Q&A: In-housing and brand attribution

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Ray Kingman, CEO and founder of Semcasting, shares his insights on the growing trend of in-housing and how brands can take the power of attribution into their own hands and the important elements they need to keep in mind as they do.
What do you think led to the growing trend of brands bringing advertising in-house?

There probably isn’t one answer to this question. Brands that are at an inflection point with their marketing that involves rebranding, new product launch or repositioning may have a legitimate need for the services that an advertising agency offers. When that need subsided and the marketing effort cycles passed the creative stage, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that the blocking and tackling of campaign execution is something that the brand feels they can do better and at a lower cost. 

 With more dollars flowing toward digital than ever before, the toolsets for this execution can certainly be run efficiently by the brand’s marketing department. The cost saving can often be material and, with proper execution, the insights flowing back to the brands can be more timely and actionable. 

How does the trend of brands in-housing impact advertising measurement and attribution? 

This depends on the tools. Brands who take marketing in-house with an eye on attribution need the expertise, the access to the data flows and the right tools. Until recently, advertising measurement has largely been tactical – click-through rates (CTR), store traffic counts, product turnover and last-click buyers. The introduction of multi-touch attribution and a more advanced toolset that can measure marketing impact up and down the funnel has changed some of that. 

 However, attribution tools have largely been consulting exercises – incorporating customer polling and sampling of online engagements that could be measured end-to-end – which, in turn, are linked to multiple data feeds of consumers, behaviors or actions. All of this has historically been represented as predictive models. An attribution study is still likely to require the brand to outsource this effort, even if some of the source data could be extracted from the brand marketer’s internal resources. In many cases, those resources are not necessarily in place. Until recently, multi-touch attribution studies have been engagements that involve time and external resources for a reason.

What skills or training will brands’ teams need to properly understand and report on attribution? 

The skills and training involved can be directly correlated to the data types involved. It is arguable that the brand may need rudimentary statistical skills, however, the real challenge is in managing the data flows. The internal brand team will ideally need — internal access to customer relationship management (CRM) system at a programmatic level; access to the point of sale (POS) systems data; access to a compiled household and business data source; access to weblogs; access to the systems that capture in-store traffic; and access to digital impressions across programmatic, social and native advertising. In some use cases, these are all available. However, in order to handle this, the marketing team is talking to IT to bring in the data and data scientists to rationalize it, map it to third-party household or business feed, and then the product vision to derive usable results.

What needs to be considered when determining the best attribution model for their campaigns? 

I don’t believe that the focus on a particular model is the answer. I believe that the models serve to forecast, and a menu of statistical forecasting techniques can often be a subjective choice – reinforcing what you want to hear, rather than what might actually be going on. At the end of the day, the true attribution test is one that is integrated into the workflow of campaigns and produces deterministic results incrementally, without the need for forecasting. 

At the beginning of this year, we introduced a self-serve attribution platform, The Attributor, that takes the heavy lifting of harvesting the data from weblogs, impressions and mobile activity off the brands. It rationalizes all of these sources to consumers or businesses and enhances those records so that deterministic measurement can be made.

Why is attribution even more important for brands, as they bring advertising in-house? 

The formula to launch a product used to be linear television, direct mail, catalogs and store-based advertising to draw traffic. We graduated to digital ads, search, and then to social because it was attractive to have some feedback loops in digital that didn’t necessarily exist before. Today, marketers have access to a complete digital portfolio – adding connected TV (CTV), over-the-top (OTT), native ads and the all-important mobile channels. Brand spending on these feedback loops now dominate the other channels and marketers rightfully want answers to the question of “what is working and what isn’t.” They want the ability to adapt. 

There is also an onslaught of direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies that have been coming into the market that are highly tuned to the digital feedback loop. In fact, they could accurately be categorized as marketing companies that sell a product, not the other way around.

How can brand marketers ensure that they are getting the most out of their attribution and measurement?

When I talk to brands about digital marketing and attribution, data management is a primary concern.  They want access to the data, but access is not a straight shot for them. Some of the digital and social platforms are walled gardens. Consumer and business data is not an easy task to bring in-house and manage.  Resolution of online signals into offline remains a core challenge.  

If the brand requires that the attribution effort be executed internally, then they need hands-on access to platforms that are designed to harvest the data systematically. It has to have the ability to convert signals up and down the funnel into buyers, prospects and intent, at scale and within the workflow.  They need to know who these signals represent so that behaviors can be associated with a propensity to purchase and future targeting. In order to realize the benefits of attribution optimization the design objective of the platform has to make it happen within a campaign – not after it is too late.

About Ray Kingman

Ray Kingman has been at Semcasting, Inc. since its inception, leading the company in the development and commercialization of its automated targeting and data offerings. As an experienced innovator in content management, analytics and data visualization fields, Ray directs the day-to-day operations of Semcasting, Inc. Before coming to Semcasting, Inc., Ray served as the CEO of LightSpeed Software, a content management solution built through the acquisition and integration of multiple providers in the search, analytics, content management, authoring and portal platform spaces. Prior to LightSpeed, Ray was the founder and president of a division of Thomson Reuters, where he focused on providing syndicated web content solutions to self-directed investors and retail brokerage firms. Ray Kingman was also the founder and president of DeltaPoint, Inc., a developer of analytics and data visualization products, and led the firm from its inception to its initial public offering.

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