It’s in the Data: Making Attribution’s Future Less Hazy

The (increasing) number of devices, channels, platforms and solution vendors complicates attribution’s future every day. Aside from this labyrinth, attribution’s fate is implicated in how these technologies use data and speak to each other. Marketers have made it clear that attribution’s evolution must keep pace with the industry in order to continually justify investments across our complex ecosystem.

This was the topic of a recent eMarketer report, Cracking Cross-Device Attribution in 2016, in which Analyst Lauren Fischer sat down with TruSignal Vice President of Marketing Pete LaFond, and other industry leaders, to discuss issues of data-driven analysis, media mix models and more.

While the evolution of attribution and how quickly it will occur is controversial—and even cringe-worthy—for marketers, there are steps that can help prepare for a faster, more seamless evolution. These steps are founded on measurement of actual sales, transparency, and a focus on people-based strategies.

The Signals that Lead Us


Learn how data also helps you be a better cross-device marketer.

Marketers have increased campaign sophistication over the past decade by using data to differentiate their campaigns. Platforms also used data as an opportunity to create competitive advantages. For example, Facebook uses proprietary user data to build advertising solutions. However, these solutions can only be used—and measured—within the confines of Facebook. The future of holistic attribution requires transparency across the ecosystem so that data, audiences and measurement solutions are portable across channels, devices and platforms.

Whether you target on Facebook or elsewhere, the quality of targeting data also impacts the accuracy of campaign performance data. Online behavioral data, which is critical to direct response and retargeting campaigns, can pose quality issues. When used in isolation, online signals are often a culprit of advertising fraud. These signals, based on anonymous cookies, don’t connect to enough data points for marketers to even recognize them as humans, let alone discern the value of those impressions to a campaign.

Marketers need more transparency and people-based strategies. Rather than relying solely on online data signals, marketers need to pivot to more people-based marketing strategies. People-based marketing relies on verified offline consumer profiles in order to target real people across platforms, devices and channels. This strategy can help solve for three prevalent attribution issues:

  1. Tracking campaign exposure at the individual consumer level helps you to see conversions that occur on Facebook, Twitter, mobile devices, desktops and more. This cross-channel and cross-device transparency reduces the barriers that walled gardens present.
  2. You can also track online and offline sales. Many multi-touch attribution solutions miss conversions that occur offline—which can account for up to 90% of sales. Using offline consumer profile data helps marketers close the loop on tracking online and offline sales.
  3. Using offline profile data in conjunction with online data allows you to target real people online, which helps reduce your susceptibility to bot fraud.

Moving Forward

Data and people-based strategies can also help marketers understand how to plan their future campaigns. In eMarketer’s attribution report, LaFond notes that understanding the future performance of a campaign is just as important as looking at it’s past performance.

“This is an art and a science … and the attribution aspect is purely looking in the rearview mirror,” he said. “It’s a historical look, and it’s really a guess at what’s influencing the customer. And so I think smart marketers are taking [all] this with a grain of salt. They are not 100% dependent on what the data is telling them about where to invest.”

Excerpt from Cracking Cross-Device Attribution in 2016

While rearview attribution models are important, notes LaFond, marketers are also using historical sales data to build forward-looking predictive models that help them understand who to invest in, regardless of past channel performance.

By combining first-party customer data and third-party consumer profile data, marketers can find consumers who look like existing customers and, based on predictive modeling, are likely to become customers in the future. Using offline, first- and third-party data, in conjunction with people-based strategies, marketers can even use predictive modeling to estimate the value of those consumers who are likely to convert. Online data and segments have limited—if any—ability to differentiate consumer value at such a granular level.

In order to prepare for a future where multitouch attribution is possible, marketers must start with a known consumer to understand how campaigns perform across the ecosystem, and how that drives offline and online sales. But even as marketers accept the daunting task of improving attribution, we should never rely solely on past performance data as we plan our future campaigns. Marketers must make data-driven decisions about future acquisition in order to drive business growth and create a comprehensive marketing strategy that begets a holistic attribution approach.

Learn more about how data and people-based marketing are critical to cross-device targeting in this Q & A with Adotas and Pete LaFond.


Esther Farrell

About Esther Farrell

As senior marketing manager, Esther coordinates implementation of marketing initiatives, including content, thought leadership and social media strategy.
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