How Holistic Attribution Can Help Agencies Prove Their Value

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Are digital campaigns really worth the millions we invest in them every year? It’s a question many marketers have been asking themselves recently. In fact, growing concerns over agency transparency and the threat of ad fraud led to a speculated $120 billion of media spend being put under review last year.

With so much money potentially being wasted, brands are increasingly asking for concrete evidence from agencies over the impact campaigns have on business growth. A survey of global marketers by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found 43% are shifting away from CPM (cost per impression) as their key metric in favour of demanding real business outcomes.

However, attribution – the traditional method of allocating earnings from a sale to the various marketing touchpoints – is becoming an increasingly complex process. The number of channels between brands and consumers, both online and offline, has exploded in a few short years, making accurately identifying the triggers within the marketing chain very difficult.

That said, new technologies are emerging that will allow agencies to take a more integrated and business results-driven approach to measuring marketing effectiveness. I believe this has the potential to address many of the concerns brands have over transparency and make agencies more relevant than ever.

Aim for Total Attribution

With the consumer journey becoming increasingly complex, a truly holistic approach to attribution is required to consider all marketing and non-marketing influences. This doesn’t just involve offline and online media, it also needs to look at the role of other marketing activities, such as pricing, promotions, and competitor strategies, along with external factors like the weather and the economy. We call this approach Total Attribution.

Most agencies will already be using digital attribution – analysing the electronic trail users leave when online (often called online journeys). Through this, marketers can regularly trace the touchpoints consumers have visited before a purchase and measure these across millions of journeys.

The problem with this approach is that it only looks at the online touchpoints and, for many brands a large number of sales will be made offline. Digital attribution alone fails to account for the effectiveness of offline media in driving people to purchase. For example, it’s not unusual to see paid search conversion rates significantly increase during and after a major TV campaign.

Total attribution fuses digital attribution with marketing mix modelling in a way that gives a holistic measurement of both offline and online channels; including paid, owned and earned media. It allows us to drill down to very granular levels and identify how digital channels interact to drive sales and how much should be spent on each placement and keyword across a portfolio of brands and markets.

Ultimately, marketers are the ones that stand to benefit the most from this holistic approach, so what questions should they be asking their agencies to ensure they are getting a similar service?

What’s in it for the brand?

First, marketers should have a clear sense of what business outcomes they want to generate from their digital campaigns and ask the agency to demonstrate how they will deliver on this. The focus of agency reviews needs to shift from looking at whether an agency can buy media at the lowest possible cost to how the investments they have recommended drove sustainable business growth instead.

The brand and agency should work closely to agree a system that clearly and effectively measures business performance throughout the lifecycle of the campaign. If the agency is too focused on digital attribution, marketers might need to introduce an external partner or tool into the mix to ensure they’re getting the holistic approach they need.

And, with consumer behavioural patterns evolving so quickly, marketers should be continuously reviewing the system and asking the agency to show how live data generated by holistic attribution techniques is being used to optimise current and future investment strategy.

By taking this more proactive approach, brands can force greater transparency in the marketing chain and ensure they are getting return on investment. Ultimately, agencies and their technology partners are not here to increase impressions, clicks, views or likes. The only metric that really matters is driving tangible growth for the brand. That’s why it’s time for agencies to embrace holistic attribution as the future of marketing effectiveness and prove their value once and for all.

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