Attribution in 2018 – Your Paths to Better Insights

In this piece, Richard Wheaton (pictured below), MD, 55 London, tells RetailTechNews how the industry is in an interesting year for attribution.

By ‘interesting’, I am invoking a traditional Chinese curse. The field of attribution is very messy; and the options for brands in this space are full of risk and uncertainty because the implications of GDPR are still being understood. But I want to lay out here the foundational steps that all clients can still take, while the future for attribution tools for brands with more advanced attribution programmes is uncertain.

The GDPR legislation introduced in Europe in May 2018 is intended to have lots of beneficial effects on consumer privacy – although most of us are still awaiting the positive effects of fewer spammy emails and display ads… But the effect of GDPR on analysing media touchpoints and assigning conversion credit by channel has been nothing short of catastrophic.

In the weeks before and after GDPR, there were several changes in the attribution landscape – most of them happened quietly with little announcement or warning. Facebook pulled support of its AMT advanced measurement platform, and various attribution tools disappeared from the market – most notably DC Storm shut its doors citing uncertainty around the impact of GDPR on the use of user data. Although post-click analysis is still possible through Analytics, Google also took the precaution of removing the ability of advertisers to extract post-impression log-level data attributable to a user identifier from their ad serving accounts, for fear of being complicit in the misuse of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and this made many brands’ and agencies’ in-house attribution tools redundant.

55 London

Richard Wheaton, MD, 55 London

There were other changes too, but you get the point: the ad-tech giants have been forced into an ultra-conservative interpretation of Europe’s privacy legislation, and small players have been forced out of the market altogether, because the punishment for any breach of consumer privacy based on the misuse or storage of PII would be disastrous for all of the partners involved – tech, media buyer, brand, publisher, everyone. And the damage will be both financial and reputational.

So, interesting times indeed. But where does this leave the advertiser? Attribution remains, for many digital spenders, the holy grail of media analysis. We are seeking to answer the core questions of media buying: What is the effect of my brand investments on my sales? Am I giving too much credit to my bottom-of-funnel channels? How can I best reallocate my budgets to grow my market, and not overly bombard customers that (I suspect) are already motivated to buy?

For brands that are still in the early stages of moving away from last-click attribution (where the last click is given all of the credit for creating a sale or engagement), there is plenty that can be done with tools like Google Analytics and their Campaign Manager toolset (formerly DoubleClick) to get attribution insights. There are limitations – for example, GA only reports on the last four touchpoints in its DDA (data-driven attribution) reports. But a recent analysis of several global brands in our client base showed that 68%-95% of their converting digital paths have four touchpoints or fewer, so there is plenty of insight available even from this limited view.

For brands that are more advanced in their usage of attribution tools, Neustar and Visual iQ are still powerful solutions that provide deep insights and optimisation recommendations. The truth is that these are quite expensive and complicated attributions tools that require high levels of training and set up to generate insights, but they are geared to solve highly practical media optimisation questions. And they have integrations with Facebook to provide valuable insights into the impact of social media on customer behaviour.

Beyond this, more advanced brands need to focus on ensuring that their data is being correctly entered into the tools by internal and agency teams – because any attribution methodology will be undermined if the tagging of campaigns does not systematically adhere to naming conventions. This is not a trivial matter and attribution missions can often flounder because of poor implementation. Once tools are correctly attributing credit for converting paths, the focus should be on testing frameworks. These frameworks are continual programmes of tests that validate the findings of the tools and show marketers the commercial impact of their better allocations of budgets. In our view, these tests are vital because the reports of all tools are a snapshot; and marketers should not accept them as fact before they run robust and statistically significant tests to validate them.

In the paper 55 has just published, in collaboration with Facebook, La Redoute, Sarenza, MakeMeReach and Eulerian Technologies, we draw attention to the ways in which brands can properly plan for insightful attribution programmes, and frame their data in the best way to make the results robust and replicable.