Do we need an advanced marketing attribution model?

I’m a guy and I work in the tech industry, so it’s probably not surprising I like tech ‘toys’. When a new tech gadget comes out, (i.e. Amazon Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPad 3, etc.) it’s hard for me to resist the urge to go out and buy it because it’s new. Do I need it? Probably not since I already have a Nook Color and it suits most of my needs right now. But the other devices are exciting, shiny and NEW! ‘It’s going to change my life,’ I say to myself. I feel like I need it! Thankfully for my bank account, my wife helps keep my early-adopter tendencies to a minimum.

Not unlike my urge to go out and purchase another gadget, some retail companies find the allure of developing an advanced marketing attribution model too much to resist. An example of an advanced attribution model is creating a weighted scoring system to give a percentage of credit to a marketing channel based on how far away that marketing channel was from an order.

The development of an advanced marketing attribution model can be incredibly insightful for some retail companies, but less so for others if they aren’t in a position to take advantage of it. Before going down the path of investing resources in developing it, I’d encourage you to answer two questions:

If you decide to use an advanced attribution model, do it because it makes sense for your business, not because it’s the fun, shiny and NEW thing you hear of other retail companies doing. Some spend considerable time, effort and money in developing an awesome attribution model only to realize it applies to a small portion of users and the action and insight they end up with doesn’t justify the original investment. Before you jump in, make sure you know how deep the water is. Start by determining what percentage of orders occurs on a customers’ first visit vs. a return visit. You can easily pull this information from the Visit Number report in SiteCatalyst.

Take the following two example companies:

Company A receives a little more than half of all orders on users’ first visit to the site, leaving the remaining orders occurring on return visits. An advanced attribution model may make sense, but don’t forget the 53% of users for whom the model wouldn’t give any additional insight.

Company B is a slightly different story. Three-quarters of orders involve multiple visits and so an advanced attribution model would provide understanding to a greater percentage of the site’s users. The development of an advanced marketing attribution model should be a higher priority for Company B to Company A.

This doesn’t mean Company A should avoid going down the path of developing an advanced attribution model. However, if Company A delays digging into the 53% and optimizing their marketing channels while they figure out that advanced attribution model, then they’ve missed the point. Identify what data you can take action on now and then do it.

One of the reasons I originally purchased my Nook Color was that I liked the idea having a variety of books always at my fingertips. I had grand visions of lots more reading and being magically transported to a place where I could easily get through the ever-growing list of books on my to-read list. In reality, I’m still plugging away at about the same rate as I was before I purchased my Nook.

Similarly, the level you are using your external marketing data before developing an advanced marketing attribution model is the same level you’ll use it after developing an advanced marketing attribution model. If we go back to our company examples, let’s look back at Company A. They have a healthy portion of their business they can start optimizing immediately without an attribution model. Even if they decide to incorporate an advanced marketing attribution model, they shouldn’t delay digging into the data they have now. At the end of the day, web analytics exists to help retailers make more money and if you aren’t using the data to take action, you’ve missing the boat.

Advanced marketing attribution models can provide a wealth of insights into the relationship between different marketing channels and how to optimize your overall marketing spend (look for an upcoming post from my friend and colleague Michael Halbrook). However, make sure you are in the right place to take advantage of the insights and it’s the right time to incorporate into your business.