You run a team of digital marketers, each owning a direct channel, each spending money, and each claiming revenue made from spend. Who do you pat on the back for bringing home the bacon? More importantly, what happens when multiple people lay claim to the single rasher?
Unless you plan for this scenario, you could end up short changing some channels and investing in less profitable or sustainable avenues. What is also interesting is that it is easy to leave it up to the platform to figure it out for you. In which case, you will end up with last touch attribution set by default in Google Analytics and whatever chaos ensues in Omniture (not a fan). In the case of Google Analytics, what you will typically find is that retention email is the number one driver of revenue. But is that really a fair judgment? Sure, email may have converted the person into a customer, but it is certainly not responsible for acquiring the customer. And without acquisition, the only person buying from you would be your mum.
The obvious solution that I favor is first touch attribution. Which means that you attribute value more heavily to acquisition focused channels like paid search, display, affiliates etc, and view email as the conversion engine and life time value engine (though you can do some pretty cool stuff with display remarketing these days). The key is to be crystal clear about cookie windows and have consistency in attribution.
Where it gets tricky
I can think of 3 situations where this model becomes challenging.
1. High repeat customer rates
This happens when you have a fairly mature marketing mix and have invested heavily in offline as well as online penetration. It is going to make it hard to funnel all repeat purchases through “free” channels like direct to site and email, because they will naturally see new offers, and be interrupted by your ads. Not the end of the world though, so let’s not throw first touch attribution out with the bath water. This little inconvenience can be catered for by readjusting marketing targets such as allowable repeat %, and going after people who have disengaged or unsubscribed. Also, it would be worthwhile re-examining the way you communicate with existing customers at an email level.
Well this throws a spanner in the works BIG time. The whole idea here is that you have a cookie pool of people who have come to your site from other channels! So what do you do here? This is probably the strongest case for a multi touch attribution model, though I would rather sacrifice remarketing attribution for the sake of the simplicity of the first touch model. Besides, with adequate cookie segmentation you can spin off targeted ad creative for non purchasing segments, unsubscribed segments and more.
3. Post View Attribution & Branding
When it comes to a brand like Coca Cola, it is pretty hard to attribute a single banner campaign to any revenue, it’s kind of like a painter laying claim to building a house after completing a single coat on an outer wall. Obviously, the well known nature of the brand will immediately drive up conversion, click through rates and other metrics. Though I am sure creative agencies will froth at the mouth trying to convince you otherwise (there go creative agency referrals). In these instances, I think it is worth while considering a separate modelling convention and attribution practice where macro metrics like sitewide conversion rate and average order value could be looked at, as well as atypical uplift in the performance of conventional channels.
So when you next have to break apart a fight between the paid search person and the retention specialist, think of me, and go with the first touch model.