Some believe attribution is all about identifying the magic sequence of ads and touch points that unlock the customer conversion. Others may define attribution as assigning a special weight to an ad based on a fractional formula. Throw in some murky terminology, such as “top-down,” “bottom-up” or “u-shaped,” and you can see how the topic can inspire confusion.
In some regards, this may just be a symptom of a nascent, emerging field. Market confusion precedes the coalescence and convergence around best practices, methodologies, and standardized terminology. Only after these key steps does a mature market begin to take shape.
On the methodology point, there is an overreliance in the market on the notion that the only way to achieve attribution is to track every customer across every device, for every ad in the mix. Not only is this impossible, it ignores the millions of reasons that have nothing to do with advertising that compel a customer to make a purchase.
Factors like hidden needs, personal beliefs, the power of the brand promise, the economy and even the day’s weather can all drive purchases in ways that are more impactful than ads. Missing these elements can cause harm by overassigning credit to an ad that may have had zero value or by undervaluing harder-to-track marketing efforts that boosted awareness or pre-purchase education.
Agile, action-oriented marketers may rush to certain attribution “answers,” but a dose of definition upfront is best in this case. Marketers should start with a more general definition of attribution that gets to the overall, essential goal: measuring the value of the impact or contribution a marketing campaign or an individual ad has on an outcome.