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IBM Commerce Blog | March 30, 2015

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Marketing attribution: breaking through the org chart

The topic of marketing attribution has been gaining public attention, as more marketers realize they must do a better job of analyzing the performance of their campaigns and initiatives (good attribution discussions are available here and here).

If you haven’t seen marketing attribution in action, check out the image below. Basically, you stack your various marketing initiatives (or channels) on top of each other, pick one or more performance metrics relevant to your business (in this case “sales”), and measure the initiatives using your metrics from a last-click, first-click and average clicks perspective (you can change the attribution period or perspective; e.g., use a custom attribution logic).

Attribution examines all marketing initiatives holistically

Attribution examines all marketing initiatives holistically

When marketers think about attribution, they often focus on the horizontal axis; that is, they wish to know at a tactical level how the initiative or channel they’re responsible for performs from an acquisition, persuasion and conversion perspective.

Not enough people, however, pay attention to the vertical axis, to the interplay between the different channels. Why? Because most people aren’t incented to think holistically. Not even CMOs who may be responsible for the entire range of channels.

Many CMOs may set clear performance expectations for each individual channel, and may evaluate the overall contribution of marketing to the bottom line, but they do not – as a matter of habit – look for synergistic relationships between channels, and how each channel can make the other channels perform better.

By synergistic relationships I mean things like enriching your paid search program with keywords from onsite search queries, or developing a segment for an email campaign using PPC keyword data, or leveraging the acumen and tools of a website analyst to understand the contribution of online media assets deployed offsite.

The reasons are plenty: CMOs and their organizations are over-tasked, they have other things to worry about, they don’t know how, they aren’t familiar with the tools… the list goes on.

But if you ask me, there is a much simpler reason why marketers don’t think holistically.

It’s that darn org chart.

As we enter the business world, we’re indoctrinated to assume accountability for our individual areas of responsibility. And that’s what the org chart does: it sets a hierarchical list of name-accountability pairs to make it clear to everyone who exactly owns what exactly.

Some call this model “a single throat to choke” (yikes).

So, as a marketer operates in the confines of the org chart, it’s easy to see why she would worry more about her own throat (i.e. the attribution’s horizontal axis depicting her channel) and less about uncovering synergistic relationships and hidden economies of scale with her next-cube neighbor (by strolling together along the vertical axis).

Here’s the rub, though: marketing channels are not siloed and cannot be divided and conquered using an org chart. That’s because—for the most part—these channels are directed at the same people. Prospects may be hit with different messages from different channels as they advance in their consideration cycle–from a general interest in a solution to an immediate intent to transact—but they are still the same people.

The fact that prospects traverse channels and that each channel can be made more effective (i.e. increase its message relevancy) by sharing information across channels usually goes unnoticed because of, you guessed it, the org chart.

The org chart tells us that companies are built around business functions, not around individual customers. This is something that is neither going to change any time soon, nor something that can be overcome using marketing attribution reporting.

But as marketing practitioners and executives spend more time analyzing attribution and getting comfortable with the concept, they are more likely to start asking bigger, more strategic questions.

They will spend more time strolling along the vertical axis.

I’d love to hear about your experience with marketing attribution, so please add your comments.

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