Multi-channel attribution confusion

team member

Maarten Albarda

If your inbox is anything like mine, every week it gets flooded with many, many white papers from a wide variety of companies. MediaPost even sends out a helpful weekly “library” of sponsored white papers.

Some white papers are insightful and good, some are shameless self-promotion. But what many of them manage to do, rather than help, is to create or add to the already large amounts of confusion in marketing present today. And this is because they use terminology that sounds relevant, but usually refers to a narrow terminology definition that contradicts and under-delivers the white paper’s typically grandiose title.
Language and definition are huge challenges in marketing in general. The definition of the word “campaign” for instance has a very different meaning for a creative agency vs. a media agency or a PR agency.

Two words that many of the whitepapers are throwing around these days are “multi-channel” or “omni-channel” and “attribution”. The root of this issue is that many measurement companies, agencies and consultancies have heard marketers say that they are desperately trying to prove that their marketing investment actually moved the needle, i.e. delivered an ROI on marketing investment.

And so, with that gauntlet thrown, these companies produce whitepapers with titles like “Multi-channel marketing optimization” (IBM), “Accelerate your multichannel marketing strategy” (Gartner), “Breaking Down Communication Barriers With a Multichannel Sales Approach” (Salesforce), “How to Make Multichannel Marketing Work” (eMarketer), “Making Omnichannel Marketing Work” (Nielsen) and “10 Helpful Non-Kitty Uses for Cat Litter”. Oh, wait, that last one was multi-use, not multi-channel.

And here is my problem. When I think multi-channel, (or omni-channel) I think ALL channels, whereas when most of these white-papers talk about multi-channel, they limit themselves to e-commerce or digital advertising or shopper marketing. Perhaps this is because they find true multi-channel measurement too difficult. Especially if you try to tie multi-channel measurement to the other “word du jour”: attribution.
In my mind, multi-channel attribution is trying to gain an understanding of the relative contribution of all activities across all channels (paid, owned, earned and, as Joseph Jaffe called them once, “non-media” with which he meant all other collateral that is branded or helps with branding).

However, the white papers that talk about omni-channel attribution rarely, if ever manage to show the marketer how all of the pieces of the marketing puzzle delivered a result. Instead, they limit themselves to linking online activity to online sales, or shopper activity to in-store sales. These are important for sure, but for most marketers these are relatively small slices of the overall marketing arsenal. Most marketers (rightly) still spend the largest share of their marketing budget on paid media and then add things like online and in-store activation, UGC or sports sponsorship, PR, price promotions and many other marketing activities. They also sell their product/s across multiple sales channels (I guess we can call that omni-channel sales, adding to the definition confusion).

Even veritable Nielsen, who you would think is sitting on all the data needed, has not cracked the magic code yet. And perhaps cracking it is an impossibility. At the same time, as the naïve optimist that I am, I have to believe that with all the data available to marketers today, and in combination with smart, self-learning AI, we should be able to develop a model that is capable of calculating true multi-channel attribution covering all touch points.

If you would like to learn more about what Flock has done with its clients on attribution, modelling, KPI and measurement structures and approaches, or get links to any of the studies mentioned (cat litter included) please let us know.


[Maarten is a featured contributor to MediaPost, this article was originally published here]

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