An expert guide to tackling the 8 challenges of attribution

Boudewijn Beks / September 2019

The first-ever digital ad was placed in 1994, with Yahoo! and Google being among the first to jump on the bandwagon. Fast-forward to today and digital advertising has become a massive industry where, in 2018 alone, $629 billion was spent on media worldwide1. Following this growth, questions of media effectiveness have become increasingly relevant; what is the return on investment, and how can we know where to put our next marketing dollar?

Research by BCG and Google has shown that companies with successful data-driven marketing strategies save up to 30% in costs while generating 20% more revenue. They also identified the six key factors contributing to this, including attribution. For us, attribution is the art and science of assigning a value to each of the marketing touchpoints that make up a customer journey. It’s a concept that has been around for a while, and touches on different business angles including technology, knowledge, organisation, and marketing strategy.

Being “less wrong”

Attribution is widely believed to be complex, and, assuming that the perfect solution isn’t available anyway, people often prefer to stick with what they know. But continuing to use, say, the last-click attribution model, means that you ignore some crucial factors of your customer’s buying process. So what should we do — (endlessly) wait for the perfect solution, or start now by taking small, incremental steps?

Before starting your attribution journey, there are some things to consider. Is the media usage within your organisation complex and fragmented? Then the opportunity will be bigger, but so will the challenge. To ensure you take the right steps at the right time, calculating the following three critical success factors is essential: knowledge development, marketing technology and organizational implications. Start simple, and grow from there.

Turning challenges into opportunities

We’ve now covered the theory. In practice, the challenges faced by marketers are only slightly different. In collaboration with a group of industry experts, DDMA and Google identified the eight most common challenges of attribution — and subsequently came up with suggestions for turning them into opportunities.

The result is The Ultimate Guide to Attribution, a handy resource which deep dives into all of these challenges. The full guide can be downloaded at the bottom of this article, but here’s a quick overview to get you started:

  • Challenge #1: Insights or action? | Attribution only adds value if you action on insights. Optimise within each channel first, then focus on the larger cross-channel questions.
  • Challenge #2: Model selection | What model do you select if data-driven attribution is not available?
  • Challenge #3: Tool selection | When selecting a tool, focus on the decisions it will allow you to make.
  • Challenge #4: The impact of branding | The impact of branding is hard to measure as it’s often a long-term investment. Use brand trackers to validate your results.
  • Challenge #5: The implications for (partially) offline companies | We share examples of how leading companies tackle this.
  • Challenge #6: Combining attribution with other approaches | Combining granular (attribution) and aggregated (media mix models) approaches is key to understanding the bigger picture.
  • Challenge #7: The validity of your analysis | Media channels can only be (dis)credited if they have been used to full potential, so optimise your strategy before putting it to the test.
  • Challenge #8: The validity of your results | Double check the validity of your results by continuously running tests.
Research: Driving strong business growth through data-driven marketing transformation