Marketing Metrics: Impact versus Attribution

A B2B customer’s journey, while sometimes simple, is oftentimes classified as more of a complex maze with far-reaching activities. The journey takes place over time and throughout a variety of marketing channels. Because of these factors, it can be difficult to know how to show and measure the impact of your marketing efforts, which is important for your Board of Directors and leadership team to understand. 

Constantly checking the performance of your programs, campaigns and activities are essential, but with the acceleration of new channels, more data, and the expanding chasm between various media types, it’s become quite difficult to understand the customer’s complete journey. Simultaneously, layered on top of that challenge are solutions that complicate the process more, with tons of attribution models.

Many B2B companies are relying on instinct and experience to make marketing decisions, which is not inherently bad. But I’d challenge you to take it one step further and answer the question…

Marketing Metrics that Matter: Impact vs Attribution
Marketing Metrics that Matter: Impact vs Attribution

Can you report with confidence which campaign, activities or even products have the healthiest ROI? Can you answer that question without the need for a Ph.D. in attribution models?

Let’s take into consideration the collection of marketing channels that almost all B2B organizations use — paid search, social media, email, webinars, etc. —  and you can begin to uncover the variety of ways that customers journey through the purchase funnel. Let’s take a closer look at Prospect A, an example customer who is in the market for engineering software.

– She receives a hyper-targeted email as a result of an outbound campaign. Your company’s value proposition resonates with her, so she opens the email and clicks on the website link. She visits your site and does some browsing of your homepage and product pages, but exits the site on this first visit. This action establishes her initial set of interactions with your company.

– As a result, she then sees a LinkedIn post promoting an upcoming webinar and she registers. 

– After attending the webinar, she answers yes to a poll to be contacted and connects with a salesperson that Friday. 

It is typical to see this many places of engagement when a prospect is considering buying from your organization. However, we sometimes fall into a trap of wanting to assign percentages to each one of those engagements to determine attribution. What does that percentage net you? Why is it necessary to see a relative breakdown of responsibility? Aren’t they all important in their own way, especially if we accept that multi-touch is just part of the process? 

From a budgeting standpoint, we should want to know our relative ROI for each one of those touchpoints. You can argue that they’re all important, just in different ways. 

“The question isn’t should you have an attribution model, because even if you don’t choose, you have one. The better question to ask is: should you be using a different model? Where things get even more murky is that there may be cases where making a switch isn’t worth it. It comes back to a tradeoff between complexity and value. Switching to a different model introduces complexity for an organization so there has to be real actionable intel that can be gleaned from the new model. If your business heavily relies on digital marketing, we believe it’s worth the effort to build out an attribution model that really fits with how you measure its impact.”

Barbara Cavness

CEO, UncommonLogic

As marketers, you shouldn’t be forced into assigning an arbitrary number of relative importance to each step of the customer journey. Each step plays a vital role, and while it is important to measure and tie to money, it doesn’t have to be unnecessarily complex. Good news – you can get to the same conclusions in a much simpler fashion and without a PhD. 

With that said, when and how as a marketer do you determine when to use attribution vs. marketing impact? 

Why Choose an Attribution Model?

First, anytime something starts with, “when done right,” proceed with caution. This is typically what you hear when it comes to attribution modeling. Let’s continue to entertain the subject, but with a twist. If done right, assigning attribution can provide an aggregated view, with some level of accuracy. But, I want to make sure we all understand something — there is no such thing as 100% accuracy with attribution. So, if you can’t ever get to 100% accuracy and it reeks of complexity, why use this approach? Is there a better way?

As organizations grow in their own complexity and can afford tools that crunch data, it becomes easy to quickly lose sight of the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite possible to get to a high degree of precision with attribution when investing a large amount of money, resources, and time. But for 99% of companies out there that don’t possess those resources, value comes with answers that provide the directional guidance necessary to make even better decisions. 

Now Starring: Marketing Impact

Marketing impact is not a new concept! Now that you’ve heard everybody’s spin on marketing attribution — first touch, last touch, linear, u-shaped, lions, tigers, and bears, oh my — you almost need a degree to understand which one to apply and at what time. 

Marketing impact is the realization of marketing behaviors and activities, no matter the type or step in the journey and the influence they had on actual sales results. Through recognition of a group of specific buyer actions, marketers can clearly see 100% of the inputs that led to the bottom line. This approach doesn’t attempt to assign partial credit, but instead helps marketers realize the holistic credit for each step of the journey and what role it played to help with sales. This means that you are genuinely able to see the revenue generated from each channel, and finally discern if those efforts are cost effective.

Going a step further, it is this capability to dig into the granular structure that makes marketing impact so remarkable in a thorough, yet simplistic, manner. Through this method, you achieve a more authentic image of spend and revenue, rather than entrusting a set of complex measurements that function as an intermediary of actuals. 

Let’s revisit our prior example of Prospect A for a moment. Marketing impact would qualify each step of their journey as an important piece and reflect its influence on revenue appropriately while not minimizing or limiting any step. Over time, you would gain directional guidance in an aggregate form that explains  which steps had more or less of an impact on the bottom line so that marketing can adjust moving forward. 

Understanding Relative Comparisons

Trying to capture pinpoint precision for attribution is a never-ending story and an exercise in futility. Until we can put chips in people’s brains, we’ll never get to 100% accurate attribution. As 16-year MarTech veteran Mike MacFarlane put it, “Not every touchpoint is going to result in a hand-raising activity; however, the awareness that is being created should help with educating your customer and ultimately helping influence their decision.” 

Different models are appropriate for different campaign types. But, taking an attribution approach can have you chasing your tail month over month or quarter after quarter. Having the ability to provide directional guidance with a granular level of detail provides all marketers the ability to really understand the effect that all behaviors have on each channel. Ultimately, you’re trying to answer the question of how or if a campaign resulted in an actual sale. If you understand impact, you have a pretty good idea of where to spend your next marketing dollar.

The more you can comprehend your data, you will ultimately be in a better place to make valuable data driven decisions. With marketing impact, you’ll always capture all the things that matter to you –the things that the customer actually touched.

What decision would you make differently if, via an attribution model, you applied 50% to email as the first touch and 50% to a webinar as the last touch vs. 100% to both?

Is assigning credit important? Absolutely. But why?  Because the problem you’re trying to solve is to determine what’s working, then structure future investments accordingly. You can do that by establishing impact.

Measuring marketing impact grants marketers the capacity to diagnose which channels are wasting money, which channels have customers matriculating through the buyer’s funnel, and where the budget can be allocated to increase conversions.