Last-Click Attribution And The Problem With Data

A Word On Pee Wee Football

If you’ve ever watched small children playing football you’ll be familiar with the ‘ball chasing’ phenomenon. All the miniature players get over-excited at the prospect of scoring so all strategy and process is thrown out of the window as over-eager parents scream at their child to leather the ball into the net.

This approach does, admittedly, generate goals and success. But then you start getting a bit older and coming up against disciplined sides who have allocated roles, and the parents become even worse because now they’re shouting at children that don’t belong to them.

Leaving the tenuous analogies and traumatised childhood behind for the moment, we need to rethink the way that most companies are informing their online marketing strategies.

User Journey & The Problem With A Data-centric Approach

For starters, let’s address attribution. Our reliance on data can sometimes be our biggest downfall. Whilst analytics software suggests that someone who purchased a product from your website did so purely because they saw your Google advert, we know this is not the full story. There are reports that you can run in Analytics that show you the digital touchpoints before a user converted on your site – but these only show you when the user clicked onto your website.

A customer journey isn’t a simple line drawn between a point of discovery and point of purchase. Before committing to a purchase there is usually a huge number of online and offline touchpoints before a customer is willing to commit to your brand.

The user may have heard about your product in a Spotify advert. From there they may have looked up your brand on social media. They won’t just be looking at your business Instagram page either, they’ll be looking to user-generated content to see what the product looks like and how others are responding to it.

At this juncture, it’s plausible that they’ll get distracted by something else on social and lo and behold they forget about your product for the next two weeks… Until they see a Facebook advert on their phone and remember your brand. Before making the purchase they go on to their laptop because they have a small phone and it’s easier to enter their billing details on a larger screen. They go to Google, type in your company name, and up pops your advert. They click on the ad and purchase the product.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: we have no way of tracking this journey – we can only see snippets of it. So, as marketers, we do the easy thing and have a look at what Google Analytics tells us. GA shows us that your purchase came from a click on a Google Ad. Simple. We followed the ball and we scored. Great success.

As a result, we’ll reduce the budget for Spotify, Facebook advertising, and influencer outreach. We’ll apply this extra budget to a Google Advertising campaign. Chase the ball. Score. With no regard to how the business is left exposed at the back.

What’s The Solution?

As loathe as I am to use the word, it would be prudent to take a holistic approach to your marketing/advertising. You don’t want to treat each arm of your activities as a separate entity. Make sure that each channel you’re using to market your business is part of a larger, coherent strategy. Resist any urges to chase ‘short-term solutions’ offered to you by vampiric salespeople. Have a plan, stick to it.

Of course, you have to be responsive to certain situations, and you should be tinkering with the strategy if it’s clear that a part of your campaign isn’t working. Much like a manager would do if his team was losing.

When it comes to measurement, we’ll never be in a position where we can comprehensively and accurately track a user’s journey to becoming a customer. The biggest challenge we face in attribution is cross-device, cross-platform tracking. All we can do as marketers is make sure each of our strategies and methods fits into a wider mix. As Christi Olson at Search Engine Land notes,

“The goal we should be focusing on as marketers is understanding how to integrate search into the journey and create more holistic campaigns that focus on the consumer. Tallying touch points from a rules-based model may be detracting from the higher goal of creating deeper, lasting customer relationships.”

As marketers, we can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid using data and statistics – it’s intimately linked to everything we do. But, it’s important to remember who your audience is. They’re unique people who, despite buying the same product as each other, have very different routes to doing so. We should take every opportunity to communicate with them at a human level – your brand can only stand to benefit from this.

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Postscript – Google’s Project Beacon

The day this post was due to be published, we received an email from Google telling us about their new ‘Project Beacon’ initiative. Businesses with physical store locations can sign-up to receive a Bluetooth beacon that transmits a signal to your mobile device. With this information, it’s possible to track the time spent in a store and whether the person has been there before.

It’s claimed that ‘Project Beacon’ is being done under the auspices of improving customer experience by measuring data such as busy store times and encouraging user reviews. However, it is the view of the author that this will be used to bridge the gap between online/offline attribution.