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Why multi-touch attribution is a necessity, not a luxury in the post-digital age

Technology & Data

Why multi-touch attribution is a necessity, not a luxury in the post-digital age


Nikki Retallick explains how multi-touch attribution can successfully transform a business, one customer at a time.

Nikki RetallikSince becoming head of data and attribution earlier this year I have spent the vast majority of my waking hours talking to innumerable CMOs and senior marketers at conferences, events and in meetings.

It’s my job to help brands better understand their entire customer journey – from the first marketing touch point through to sale and beyond. And because we have a highly consultative approach, we ask some pretty in-depth questions of brands upfront around their business framework and objectives.

Naturally, every business has its unique challenges and opportunities, but the vast majority of conversations boil down to the fact the pace of digital transformation has significantly disrupted their businesses (although the word disruption suggests it is a hiatus versus wholesale change) and as marketers they are busy playing catch up to try and figure out the new world order.

The fact is there won’t be any breathers for marketers already struggling to keep up with their customers any time soon. We are close to a time where our ‘smart fridge’ might have an inventory-checking program that connects directly with a price check feed from the leading supermarkets so that it can auto-order and get the best deal to ensure we never run out of the essentials (the Amazon Dash button is already a reality in the US and has just arrived in the UK).

Who wouldn’t be interested in automated grocery buying, saving both time and money on one of the less enjoyable tasks in life? And once we’ve eaten our programmatically purchased breakfast, our commute to work might be via our self-driving car share program, during which time we’re free to watch and listen to the content served up by the media companies that used to just manufacture cars (think BMW).

Plus did I mention there was no need to worry about locating your house or car keys or wallet, since your phone will have all of these applications covered?

When this becomes our everyday reality, all of these connected devices are likely to become content vehicles – many of which will be ad supported. This means that the consumer path to purchase is going to get even more convoluted and complex; the consumer will simply get whatever product, content or service they need when they want it on the device that makes the most sense to them at the time. Consequently, a brand has to be omnipresent.

Hugely exciting times for the consumer. Hugely exciting and challenging times for the marketer.

In this world, the customer has to be put front and centre of all business functions – not just marketing. Customer-centricity is an over-used phrase of late but it is a fundamental of successful digital transformation and a requisite for continued relevance and future success.

In order to be truly customer-centric a brand needs to be able to properly optimise the customer experience at every touch point and at every step of the way. Digital trailblazers like the aforementioned Amazon along with the Airbnbs and Ubers of the world have irrevocably pivoted customer expectations of what constitutes good service and today’s consumers have reduced brand loyalty and limited patience. So, to effectively optimise the consumer experience, a brand needs to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How did consumers experience your brand’s marketing?
  • In what order did they see your ads?
  • How did owned and earned media play into the consumer’s path to purchase?
  • What do your favourite consumer groups look like?
  • What devices do they use?
  • Where are they located?
  • What are their demographics?
  • How long does it take them to purchase?
  • How frequently are they purchasing?

These are all questions that can be answered using multi-touch attribution, which allows a brand to understand as much as possible about how existing and potential customers behave. Collecting this type of customer data is crucial to creating segmentation and personas.

Once the optimal customer path is understood, brands are then in a much better position to invest and optimise more intelligently. For example, the insights from multi-touch attribution can power the development of more sophisticated segmentation and targeting strategies; ensuring investments in the data management platform provide optimal return on investment.

Transformational change, however, doesn’t come cheap. Whilst in the long term it will reap dividends, as the saying goes ‘speculate to accumulate’.

This increase in upfront investment makes it even more important to create efficiencies in marketing investment. In addition to allowing a brand to get up close and personal with consumers, attribution delivers the necessary intelligence as to what specific tactics are driving the most return for the least amount of cost.

It gives a highly granular understanding of what specific messaging or ad placement yields the best results as well as the optimal spend by channel and tactic will go a long way towards delivering the most bang for your buck.

Multi-touch attribution goes way beyond enhanced reporting capability; it’s as close as a marketer can get to a crystal ball to predict specific scenarios accurately. Quite literally, it gives marketers the business intelligence to be able to accurately state ‘if I spend x on this channel and strategy, I can expect y revenue/sales’.

In the world of zero-marketing budgeting and heightened C-Suite scrutiny on marketing investment – not to mention the dreaded end of quarter emails from finance about mandatory budget cuts – effective attribution delivers the ability to intuit how and where to cut budget with the least adverse impact on sales and ROI.

It’s about the ability to successfully transform a business, one customer at a time. And as such a necessity, not a luxury.


Nikki Retallick is head of data and attribution APAC at AOL Platforms


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