• Blog
  • Jan 17, 2020
  • By Lucas Sommer
Impartial Attribution: Why It Is So Important

Warning: Your current advertising attribution solution might be pointing you in the wrong direction.

Impartial attribution sounds a bit redundant, right? Attribution itself is the process of trying to understand how well your  marketing campaigns are performing with regards to return on investment. Without attribution, we are in the dark chasing traffic, clicks and conversion rates. Attribution shines a light on our strategies and decisions and helps us to better delegate our time and resources toward the activities and campaigns that are giving us the most bang for each advertising dollar.

But if the data that we collect isn’t truly impartial, it may be pointing us in the wrong direction. That impartiality refers to not only the data that you collect, but the campaigns that you run, the channels you pursue, and the types of metrics that you measure. 

“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” Mark Twain famously said.

The point of this quote is to illustrate that numbers can be skewed to say nearly whatever you want them to say, especially when they are shaped by a cognitive or process bias that pushes them in a particular direction. 

At the risk of stating the obvious: you can’t always trust the ad network (Google or Facebook) and unfortunately you can’t always trust your agency!

Why Our Preconceptions Create Bias In Marketing Attribution

If you ran a car dealership for 20 years and knew that you had success running a certain type of campaign (read our Auto Attribution Report in collaboration with iHeartMedia), it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that you might zero-in on those campaign types as you look to launch new campaigns.

Historically, from a time before you had advanced attribution and tracking tools, you know that a certain type of promotion gets people through the doors. Maybe a radio ad that offers a cash back incentive, or something similar. Naturally, you’d focus on that. Businesses tend to stick with what is working. 

But the fact that you’ve zeroed in on a certain type of campaign that runs on a particular channel shows bias. Not only are you failing to adequately test and measure other creatives and channels, but you aren’t taking a look at the big picture — how full-funnel and cross-channel interactions with your target market are affecting the effectiveness of those campaigns.

In this example, the business owner might be privy to what is working but is missing out on the why. A customer reaching a purchasing decision (or in this case, the decision to visit the dealership) isn’t made in isolation. Often, it comes after a string of interactions and micro-interactions with a brand. For car dealerships, they may make the decision to visit after having heard their advertisements on the radio for years. But now they are interested in buying a car. 

Preconceptions create tunnel-vision that keeps us from seeing the big picture. It creates bias in our attribution strategies that skews are results and impacts our decision-making. It causes companies to misallocate resources and miss opportunities. 

A Full-Funnel, Cross-Channel Impartial Attribution Solution

The customer lifecycle isn’t made up of a series of single interactions. It’s a spiderweb of micro-interactions, culminating in a broader awareness of your brand and product so that when the need arises, your brand is the one their brain turns to. 

This is especially true for big-ticket products (like vehicles). It’s a rare occurrence that a customer walks into a dealership without a particular vehicle in mind. Most will have done at least a bare minimum amount of research into the products that they are interested in as well. 

Often, their interest in buying that product from you can be traced back to months (or even years) before. In the case of a car dealership, maybe a customer saw an ad for a model years ago, from a completely different dealership. They liked the look but weren’t in the market for a car at that time. But that initial interest was sparked. 

Over the course of years (and several new iterations of the model), they interact with your brand through radio advertisements, television commercials, direct mail pamphlets, community sponsorships, etc. They have a positive impression of your brand and know that you carry the model that they’ve been admiring the last few years. 

Then one day their old car finally breaks down on the commute to work. Suddenly, they are in the market for a vehicle. Since their old car giving out was unexpected, they are wholly unprepared to shop for a vehicle. But they know the model that they like, and they know of a dealership that sells it, and better yet — they recently heard a radio ad that said that they are offering a cash back deal to first-time buyers. 

There may be dozens of touchpoints across many channels that got them to the point that they think of that brand when their car breaks down. Proper attribution takes those touchpoints into account and examines the broader effect that they had on the eventual sale. To ignore those touchpoints and to only focus on the most recent advertisement that they came into contact with would be short-changing years of continued awareness-building that had to take place for the most recent advertisement to have the effect that it did. 

3 Attribution Bias Mistakes to Avoid:

Unfortunately for seasoned business owners, bias can be hard to avoid. You know your business. You know what works and doesn’t work, generally. But you have to fight against those gut instincts to avoid injecting bias into your attribution. 

There are a few mistakes that are common to companies without impartial attribution practices. 

1. Focusing Too Heavily on One Channel

If most of your attribution data seems to be skewing toward a particular channel, there is a good chance that it may be bias. Even if your advertising operations lean toward one channel in particular, modern relationships with customers are built on multiple channels. 

They may check out your Facebook page, social media accounts, or talk about your dealership in local community forums. They might read your direct mail adverts. They might interact with your employees at community events. Not all touchpoints are controlled by the brand or delivered through advertisements. 

Companies should always be looking for ways to measure the impact of different touchpoints and interactions, to the best of their ability. So even companies that lean heavily on say, radio advertising, should be analyzing interactions on any channel where they engage with their customers and prospects. 

2. Zeroing in on the “Last Touch”

Zeroing in on the bottom of the funnel is perhaps the most common form of bias in attribution. Too often companies place exaggerated focus on the last touchpoint, or a series of final touchpoints when evaluating the effectiveness of their marketing activities. 

Yes, the final advertisement that a customer engages with before making a purchase should perhaps, depending on the situation, be weighted more heavily than early-funnel touchpoints, but every interaction should be taken into consideration. 

It’s tempting to zero in on the bottom of the funnel. Conversion rates and data-backed strategies are easy to execute here. But doing so overlooks the entire relationship-building process with a particular customer and ultimately hamstrings your ability to make truly data-backed decisions. There may be dozens of micro-conversions that lead to the ultimate sale that go untracked when you zero in on the bottom of the funnel. 

3. Trusting the Ad Network or Agency:

Advertising networks and ad agencies almost always earn their fees by getting clients to “spend more to get more” rather than “spending less to get more.” All of these players want you to spend more on their channel and want you to spend less on the competitive channels – this causes bias.

Have you ever noticed that the “conversions” reported by Facebook, Google, your Agency and your internal metrics are never 100% the same? This is a function of Google and Facebook’s “walled gardens” and their refusal to share data amongst each other – or with other partners.

If you add up all of the conversions Google claims they delivered, and those that Facebook claims they delivered, you will find that the sum of these conversions overstates what happened in reality. When you try to attribute revenue back to these channels, you are faced with a major problem: who gets credit for the revenue if these channels are all taking duplicative credit for the same conversions?

This doesn’t even take into account the other channels most marketers have running like SEO, Social Media or broadcast campaigns. What credit should they receive for their “touches” in a conversion path?

If you ask Google, they will say they should get all the credit – why shouldn’t they? They have their own performance data and track the conversions – and they were involved to some degree in all of your conversion paths. The problem is, Facebook feels the same way. SEO likely had an impact as well and customers likely heard a Broadcast campaign at some point in their journey.

This is why being impartial is so important: Marketers need to measure all of these channels simultaneously and attribute the revenue in an impartial manner. Only by utilizing a true cross-channel multi-touch solution can you impartially measure all of these interactions, the costs associated with each and accurately attribute revenue back to the channels driving those conversions.

An Impartial Attribution Platform

LeadsRx helps companies to reject bias and deliver a truly impartial cross-channel attribution experience. Schedule a no-hassle demonstration with one of our Attribution Specialists to learn how LeadsRx multi-touch attribution can optimize your return on ad spend.