For years, the so-called holy grail of marketing has been attribution. Despite the massive reach and precise targeting inherent in our digital advertising tools, the idea of measuring the precise impact on sales both immediate and future of each marketing message has remained elusive. Solutions have been persistently tricky. That is starting to change fast, though.
To have perfect attribution of marketing messages, we need three things:
- Engagement Tracking. For each individual, we need to know which ads they saw, along with any other interactions with a brand (e.g., speaking with your call center, or visiting a store). As all ads become digital, this gets ever closer.
- Purchase Identification. All purchases including in store purchases must be linked to an individual. Ideally, that means they should either be linked to a person’s email address (or other form of ID) or digital transactions, such as using a mobile phone wallet. However, these days they can also be linked, e.g., by associating a credit card with an individual. As our society becomes cashless, this gets ever closer.
- Attribution Analytics. Clearly, No. 1 and 2 above will churn out a LOT of data, so making sense of it requires advanced analytics.
With the widespread availability, led by social media, of precision-targeted marketing engagement, we’re finally reaching a critical mass where audience, technology and advertisers are reaching a new frontier together. True attribution is closer at hand, and it will be transformational.
There’s no shortage of think pieces and case studies about the power and profitability of social media advertising. I don’t need to spend time convincing anyone of that. In fact, I’ve built my business on this premise. But, given the hand-wringing that goes on throughout the industry about attribution, it seems as if there are still people on the fence about where and how marketers can make the true connection between advertising to an audience and that audience’s activity.
Whether it’s via Facebook (1 billion daily users worldwide), Twitter (where paid media converts 3 times over organic), or Snapchat (with access to over 90 million locations for geofiltered campaigns, down to the store level), social media, as an aggregate advertising platform, already offers the ability to connect with micro segments of consumers, based on a precise understanding of their past purchases, media consumption habits, purchase preferences (e.g., online vs in store), price sensitivity, location and more.
Couple this with the permanent presence of mobile handsets in the hands of consumers 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone and 77 percent have a smart handset and now we know more about who and where consumers are and what they are buying than we ever have. All these elements combined put us at a tipping point for a nearly hand-in-hand relationship with audiences, from first touch pointto purchase, even at the in-store level.
Beyond the adoption of social media and mobile technology, what’s helped bring us to this point are the advances in programmatic advertising. Automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligencetechnology, are helping marketers get the right ad in front of the right customer with more effective targeting in more effective placements. That traditionally uncredited middle ground in the customer funnel display advertising, in particular can now more precisely connect the advertiser to the customer and stick with them through the rest of the customer journey, to purchase and beyond. Software solutions, such as persistent IDs, help solidify the relationship even more.
When it comes to truly understanding the customer journey through digital advertising, it’s an open field. Mobile and social media specifically are helping drive $1.5 trillion in in-store sales. There’s still work to be done to make attribution seamless. There is no universal technology or data set among the few big platforms. There are always data privacy concerns to be mindful of. Relying on the very social media platforms you spend advertising dollars on to report data back to you (aka Facebook’s errors in calculating Insights and Live video metrics) poses another set of pitfalls as well.
But with a vibrant and nimble landscape of ad tech service providers to help connect the dots, advertisers have no shortage of solutions to tie everything together. The critical mass I’ve described means there’s no going back. Companies that don’t master this new approach and stick to mass marketing will wither and die.