Fractional Response Attribution is Worse Than Nothing


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Summary: Should companies apply fractional revenue attribution when more sophisticated methods are impractical? I think not: it gives inaccurate results that could result in bad decisions. Better to avoid financial measures at all if you can’t do them properly.

I spent most of the past week in San Francisco at overlapping conferences for the Direct Marketing Association and Marketo. My Marketo presentation was based on the marketing measurement white paper I recently wrote for them, which argues that measurement should be based on tracking buyers through stages in the purchase process. One corollary to this is not attributing fractions of revenue among different marketing touches. The analogy I’m currently using is baking a cake – it doesn’t make sense to assign partial credit for the final flavor to different ingredients: the recipe as a whole either works or doesn’t. Only testing can determine the impact of making changes.

Given this mindset, I was more than a little surprised to attend a DMA panel discussion where two of the more sophisticated marketing measurement vendors described their systems as providing fractional attribution. Both vendors also offer more advanced methods and both made clear that they used such methods in appropriate situations. But they seemed to feel that when adequate data is not available, fractional attribution is better than nothing.

I certainly understand their attitude. Many of the business-to-business marketers at the Marketo conference have exactly this problem: their data volumes are too small to accurately measure the incremental impact of most marketing programs. The best suggestion I can make is that they run whatever tests their volumes make practical. I’d further suggest that testing may actually be more practical than they realize if they actively and creatively look for opportunities to do it.

But, again, the vendors on my panel knew this. The examples they gave were situations where companies had previously attributed all marketing revenue to the “last touch” before an actual purchase or other conversion event. They used fractional attribution to help people (marketers and those who fund them) see that other contacts also contribute to those final results. The practical goal was to justify funding for early-stage programs that such as search engine optimization and display advertising that precede that “last touch” itself.

I’m all in favor of recognizing that early-stage contacts have value. But I still feel that assigning a fundamentally arbitrary financial value to those contacts is a mistake. The main danger is that people who don’t know any better may use these numbers to allocate marketing funds to the more “productive” uses. Such figures are not accurate enough to support such decisions.

I’d rather use non-monetary measures such as correlations between different kinds of touches and ultimate results. These can highlight the connections between early and later touches without providing financial values that are easily misapplied. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but perhaps refusing to provide unreliable financial metrics will even highlight the need for tests that can provide truly meaningful ones—thus helping marketers to make the necessarily investments.

So what do you think: is fractional revenue attribution of reasonable compromise or a harmful distraction? Let me know your thoughts.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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