Attribution – The Shackles of Digital Marketing


Attribution. Friend or Foe?

Attribution is one of the biggest question marks in Digital Marketing. Who gets the credit for a purchase? How are they claiming the credit? Are these purchases being double counted? Triple counted? Trying to answer these questions can pull you into a rabbit hole of confusion and frustration. These conversations normally end in arguments about first touch or last touch and view through or click through. I think we need to rethink how we measure and utilize attribution, especially across marketing channels.

For advertisers, it is important to find the most efficient way to invest their money for the biggest return. So each advertising medium is trying to say “Invest in us! Look at all the conversions/leads we can get you. Look at our great return!” The problem is that each advertising medium is claiming as many conversions as they can, no matter where they touch the user in the conversion funnel.

The reality is that a user making a purchase or completing an online action has many steps and is usually touched by many types of ads. Someone might see a pre-roll video, search the brand and click on an SEM ad, see a retargeting banner ad with a promo, then go directly to the site and make their purchase. No matter what vertical you are in, most users do not convert after seeing one ad. And if this is true, how do we decide which ad gets the credit? Does not each ad play its own role in this conversion? Each medium serves a different purpose, and so judging them all the same is a foolish way to invest your money.

Set yourself up for success!

There are several steps that you can take to set your brand or your agency up for success.

  1. Don’t treat your online marketing channels like they are in a vacuum.

Each channel effects the other. Lowering or raising investment will be felt across all channels. View your online presence across banners, video, audio, search and social as a team working together to convert users, not as advertising channels

  1. Consolidate your buying.

For your programmatic buying, it is ideal to use only one DSP, or for a brand, one agency. Using multiple DSPs or multiple agencies causes you to double count conversion. It is likely the DSPs, or the agencies driving the DSPs, will all show their ads to a converting user, each claiming the conversion as their own.

  1. Consolidate your measuring

Using an ad server like Google’s DoubleClick Campaign Manager or Facebook’s Atlas allows you to measure conversions across multiple DSPs, and will tell you how many unique users you actually reached. DCM also integrates with DoubleClick Search, enabling you to marry your search and display advertising.

For better or for worse, digital marketing is shackled to attribution; It is our ubiquitous language for performance. However, redefining how you view attribution will open you up to a more holistic approach to your digital program. You will start to strategize more efficiently and make smarter decisions. Attribution in each channel turns into a directional data point, rather than a test of efficiency and this allows you to make the smartest investments with your advertising dollars.


What’s Next?

Eager to learn more? Try out one of our new microlessons “Attribution is Scary: 5 Steps to Tame the Terror” or learn more about our display advertising services.

James Haagenson About the author

James Haagenson is a customer-service focused, strategic brand consultant who is focused on the innovative world of programmatic advertising. James started out serving the Seattle software giant in the Microsoft Retail Stores and now he is a Programmatic Campaign Manager on the Programmatic Advertising and Display Team at Point It Digital Marketing. In his current role, he helps clients get maximum business results by offering digital advertising strategies and executing on them. James has a degree in Music Technology and Composition from Seattle Pacific University and enjoys playing in his band, the Castle Dwellers.

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