For many marketers, their biggest day-to-day challenge is figuring out how to measure and optimize the success of their campaigns. Because of this, attribution has become one of the foremost topics in digital advertising.

What exactly are the biggest challenges that marketers feel are keeping them from adopting new attribution models and focusing on accurate marketing measurement? To answer this question, we worked with Econsultancy to survey 900+ marketers for our annual State of Marketing Attribution Report.

Biggest attribution challenges

One of our biggest goals for this survey was to understand the challenges modern marketers are seeing when they try to measure campaign performance or try to test new attribution models. When marketers were asked why they don’t carry out attribution, or why they have delayed it’s implementation, their responses were telling.

We found that the biggest reason marketers were stalled in implementing new measurement technologies was simply because they lacked the knowledge to do so. In fact, measurement technologies appear to be developing so rapidly that even more marketers felt they lacked a solid knowledge base this year than in 2016. When looking at this data, it can also be seen that these companies are more likely to blame technology limitations (+12%) and too much disparate data (+6%) this year, while they are less likely to blame a lack of time (-4%). In fact, limitations in technology had the biggest increase year-over-year.

We’ve had challenges with aggregating data into a single platform for attribution modeling. We also know that we need to define a model that best represents our business and the weighting of channels for our customers. However, we currently lack the resources to do so.

-2017 State of Marketing Attribution Report

[clickToTweet tweet=”59% of those who don’t carry out attribution say a lack of knowledge is the biggest barrier to adoption. ” quote=”59% of those who don’t carry out marketing attribution say a lack of knowledge is their biggest barrier to doing so. “]

 

The greatest barriers

For marketers who were currently running attribution, or looking to do so, we also wanted to find out what barriers they felt stood in their way to using attribution more effectively.

Most marketers felt that their biggest roadblock was the fact that their customers’ journey to conversion was either undefined or incredibly hard to define.

Clients haven’t really mapped the digital attribution journey so far, and attribution usually gets restricted to last-click modeling, which isn’t ideal. More information and knowledge on how we should look at this would help us better define platform success.

-2017 State of Marketing Attribution Report

This was the first year that defining the customer journey became the top reason given for having ineffective attribution. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the increasing number of potential touchpoints in the typical customer journey and the difficulties associated with tracking the customer between online and offline worlds. Promisingly, the complexity of data is deemed less of a barrier this year than it was in 2016, with 32% selecting it this year compared with 40% last year. This indicates that organizations are getting better at making sense of the data they collect.

 

Top 3 issues

Lastly, we also looked at what marketers felt were the biggest issues and gaps they saw within attribution modeling when they attempted to measure the success of their own campaigns.

Campaign tracking/tagging and statistical modeling were by far most commonly selected, by 36% and 31% of brand respondents respectively. However, creating a culture of measurement and accuracy was selected most frequently as a first, second or third choice (80% in total).

[clickToTweet tweet=”Campaign tracking/tagging is the biggest issue marketers are currently seeing with running attribution. ” quote=”Campaign tracking/tagging is the biggest issue marketers are currently seeing with running attribution.”]

This was followed closely as a top-three issue by campaign tracking/tagging (75%) and data validation/ normalization (74%).

Surprisingly, moving from insights to action is the area least likely to be cited as the biggest issue, even though it was seen in Figure 4 to be a growing problem. This suggests that, while it is very much a problem area, companies have more pressing issues when it comes to cultivating or attracting the right skills.

Overcoming the attribution problem

While these challenges may initially seem daunting, there are simple, proven strategies that can help marketers measure the effectiveness of their advertising spend. With our survey data in hand, we’ve compiled following list of steps to attribution success.

1. Start with a clear strategy and set of objectives
Be clear on your objectives from the start, and share them throughout the business, with key performance indicators (KPIs) applied when appropriate. Having a clear set of goals from the outset will help you to decide the nature of the data included in the attribution model, the type of model or models used and the most appropriate technology. Think of the key stakeholders and other teams that need to contribute, and ensure the strategy is communicated to and supported by all developing insightful attribution models.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Optimising the media mix is the number-one attribution goal for 2017. ” quote=”Optimising the media mix is the number-one attribution goal for 2017, surpassing understanding the customer journey and sales cycle.”]

2. Get internal buy-in for attribution
The impact can be far-reaching, affecting workflows, commissions, and bonuses. Failure to get buy-in can lead to a failure to get insights actioned. Senior-level backing for attribution must be sought so that all departments are sold on the benefits, while also being clear on the business goals and methodology. This will help ensure that certain teams don’t become disenfranchised and suddenly question the validity of models when they don’t like the recommended outcomes.

3. Build a strong business case to make the necessary investment
Attribution modeling won’t bring returns without action. A business-wide commitment and sufficient loosening of the company purse strings by the CFO are vital. That said, attribution modeling shouldn’t be seen as a cost center, but rather as a source of future revenues. In order to fund the necessary investments before, during and after the actual modeling process, a strong business case needs to be built that clearly spells out the return on investment. The business case is likely to focus initially on the savings that a business might make. But the aim should be to increase marketing investment—understanding that larger budgets will deliver more than sufficient payback.

4. Focus on defining the customer journey
This year’s research shows that defining the online customer journey is the most significant barrier to using attribution effectively for brand respondents. Ensure that you take a holistic view of the touchpoints that contribute to the path to purchase. Although they are becoming less linear and funnel-like, it is still possible to build a picture of triggers and typical pathways. A combination of quantitative analysis of existing data and qualitative research—such as focus groups and customer interviews—can help you get closer to a bespoke customer-journey framework that’s tailored to your business.

[clickToTweet tweet=”60% of marketers use a multichannel attribution model, up nearly 20% from the previous year. ” quote=”60% of marketers use a multichannel attribution model, up nearly 20% from the previous year. “]

5. Focus on physical as well as digital touchpoints
It’s an ugly word, but companies need to think ‘phygital’. Attribution needs to encompass traditional marketing and physical-world touchpoints in order to maximise its effectiveness. Every company can benefit from a more connected approach.

6. Make sure that data sets are as clean and accurate as possible
Attribution models are often only as strong as the weakest link in the chain—making it crucial to ensure that data is as consistent and accurate as possible. Data from a growing range of tools and platforms must be cleansed and unified into a consistent format so that it can be plugged into a modeling system. Unifying data is a clear starting point for developing insightful attribution models.

7. Invest in technology that gives you the required flexibility
There is no shortage of tools on the market to assist in attribution endeavors. However, finding technology that caters to your particular needs can be difficult. Choose a platform that lends itself to continual optimisation—which allows for changes in patterns of behavior and adjustments to your models—in order to test new hypotheses and continually refine your approach.

[clickToTweet tweet=”43% of marketers still use spreadsheets or manual tracking methods to carry out campaign measurment. ” quote=”43% of marketers still use spreadsheets or manual tracking methods to carry out campaign measurment. “]

8. Try different models that align with your business goals
Algorithmic models for attribution rely on rich, solid datasets and tend to be used by those further up on the data maturity scale. But there’s no reason why companies at all levels can’t aim towards this. Try to remove biases through last-click/first-click models and see which channels really drive impact. Experimenting with different attribution models and methods allows you to determine what works best for your data and which processes will be most effective.

9. Use a test-and-learn approach
Companies can benefit from an ‘agile’ approach that is rooted in a commitment to test and learn. Consolidate your data first to understand which channels deliver results aligned with assigned budgets. After that, move into modeling the data, making small changes each time to move closer to your goal. Testing needs to occur before confidence can be put into any attribution model, which is where many companies can stumble with the implementation process. Testing against a forecasting tool can instill confidence that the correct balance is being achieved.

Marketers have a plethora of attribution tools at their disposal. But without the requisite skills for using them, and strategies for deriving insights from the data they create, these tools will fail to deliver sufficient value in the long run.

-2017 State of Marketing Attribution Report

10. Focus on recruitment and training
When hiring the right people, companies must understand that successful marketing attribution is a combination of science and art. Recruiting the right mix of analytics skills, broader commercial awareness, and softer skills helps facilitate cooperation across The organization. It’s equally important that existing staff are equipped with the right skill sets and knowledge. Vendors and agencies can support this, but the training regime ultimately needs to be controlled in-house to ensure that the tail isn’t wagging the dog. Employees need to feel empowered when it comes to handling data, which, in turn, increases the effectiveness of attribution.

More insights

With the state of attribution moving towards a new frontier, up-to-date data can give insights on the trends that will overtake the industry.

If you’d like to dive into this information in a little more detail, we just released The State of Marketing Attribution Report. This guide is a great resource for anyone who is looking to understand the business impact of their advertising through accurate, personalized attribution modeling.

This report goes in-depth on the current adoption levels of marketing attribution, the confidence in its usage, and the effectiveness of companies’ attribution methods worldwide. Check it out below.

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