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Leading Marketing Practitioners Share Challenges, Tips for Implementing & Operationalizing Attribution

Volume 5, Issue 2 - February, 2015

Editor, IQ Advisor

Increasingly, marketers are turning to more sophisticated attribution approaches to identify the right mix of media and tactics to optimize performance. But when implementing advanced attribution, disruption is inevitable. The IQ Advisor interviewed marketing attribution practitioners from 5 leading brands across the globe, who spoke candidly about their implementation challenges and how they overcame them in order to successfully launch an attribution program within their organization. Scroll down to review the complete set of questions and responses, or click on any of the questions below to jump to the responses for each.

  1. What challenge(s) was your organization facing that prompted the move to advanced attribution?
  2. When implementing attribution, what unexpected challenges did you face?
  3. What did you learn from the process?
  4. How did you educate internal stakeholders and manage their expectations in terms of what the attribution platform would do?
  5. Which team members are essential for successful implementation?
  6. How did you determine which channels to include as part of your initial implementation?
  7. Were you confronted with data collection issues? If so, how did you address them?
  8. How did you break down organizational siloes to get your team thinking about marketing holistically?
  9. How did you ensure that attribution insights led to action across your organization?
  10. What about external coordination with partners and agencies?
  11. What do you see as the next step or phase in the evolution of your attribution program?

IQ Advisor: What challenge(s) was your organization facing that prompted the move to advanced attribution?

  • Scott Malick, AVP, Advertising, Scottrade: Like many advertisers, we didn’t have a complete picture of our advertising performance. Above all we wanted to see how our channels were working together to drive conversion while at the same time making sure our media mix was optimized to help us reach our goals.
  • Director of Marketing, Fortune 500 Retailer: When using click-based or rules-based measurement, there is a very high likelihood that credit for conversions is being duplicated across channels.
  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: My department’s focus is to ensure we’re delivering against the business goals and ROI targets established for all our digital marketing campaigns. We discovered that we were too reliant on optimizing activity using a traditional last click measurement method, which was making us invest more and more on a very small set of inventory sources, namely search and affiliates. This didn’t make sense, as when we experimented with turning off areas such as display, sales would decline. Therefore, we needed something more sophisticated and moved to advanced measurement with a desire to not only more accurately track which elements of our marketing mix were influencing consumer purchases, but also to understand the halo effects that brand communications were having on key business goals, such as sales.

IQ Advisor: When implementing attribution, what unexpected challenges did you face?

  • Scott Malick, AVP, Advertising, Scottrade: I think we were fortunate in that we encountered only minor hurdles in getting things implemented correctly. Having a single point of contact (POC) internally who was responsible for the implementation turned out to be a great asset for us. Our internal POC was able to work closely with all parties involved to determine requirements, establish timelines and then manage the project to completion.
  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: At Dell, we spend a significant amount on digital advertising in the consumer space, so the business case for investing in a solution that would help us drive efficiencies and ROI was obvious and compelling. However, there were some misconceptions internally about what an attribution solution would do, particularly as it relates to reducing operating expenses. We spent a lot of time changing the perception of attribution as a tool for cost savings, and rather as a solution for helping us make smarter decisions about how and where to invest our digital advertising dollars more efficiently and effectively. We also underestimated the amount of effort involved with data integration and orchestration across our various vendors, channels and partners. Once these data challenges were uncovered, they took significantly more time to address than anticipated.
  • Director of Marketing, Fortune 500 Retailer: We did an exhaustive level of pre-work before we began our implementation, so we didn’t have too many surprises along the way. Talking with other marketers who already went through the process to understand their pain points and how they might relate to ours was hugely helpful.

IQ Advisor: What did you learn from the process?

  • Aldo Agostinelli, Digital Marketing & Sales Director, Sky Italia: One of the biggest surprises was the importance of one channel when compared to other channels. I completely underestimated the influence that one channel could have on another – particularly when using last click. By implementing advanced attribution, I could see at-a-glance the importance of our acquisition channels. This insight was a breakthrough for us because it completely changed our level of investment in these channels.
  • Scott Malick, AVP, Advertising, Scottrade: The biggest learning we took from the implementation experience was consideration requirements for our success metric. While our main goal was to avoid becoming too complex too quickly, we realized that our initial choice led to more questions that in retrospect could have been answered up front had we built in just a bit more time into the implementation timeline.

IQ Advisor: How did you educate internal stakeholders and manage their expectations in terms of what the attribution platform would do?

  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: While there was general alignment at a high level on what the attribution solution would offer, the extent of change management across the entire organization was initially underestimated. Significant effort was put into collecting and documenting the actual end-to-end decision flow and execution processes within the organization. This was then used to map out a framework that aligned and embedded output from various components of the attribution solution to both the media management process, and to the respective stakeholders involved. This process was very helpful in terms of driving alignment and clarity with stakeholders, as well as in planning the various phases of deployment and adoption.
  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: We couldn’t afford a perception being built by senior stakeholders that we were spending money on a solution that they didn’t understand, or that wouldn’t deliver benefit to the business. Therefore, education was key, and we set up sessions designed specifically for any key individuals who would be impacted by the project, from key senior stakeholders to junior marketing execs. These sessions focused on explaining 3 key areas:
    • The Why: we showed them the anomalies in the last click data and used these as proof points for why we needed a new, more accurate, science-based measurement approach.
    • What the Success Criteria Were: we provided predicted cost savings, detailing as needed how these saving were calculated and over what period of time.
    • Their Involvement: we explained how we’d keep them updated on how the project was doing, and how advanced attribution would change the look of the plans being signed off on, as well as the reporting.

IQ Advisor: Which team members are essential for successful implementation?

  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: When implementing attribution, you need to have strategic alignment from top to bottom. This includes senior leadership who are managing budgets at the global and regional level, the marketers and channel leads, and even the resources on the agency side who manage placements.
  • Director of Marketing, Fortune 500 Retailer: Getting buy-in and commitment starts with the executive team and goes all the way down to individual contributors. Absolute buy-in from company executives ensures their teams are available to support the implementation.
  • Aldo Agostinelli, Digital Marketing & Sales Director, Sky Italia: It hasn’t been difficult to get buy-in. Right from the start, my team liked the idea of having a platform that would provide guidance for how to invest the company’s money in order to get the best results. They recognized that last click was a flawed methodology and were ready to adopt a different, better approach.

IQ Advisor: How did you determine which channels to include as part of your initial implementation?

  • Scott Malick, AVP, Advertising, Scottrade: Continuing with our priority of keeping the initial implementation simple, we just transferred the channels we were currently measuring via other methods into the attribution solution.
  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: Everything with material investment on our side that was track-able was fair game.

IQ Advisor: Were you confronted with data collection issues? If so, how did you address them?

  • Director of Marketing, Fortune 500 Retailer: While the data collection process didn’t put a heavy burden on us, we did have to re-traffic some of our online media.
  • Aldo Agostinelli, Digital Marketing & Sales Director, Sky Italia: We didn’t really experience any issues, other than the data collection from the ad server. We recently moved to a new ad server platform, and as such, we have a new classification methodology that is much clearer than before. The attribution model only helped to make this classification of data even better.
  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: Fortunately, we weren’t confronted with as many data collection issues as we could have been. We only had to collect data from a single source rather than multiple sources – which included the log files from our ad server. The one area we did struggle with a bit was how to integrate cost data from our agency into the model, given that this data is quite fluid. But with all parties working together (including our agency), we found a solution relatively quickly.

IQ Advisor: How did you break down organizational siloes to get your team thinking about marketing holistically?

  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: We’re fortunate in that we operate as a centralized marketing function that is channel agnostic. However, our team was previously split into brand versus direct response. Using attribution to show the influence of brand spend on our direct response performance, as well as how important it is to plan these efforts in tandem, was key to helping us break down the existing barriers.
  • Scott Malick, AVP, Advertising, Scottrade: After identifying key stakeholders, we utilized the time we had prior to annual planning to inform and educate said stakeholders. Once folks were on the same page, we reached consensus on how to apply attributed metrics to budgeting, planning & forecasting.

IQ Advisor: How did you ensure that attribution insights led to action across your organization?

  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: This is still a work in progress for us. We’ve taken steps to map out in minute detail what each stakeholder should be doing and where they should be injecting the data and insights from attribution into their workflow. Ultimately, we’ve created a very planned approach to workflow so we can be sure we’re introducing data at the right points—whether that’s at the budget, publisher, or keyword level.
  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: We made sure that our agency had access to attributed metrics and were using them as central pieces of their planning process. The fact that our agency was totally bought into the solution and the data it delivered from the beginning made this an easy process. Their belief in the solution was key.
  • Aldo Agostinelli, Digital Marketing & Sales Director, Sky Italia: Attribution has enabled us to shift our investments in a different way. For instance, do we need to ask for more money, or can we move to a cost-savings approach, whereby we can move money out of our marketing budget in order to save the company money, while still generating the same results? The great thing about our solution is there’s no human influence on the results. It provides truly media-neutral analysis, insights and recommendations, with no vested interest in whether we invest more money in advertising or less.

IQ Advisor: What about external coordination with partners and agencies?

  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: Having our agency involved from the beginning was massively important to the whole process. They needed to buy into the platform and adopt it just as much as we did. Having them onboard from project inception helped us to eliminate any conflicts from the relationship, and allowed us to create a true, three way partnership between us, our agency, and our attribution vendor.
  • Aldo Agostinelli, Digital Marketing & Sales Director, Sky Italia: We have a performance agency that supports our acquisition efforts, and they were part of the deployment from the start. They themselves were very interested in the platform in terms of how it could help them optimize performance for all their other clients, in addition to us. They now recognize that the solution works and works well, and are using it as a business case for their other customers as well.
  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: We’ve set up cross-functional teams who are responsible for mapping the decision flow from budgeting to daily execution.

IQ Advisor: What do you see as the next step or phase in the evolution of your attribution program?

  • Laxman Srigiri, Director, Global Marketing Sciences, Dell: We have a lot of plans for our attribution solution. Driving full value from the existing technical implementation across all levels of media execution is our first priority. Another priority includes driving tighter integrations with programmatic media buying activities. We also have other traditional marketing channels like direct mail that we’d like to incorporate into the attribution solution, so we can drive better integration and customer centricity between pure digital marketing and CRM marketing. Finally, we want to create a custom model that we can apply to our commercial B2B business, which is a completely different paradigm from the B2C side.
  • Dan Michelson, Innovation and Capability Lead, O2: We have three priorities for the next phase of our program. The first is cross-device tracking so we can follow consumers across platforms and ensure we’re making the right optimization decisions across mobile, desktop, tablets and other devices. The second is to start aligning econometrics into our attribution solution so we can look at macro-level performance and be quicker to market. The third priority is to get as near to real-time optimization as possible by automatically pushing our attributed metrics directly into real-time buying platforms.

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