An Agency Perspective on Attribution


ADOTAS – Over the past few years, there’s been ample perspective on cross-channel media attribution shared by both fractional attribution service providers and thought leadership firms such as Forrester Research. They’ve done well in compelling marketers to take action and evolve their media measurement methodology beyond the popular (and arguably outdated) channel-specific, last-click model. One might even say that fractional attribution is finally becoming mainstream: In recent months I’ve talked with large B2C companies, e-commerce businesses and one of the largest traditional media-measurement firms who are committing to adding multi-channel attribution into their respective frameworks for optimizing marketing investment decisions.

A couple of years ago, my agency made the leap and thankfully received good advice from early adopters along the way. To pay it forward to companies ready to embark on their own journey, following is a collection of milestone observations to consider.

Recognizing the limits of channel-specific optimization

For many marketers, this is the first step on the attribution journey. You’ve worked hard to optimize your ad buys at the placement level. You’ve implemented creative testing and optimization. And Google’s escalating CPCs made landing-page optimization a priority long ago. The next logical step for many marketers is to move beyond channel-specific optimization and focus on the interplay of ads across multiple digital channels.

Evangelizing attribution to key internal stakeholders

Once converted, you likely will never go back to channel-centric thinking. The research we conducted, along with conversations with early adopters, cemented the collective viewpoint of my team. But bringing others along often doesn’t come easily. As we shopped around our recommendation to key stakeholders, we received a series of questions: How does attribution overlap with media-mix modeling? Can it be operationalized (as opposed to a one-off research project)? And how will it affect the way we currently work?

Thankfully, we had open-minded internal stakeholders and trusting clients, so the many questions were raised and addressed without hidden agendas. And it helped to leverage Forrester reports on this category of services—lots of excellent perspective and vendor evaluations played a big role in our process. One particularly interesting accelerator in getting team members on board was that we promised both internal and external clients that we’d never again have to debate the value of view-through impressions. Attribution makes that whole concept moot.

Assessing the investment: a new perspective on decision-making

When it comes to investment spending, where you fall on the conservative/aggressive spectrum may define how eagerly you go forward. To put it simply, there are both software/services and internal costs to adopting attribution into your marketing programs. It’s no secret that the best technology is often a significant financial investment with the potential for significantly higher returns, and attribution is no different. Not everyone was ready to make a long-term commitment off the bat, so we agreed to a pilot program. All parties had common goals: get results fast, project expected media-cost savings for the full contract period, add up internal operational costs and determine the ROI as quickly as possible.

Training and setting expectations

Once the contract was signed, the sprint was on. Our attribution partner lined up a series of training sessions for our internal project owner, our analysts and various media and marketing team members. The importance of getting all impacted teams on board can’t be overstated—adopting an attribution paradigm is a wholesale shift in not only success measurement but also the process of optimization of discrete channels. Frankly, this was one of the better things we’ve done in years because it forced the various teams working on different aspects of client campaigns to align. Previously, each team had its own view of success, which can be troublesome because of overlapping or conflicting priorities (DSP-focused buys vs. ad networks, channel- or partner-specific frequency caps, etc.). The onboarding process with our attribution partner accelerated the cohesion of our channel specialty teams and helped provide a common framework for prioritization.


During our research and vendor-evaluation process, we received feedback from several early adopters about the importance of proper implementation. We had heard warnings of failed implementations by a few well-known companies, so due diligence with the platform providers became critical. We also limited our implementation in our client campaign to a core set of channels that could benefit most—our goal was to validate the proof of concept so other (mostly non-digital) channels would be added to later implementation phases. We were very happy to learn that our approach paid off: our first attempt at implementation worked.

The excitement of the first read-out

After several years of methodology assessment, vendor evaluation and countless conversations with peers, the first report summary provided by our service provider was highly anticipated. The results reflected what we had hoped: insights on the contribution of brand vs. non-brand search, valuable information on the contribution of various types of display ad targeting and a key, immediately actionable insight on frequency management. We projected ROI for the full contract period, recommended that we continue and settled into a new way of working.

A whole new clarity on media priorities

In many ways, the process of onboarding an attribution partner helped to validate beliefs that had already been forming for several years. Increasingly, our industry is moving to an audience paradigm and away from a channel paradigm. For all the buzz in industry trades and conferences about the importance of data, what matters most is how that data is operationalized to drive the greatest value. Access to all the third-party data in the world won’t do that alone. A DSP won’t do that alone, and neither will a DMP or an attribution partner. But each of these platforms can push us down the path of maturity, shifting focus to where it matters most: engaging that individual with a compelling message and getting them one step closer to purchase. In an increasingly cross-channel, cross-screen world, a holistic view of your audience becomes essential. And we were happy to learn firsthand that we didn’t have to sacrifice channel expertise to make that holistic view a reality.


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