multi-channel attribution in ecommerce

The Board *Still* Doesn’t Understand Multi-Channel Attribution

Many will know the pain that can be associated with getting the Board to understand the role that digital plays in a business. Back in the day, it was often difficult to sell the value of a digital department – it spent a lot of money, the returns weren’t instant, there were a lot of unknowns, and the reasons for all of the above were littered with long words and acronymns – and people who didn’t always have the personal skills for effective stakeholder management (sorry, but it’s true).

As time has moved on, as digital has matured and received more investment there has been a shift – the Board is interested. However. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Gone are are the days of digital being one line on a P&L. Now, we’re at the point where your CFO has heard of PPC – and is interested. They want to know more. They want to have an opinion – as they should.

The issue that arises is that there is nowhere near enough understanding of the whole joined up, 360 degree process of digital marketing. To be surrounded by a network that understands how a conversion works is lovely¬†– to be supported in the notion that channels need to pay for themselves is great. But – gone are the days when the journey to becoming a customer, or a sign up, or whatever goal completion you’re looking at, is one click long. There are now so many different elements that make up the journey that it’s impossible (or at least a terrible idea) to make any kind of business decision based on one small section of that journey.

User behaviour has changed, and is changing. But what acutally is multi-channel attribution? Put as simply as I can – when we stop looking at the last click that led to a purchase, and start considering the whole journey.

Picture the scene: you’re sitting at work and it’s Friday – frankly you’ve had enough of work and decide to do some shopping for new trainers, because if you had new trainers you might actually get off your backside and go to the gym. You search ‘men’s trainers’ in Google. You see a PPC ad for Tom’s Trainers, who you’ve never heard of and so you click and take a look. Tom’s trainers are pretty cool. A box pops up and offers you a discount if you sign up to the mailing list, so you do. You find a pair you like and are just about buy them when your pesky boss walks past and gives you the look. You quickly pull up the spreadsheet you haven’t touched for two hours and start huffing loudly, muttering ‘this machine is so bloody slow, I can’t get anything done’. Your boss drags you off for a meeting you’ve already had three times and was pointless in the first place, and on the way he says he wants to use your laptop to show something on screen, so you frantically close all your shopping windows. Cut to a bit later in the day, the boss has ditched the office, because actually completing a whole day of work at his level would be unreasonable, so you can get back to your important shopping. This time, you know what you’re looking for, but you yet know the web address, so you search Tom’s Trainers in Google, and click an organic result. You have the trainers you want in your basket, but by this point that familiar sinking feeling has set in that you don’t actually need them, and your boyfriend has just text to tell you how much your share of the credit card bill is. Plus, if you don’t buy them, you can legitimatey get out of going to the gym because it would be dangerous to go without the appropriate footwear. So you ditch your basket and go back to surfing YouTube for cats on Roombas. Cut to Monday – you get into the office to an email from Tom’s Trainers and decide that you’ve been so good on your diet all morning that you deserve a reward. You click, you buy.

Meanwhile, in a dull office – an Email Marketing Exec is doing a little dance of self-congratulation, and is telling people that this sale is because of him.

An uninformed person will at this point go along with the idea that the email drove the sale, because it was the last click, and that’s what Google Analytics is telling them. Your CFO manages to get hold of a password to GA and looks at one page, and promptly asks you to cut your PPC budget, because it doesn’t work.

This sale would never have happened if it hadn’t been for that original PPC ad, or for any of the stages for that matter – it took a combination of PPC, then organic, then email. Take any one of those out of the equasion and the circle is broken. Sure, they might have taken a different route, but it still would more than likely have been across more than one more channel. When we used to draw the customer journey, it was a straight line – today, it looks more like scribble.

The issue with all of this is that that proving it with hard and fast numbers is difficult – and that’s normally what you need in stakeholder management. Analytics does report on it – but it’s sketchy. Many say that the only way to be sure you’re understanding the true journey that a customer took to purchase is actually to ask them, a la ‘how did you hear about us?’

As senior staff and directors get more informed about what goes on in digital they get more interested – but a lack of true understanding of this subject is particularly dangerous.

Ultimately, a combination of all of the above is needed. Look at the data. Speak to your customers. Test. Prove your point. Don’t ever, ever, ever, make huge sweeping assumptions on what works and what doesn’t by only looking at the very end of the journey. It’s like only reading the first and last chapter of a book. A lot happens in the middle.