'Test, iterate, improve': secrets to successful marketing attribution

In the first of a series of four articles on marketing effectiveness, Marketing and Canon talk to leading global marketers about how they attribute marketing outcomes to channel activity.

Andrew Warner, senior marketing director, EMEA, Expedia

Location London, UK

Warner leads marketing activity across 14 countries at Expedia. During his tenure the business has grown significant market share across Europe, and has firmly established itself as the UK's favourite online travel agency.

In 2014 Expedia was recognised for "Best marketing from an ecommerce brand" at The Marketing Society Awards for Excellence, and won the Cannes Lion for Creative Effectiveness with Ogilvy.

Warner has previously held senior roles at LG, Sony, Microsoft and the BBC.

Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

Today, a marketing director. Tomorrow, CEO of Norwich City FC. #OTBC

What is the secret to successful marketing attribution?

There is no magic bullet. However, some attribution methodologies have, in my experience, been more effective than others. The key I have found is to first observe your consumers' real behaviours - both physically and via analysis of customer journeys through data. This will differ by brand, product and category.

Then, start building a model that takes into account what you have observed as relevant for your situation. Test, iterate and improve your approach by building baseline results and then layering on new variables to see what happens.

Don't be afraid to test hunches or ideas that arise from behavioural science. If you can establish a data baseline, you can start to create controlled tests that measure the uplift of all kinds of ideas that might positively impact your business.

Don't just think in terms of marcomms. If it fails, your test will give you learning. If it works, put it live. Data can empower creativity - it does not need to inhibit it.

Too many attribution methodologies allocate revenue on a forced basis that is primarily designed to be simple and expedient. In simple terms, the aim is to attribute, rather than to understand. But if you create artificial models, you get artificial results and you will make bad decisions.

What is the biggest obstacle to understanding the effectiveness of different marketing channels?

The biggest obstacle is, in my experience, internal structures and politics. A customer's path to purchase is rarely linear and is frequently influenced by multiple onand offline touches, which extend beyond marketing and cross many "channels". However, companies often structure and incentivise sales and marketing teams in relation to channel performance. Therefore, budgets and bonuses then get decided based on where it looks like ROI lies. Consequently, any changes to attribution models become political. Many organisations therefore stick with outdated attribution models they perceive as "good enough for now" because it avoids creating internal conflict, creates consistency in reward structures and often validates the prevailing views of senior management.

However, this inertia is the corporate equivalent of the ostrich burying its head in the sand. It is unlikely that the "last touch" was ever a reliable indicator of advertising effectiveness. In a world of device proliferation, media fragmentation and omnichannel marketing, it is certainly not now.

Other obstacles

Too often, organisations lack a single, central data warehouse - all their customer and transactional data in one place. Therefore different channels have multiple data sources and it is hard to undertake holistic analysis. What's more, this often leads to "Your data versus my data" between internal teams.

Too many attribution systems either work well for offline media or online media, but not both. In particular, it frustrates me that so many companies claim they are selling Nirvana when it comes to attribution, whereas actually they are selling a digital marketing dashboard. All too often they fail to adequately account for offline campaigns or environmental influences. These products can be helpful digital media-mix tools, but fail to attribute cause and effect adequately in categories where multiple external and internal factors will influence customer purchase decisions.

How have you moved beyond "last click" as an attribution metric?

Expedia moved away from such a model some time ago. We use our own attribution methodology, developed in-house, which we review when we feel changes in the market may have lessened its relevance. We have a central data warehouse and a central marketing analytics team which supports all our marketing teams from a channel-neutral perspective. But we also use data to optimise our marketing within specific channels, so we can improve ROI within, as well as across, channels. For example, we have done a lot of work recently on improving the ROI of our TV advertising and optimising our media buys, while, at the same time, evaluating the role of broadcast media within our broader channel mix.

Jens Jermin, group vice-president, digital, media & creative

content, Carlsberg Group

Location Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jermiin has global corporate experience (having been at Carlsberg for more than two years and before that The Coca-Cola Company for 10), coupled with entrepreneurial creative industry experience. He spent seven years working for global network advertising agencies and co-founded Dwarf, now a top Danish web-agency.

At Carlsberg Group he helps lead the integrated marketing agenda across the portfolio of global brands. His responsibilities include digital strategy and implementation, global media governance and creative content development and production. He is also deputy chairman of the board at the Danish Marketing Association.

Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

I am (almost) as passionate about business, analytics and strategy as I am about the entire spectrum of creative industries that make up popular culture.

What is the secret to successful marketing attribution?

We operate in a scale business. We need to sell billions of bottles and servings a year. This requires massive reach, which builds massive sales. We believe in creativity - or "fame" - as a great driver of efficiency. Truly outstanding creative work multiplies ROI. However, we also realise that, although consumers will share famous content, the amount being created every day means we can't count on reaching the volume targets we aim for with our messages just by keeping our fingers crossed for a viral hit. We need to invest in the distribution.

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of new platforms, services and channels?

We look at how good we are at growing unique users (reach) and their engagement with our content. Digital marketing has a much shorter time to market than any other media. This means we can test, learn and react on the fly. The key is to work with tools that allow us to turn data into actionable insights, which will support a much more agile approach. We can't afford to not be able to adapt and optimise. Data is key to giving us the right insights on what's performing, and how to improve on it, but also to take steps to "kill what doesn't work".

How do you balance immediate and long-term attribution needs?

We have sophisticated data-mining tools, in the form of our Digital KPI Dashboard and content-management solution. This allows us to define KPIs, monitor shortas well as long-term performance and compare markets. On a more advanced level, data can be extracted from a number of data sources - social media, websites, mobile - to further analyse and use to generate insights we can leverage immediately and in the longer term.

See other articles in the series


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