Attribution Models in Marketing: Trying to Perfect the Imperfect



Recently, I was participating in a strategy meeting with a client as we were preparing for the upcoming year’s budgets. As our attention turned toward media budgets for the next year, specifically the digital media budget, the client stated that we should look at discontinuing all digital banner ads next year. When I asked why they would like to consider this move, I was surprised by the answer.

“We see very few to no conversions from our banner ads. I can’t go to my CEO and justify spending $1,000 per month on banner ads with no ROI to show for it. We should put the money into Search Engine Marketing instead.”

First, I want to be very clear about my stance on banner ads. When you boil it all down, in most digital strategies, banner ads are useful for three primary purposes:

  1. Provide top-of-funnel awareness for a brand, product, or promotion.
  2. Provide initial audience building to prepare for remarketing.
  3. Provide messaging for remarketing ad campaigns.

Banner ads are incredibly useful as awareness tools. Traditionally, I don’t expect to report a lot of direct conversions from people clicking on these ads, especially in the financial services industry. However, banner ads still play a pivotal role in digital strategy. It’s all about how you measure the conversions.

There seems to be a trend in recent years among marketers that we want to see and measure results from each individual marketing tactic on a tactical level. The general feeling is that, the more advanced technology becomes, we should be able to attribute each sale to a specific marketing tactic on a one-to-one level. While this is an incredibly aggressive goal to move towards, looking at results from the tactical level inherently ignores the strategic level. There is still a need to have a healthy omni-channel marketing mix to drive our brand.

Attribution Modeling

The idea behind attributing sales to individual tactics comes from attribution models.

Attribution models allow us to track and measure what tactics are most responsible for driving customers to convert into new account holders or new customers. Attribution models are nothing new in the marketing realm. With the rise of integrated digital marketing, they have become increasingly important to understand consumer behavior and how marketing pieces work together.

With digital marketing, attribution models break down not only what media is responsible for conversions, but which campaigns and even specific ads are responsible for conversions.

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