to identify the ‘true’ latency pattern for visitors that converted through particular online channels. Using this insight, messaging can be tailored for early and late funnel marketing to make ads more relevant to where the customer is in the purchase cycle.
The final benefit I’ll touch on is that of ‘measuring referrals’. Analysing URL referrals across the various channels will allow marketers to identify high and low value placements. These finding can then be used to inform bidding strategy and exclusions on the Google Display Network.
As is the case with most things, before devoting resources to cross-channel analytics, marketers should establish their goals. What hypothesis about cross-channel consumer behaviors do they have? And what information do they need to prove or disprove those hypotheses? Clearly defined goals will go a long way towards helping marketers sift through the multitude of data that is available. Defined goals will also help them to set initial benchmarks, so once they start to realise insight from cross-channel analytics, they’ll be able to more effectively turn that insight into action.
We’re still a world away from the where Wanamaker wanted us to be, but by starting with cross-channel analytics, advertisers have the foundation in place to tackle the question of attribution. By leveraging cross-channel analytics, marketers can quantify the percentage of consumers who actually click on multiple links, and the value of these cross-channel interactions. This allows the advertiser to place attribution within its context and draw the right conclusions when the time comes to assign credit where it’s due for conversions.