Attribution for agencies – become strategic without the suit and tie

Ad agencies need to start thinking like their client company CMOs. Clients don’t care about ad click-thru-rates; they simply want more customers and more sales. Here’s how agencies can use attribution tools to prove their influence on a client’s bottom line while also opening the door to a much more profitable and strategic relationship.

Do you ever wonder why being in advertising isn’t quite as glamorous today as it was 60 years ago? Somehow, 21st century advertising managers don’t really make an impact like Don Draper from Mad Men used to. These days, you don’t really see advertising managers taking big brands like Lucky Strike or Chevrolet by the hand and guiding them towards an exciting new horizon.

The reason why advertising agencies have lost a sizable chunk of their authority is quite simple: they aren’t thinking strategically anymore. Somehow, agencies got into a routine of “trying not to lose,” rather than aiming for a glorious, enterprise-wide commercial win like Don Draper pursued. Many agencies have become defensive, trying to prove that what they do has value. But with attribution, the glory days are back! Agencies can now not only prove they have value but can elevate their discussions and impact to a much higher, strategic level.

In most cases, agencies use a tool like Google Analytcs to measure the performance of their ads. They’re trying to prove to their clients that their efforts result in conversions and that the cost of acquiring these conversions is reasonable. This may sound like a sensible idea, but in reality, this reactive and defensive stance hasn’t done much good for the position of agencies relative to their clients over the past decades.

Instead, there is a much more proactive move agencies can take, just like the guys from Madison Avenue used to do. With marketing attribution tools, agencies can not only prove their value to client companies’ CMOs, they can also sit around the big conference room tables and talk strategy by showing how every piece of the marketing puzzle contributes to the way customers develop relationships with a brand. 

How agencies think, and how CMOs watch

While agencies try to justify their fees with touchpoint performance numbers, CMOs look at marketing in terms of how consumers interact with their brand to build trust. A “touchpoint” isn’t a marketing program… it’s an opportunity to communicate and to listen to see what consumers respond to and to what they don’t. The overall voice of the brand is what’s important, and this can’t be measured at the program level. Instead, CMOs watch how all the layers and combinations of programs perform together at a much higher, abstract level. Analytically speaking this often boils down to getting the best cost of acquisition, and this is a very different question from asking how a specific television commercial or digital advertisement is performing in and of itself.

Agencies often get stuck in a mode of measuring individual touchpoint performance, usually at the top of the funnel, in an attempt to keep their clients happy. They start by identifying the ads they’ve run, then look forward into the future to see what conversions have resulted. But CMOs and others up the org chart want to know how marketing activities affect the bottom line. They usually measure value from the actual customer counts and revenue at the bottom of the funnel, and then look back in time to see how the value was achieved. They try to identify to which degree different factors influenced their customers to complete their entire journey.

For agencies to improve their strategic value to their clients, it’s important to watch the market like the C-level team is doing. Stop proving your own value to keep your job… start showing how you’re efforts contribute to brand engagement.

How agencies can gain strategic influence in their client accounts

It’s time for agencies to bite the bullet. They need to go beyond single-program measurements and aim for complete transparency. Hiding behind incomplete data can be comfortable, but it’s time to move on. They need to stop trying not to lose and start trying to win.

One way to create that transparency is with a marketing attribution tool that measures all touchpoints throughout the customer journey, without bias towards one marketing program over another. The newfound transparency will profoundly alter the relationship agencies have with their clients. When they know the complete combination of activities that build trust among consumers, agencies develop a strategic importance to their clients that is invaluable and very sticky. The shift from tracking touchpoint success to tracking new customers and revenue puts an agency in the driver’s seat… and frankly, it keeps clients from getting into the weeds scrutinizing every single program. We all know that not everything works. It’s the harmonious combination of things that does.

Instead of having to defend and justify their fees, agencies can go on the offensive and suggest ways in which they can help clients generate more revenue. Because they know where the customer journey can be improved, they can suggest changes in existing marketing materials and generate more revenue for themselves at the same time.

With full attribution transparency, the game for agencies takes a 180 degree turn. It changes from “being able to meet a certain threshold” in order to keep the account, to “helping their client maximize marketing impact,” suggesting improvements wherever they see potential.

Introduce attribution to your clients

CMOs love to see their own winning mindset in their suppliers. Today’s attribution tools give agencies the transparency they need to initiate strategy improvements within client companies. 

In a strange turn of events, new technology has given ad agencies a chance to go back in time to the glory days of advertising. We can all follow in the steps of Mad Men’s Don Draper, who won’t stop until his clients get “all of it.”

You thought the 60’s were the best time for advertising agencies? With attribution tools available today, we beg to differ.