Since the beginning of advertising itself, attribution — the science of measuring advertising effectiveness — has challenged marketers. Digital advertising promised increased accountability, but the ability to measure every ad impression created a barrier of complexity for marketers looking to properly understand and evaluate their digital advertising investments.attribute

In our last article, we looked at the tremendous potential of real-time bidding (RTB) to drive search-like efficiency for display advertising. But effectively managing this investment requires a clear understanding of which partners and targeting approaches are delivering results. Without these insights, you could be putting budget against the wrong tactics or crediting success to the wrong partners.

Today, too many marketers rely on display attribution approaches that value reaching consumers at the bottom of the purchase funnel without considering whether those touch points played a necessary role in influencing the purchase. These approaches typically provide insufficient reward, and hence incentive, to tactics that drive incremental new customer sales. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons for this and some potential solutions.

The Path To Purchase Is Not Always Linear

In a previous column, we discussed the unique challenges in measuring display ad investments and why views are generally a better metric than clicks for this advertising channel. But which views should be measured, and how much credit should be given to each ad for the desired action? For several product categories, customers may see many ads over a period of days before they ultimately convert. A display ad may prompt a product search that leads to a site visit. The user may then return to the site sometime later, perhaps after being retargeted, to make a purchase.

The most commonly used approach for apportioning credit is the last touch (attributing all conversion credit to the last ad view or click). However, while more than 54 percent of marketers said they used last touch attribution, only 14 percent believed it was a highly effective approach (pdf).

Marketers are right to be skeptical of last touch attribution. It is the equivalent of flying from San Francisco to New York City and giving the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel 100 percent credit for getting you to midtown Manhattan. While attractive in its simplicity, it provides a significantly skewed perspective on what enabled you to reach your goal. If you used this data to inform your next trip, you may forgo the plane ticket altogether – clearly not the most efficient strategy.

Incentivizing The Right Behavior

Similarly, real-time display advertising is a multi-leg journey in which consumers are influenced along a path to conversion. Unlike our cross-country trip, however, the consumer’s path to purchase is not always linear and sequential. Prospects may visit your site and leave, only to return hours or days later.

For this reason, retargeting can be a highly effective tactic in compelling your most valuable prospects to return and complete their purchases. But retargeting represents only the final leg of the consumer’s journey. What about the ads that “transported” new prospects from across the Web to your site in the first place? If you’re using a last touch attribution approach for display, you’re likely only rewarding the final retargeting impression for the sale. And just like the taxi ride from the airport, retargeting only represents a fraction of the journey.

It’s no surprise that with the widespread adoption of last touch attribution models, retargeting investments have mushroomed over the past several years. After all, marketers have aligned incentives for targeting vendors around a last touch model, which logically rewards retargeting. This creates a misalignment of incentives and budgets.

But perhaps more worrying still is that unscrupulous vendors may intentionally game the system by indiscriminately pumping ads to past site visitors in an effort to capture attribution credit, regardless of whether those advertisements offer any incremental value. After all, in a world of massive RTB inventory availability, retargeting – even if only “dumb” retargeting – is more accessible than ever.

Maximizing The Value Of Your Marketing Investment

Now that we’ve discussed some common pitfalls and industry challenges, here are some suggestions to better align your focus with the customer’s full path to conversion:

  1. Focus on views rather than clicks. We’ve said it many times before, but it’s worth noting again – clickers are generally not converters, and optimizing for clicks often means anti-optimizing your campaign.
  2. Rather than attributing all of your display spend to the last view, consider multi-touch attribution approaches that weight credit across several ad exposures. Your reporting or attribution partner may be able to recommend the best approach for your business. Insights about your current converters are often helpful in shaping an approach. For example, how many of your visitors convert on the first visit to your site? How long does it typically take someone to convert after his or her first visit to your site? These insights can help you determine the number of touches to analyze, as well as the appropriate time period, or lookback window, to analyze.
  3. Strike the right balance of prospecting and retargeting spend and find targeting partners that can efficiently deliver new prospects at scale. Without adequate investment in tactics designed to drive new prospects to your site, you won’t be fully leveraging the potential reach and engagement offered by display advertising. Again, ask your media, reporting or attribution partner what insights they can provide. Questions to ask include: Which vendors are successfully driving customers to your site for the first time? How many of those first-time visitors ultimately convert?

Logically, preaching only to the “almost converted” is a flawed approach in the long term. Without continued investment in efforts that drive the right prospects into the funnel, the scale of your online marketing investments will be inherently limited, and so it is critical that your attribution methodology – and overall marketing approach – accounts for the value of prospecting further up the marketing funnel. Lastly, be sure to demand the insights and visibility you need from your reporting and targeting partners to better inform these critical decisions.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column

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About The Author: is CEO of Quantcast, which he co-founded with Paul Sutter in 2006, to transform the effectiveness of online advertising through the use of science and scalable computing. Prior to co-founding Quantcast, Feldman co-founded Searchspace (now Fortent) the leading provider of terrorist financing detection and anti-money laundering software for the world’s financial services industry.



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  • Pat Grady

    “It is the equivalent of flying from San Francisco to New York City and
    giving the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel 100 percent credit
    for getting you to midtown Manhattan.”

    More on “Doorman Attribution”:
    http://www.accelerationpartners.com/Top-Brands-Ensure-Affiliate-Revenue-Is-Incremental

  • Robert Barrows

    The best way to measure the effectiveness of any kind of advertising is with some advertising math called “The Barrows Popularity Factor.” It shows you how you can actually QUANTIFY the relationship between your advertising and sales and it can help your company make a lot more money. Plus, the math is extremely easy to use and all of the calculations can be done by one person, in moments, with just a simple calculator. You can read all about it in a booklet called “The Barrows Popularity Factor.”

 

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