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5 min read

Marketing attribution is flawed

Marketing attribution

There, I said it. But it’s not like you didn’t already know. Sure, we could go back and forth debating about which model is the least flawed – first touch, last touch, or some unnecessarily complex-hard-to-explain model that no one really understands anyways. But is it worth it?

Focusing too much effort on marketing attribution may actually be hurting you more than it is helping. Here are the top four reasons why:

1. It makes you over-invest in the tactics it can measure

Organic search is blowing other sources out of the water. Your SEO game must be on point, right? No, not necessarily.🤯

The truth is that marketing attribution puts heavy emphasis on the things that can be measured. And though your SEO game might be gold, it's also possible your brand marketing strategy is on point. More often than not, attribution makes your direct response campaigns look like rockstars while things like organic social, peer sharing groups, and word of mouth look like a flop 📉.

So how can you counteract this? Chris Walker, CEO of Refine Labs, introduced a concept called self-reported attribution. It’s where you simply ask people how they found you. Open text. No dropdowns. The real value is getting the intel directly from the source. (Sure, it does take some effort to normalize the data, but the insights gained are worth all the blood, sweat, and Excel-pivot-table tears.)

What did I learn when I implemented this at my organization? Our branded search campaign was killing it, but we weren’t doing a lot of things to create demand, just capture it. In reality, what was happening was we had a large following of influencers who were all too happy to talk about our (free forever) mapping tool and recommend it to their networks, and their followers were searching out our brand name directly.

In short, marketing attribution heavily overvalues certain channels and efforts and undervalues the rest.

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2. It ignores the fact that you’re not in control

Marketing is complex. Buyer journeys aren’t simple. You could come up with the greatest strategy in the world, but do you know if that’s even the journey your customers are taking? 🤔The answer is likely no.

These days, brands aren’t the ones in the driver’s seat, buyers are. In fact, on average 57% of a buyer’s research is done before they even interact with your business for the first time. If you think even the most complicated marketing attribution equation can solve that problem, you’re sadly mistaken.

If not attribution, then what? There is no solution out there that will give you a complete picture. Intent-based data can give you access to off-site insights you may have never had before. But with the looming end-of-third-party-data, how much longer can you rely on this source?

You can get a good understanding of how people are landing on your website, how they’re traveling around it, the actions they take, and how they ultimately convert using customer journey management tools like Funnelytics.

What did I learn? Implementing Funnelytics helped me make better decisions, faster. I probably could have sifted through the data in Google Analytics, sure. But it a) likely would have taken more than 5 minutes and b) isn’t displayed in a way that is easy to gain insights from. Ultimately, using Funnelytics data, we’ve increased our conversion rates. Our inbound lead volume (and quality) is the proof in the pudding that Funnelytics is worth the investment.

3. It makes you forget that you’re talking to people

Sure, splitting up a purchase three different ways and giving a weighted distribution of credit to those touch points makes sense when you’re speaking about dollars and cents. But what happens when you’re talking about people? Unless you’re some kind of famous magician, you can’t just cut a person in half.

Marketing attribution is logical. People are not. And depending on what you’re selling, the person you’re trying to measure may actually be part of a larger buying committee. Trying to attribute the steps they took towards a purchase? That simply won’t give you the full story. And putting blinders on to what the rest of the buying committee is doing? That’s simply bad marketing.

How can contribution help? Contribution is less focused on distributing dollars and cents and more focused on seeing what touch points provide value overall. It doesn’t aim to pit your tactics against each other but instead looks at how your growth efforts work together as a cohesive unit.

You can take a look at the things that your buyers ultimately resort to along their journey and the things that they don’t. You can then hone your strategy in on optimizing what you already know is working.

4. It creates tension among internal teams

Whether it's tension between different members of the marketing team – or even worse – between marketing and sales, it’s unnecessary. Making internal teams vie for credit that their efforts are adding value to your business's bottom line is nonsensical. Sure, measurement is important, but pitting teams against each other is not.

Can you measure without the drama? The answer is kind of. Instead of looking at specific channels, look at tactics as a whole – outbound, low intent inbound, ABM. To execute on these tactics well, you’ll need collaboration across your teams. Measuring their efforts this way will make them feel less like they need to fight for the cred, and more like they’re getting good insight on where to focus their combined efforts.

Are we ever going to get away from attribution? Likely not. Executives love it. Our VPs need to see how their dollars are contributing to the business, and frankly, we do need to measure our efforts in some capacity. Making sure we understand the flaws with the methodology will help us get the insights we need without getting tunnel vision. Attribution is flawed, and we need to measure our efforts in multiple ways to maximize our success.

Written by:

Hayley Hollister

Hayley Hollister

Hayley is a growth marketer with over 10 years of experience. She’s currently specializing in the SaaS industry as a Sr. Digital Marketing Manager at Funnelytics.

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Marketing attribution is flawed