It’s Time For the Attribution Industry To Grow Up

November 19, 2019 By Lana Busignani, EVP Analytics, Nielsen

Understanding which of your marketing tactics are driving sales and other desired business outcomes is the “million dollar question” and in some cases, the “billion dollar question.”

Whether you’re an advertiser trying to determine how to spend and allocate your dollars, an agency that’s helping to advise clients, or a publisher who wants to prove the value of your platform, you need to know if your marketing and media is positively impacting a desired objective and, if so, by how much. 

But today there are many more ways for brands to reach their customers. Longer customer journeys that have more touchpoints cause data fragmentation. The quantity of data and channels you’re tracking is exploding, and people are getting more sensitive about privacy.

It’s time for the attribution industry to mature. This will require innovation in three areas: integration, trust and comparability.

Setting the Right Budget and Media Mix

Advertisers are looking for clear answers—everyone is. In fact, over half of marketers face challenges in planning their marketing budget. But different types of data tell different stories about performance. And marketers are under pressure to make all that data tell a single story.

  • 63% of marketers agree it’s difficult to determine marketing spend allocation across tactics in a way that will drive maximum ROI.
  • 65% agree that it’s difficult to estimate the impact of possible marketing spend scenarios
  • 57% agree it’s hard to know what adjustments to make and how they will impact marketing performance when budget changes throughout the year

Solving Measurement Challenges

Many marketers have turned to multi-touch attribution to solve their measurement challenges. But this approach isn’t without its hurdles either. News headlines trumpet the death of attribution from data reconciliation issues, walled garden blind spots, the collapse of third-party tracking, challenges of identity and GDPR, painful on-boarding, and more – leaving many advertisers questioning whether multi-touch attribution worth the effort.

Other marketers rely on marketing mix modeling for insights. While we are big proponents of this approach and the strategic role it plays for informing marketing investments, we should not retreat to our “safe place” and rely on mix modeling solve the challenges of multi-touch attribution. 

Some measurement providers are happy to propose marketing mix modeling as a solution to attribution woes. But these different measurement approaches exist for a reason. Mix modeling supports strategic planning. Multi-touch attribution supports tactical, in-flight optimization. It’s the difference between understanding the impact of different channels on a quarterly basis using total sales as your KPI and understanding yesterday’s top-performing display ad size for your business using in-store sales as your key performance indicator (KPI).

Improving Marketing Efficiency Is Worth It

As a player in the multi-touch attribution space for at least five years, and one that has not only built an multi-touch attribution incrementality model for the CPG industry but acquired the largest independent first party attribution provider, we know how hard this business is and the new challenges that have presented themselves year after year.

But the impact of operationalizing marketing and optimizing tactical decision-making delivers outsized returns. There is so much waste to be eliminated and addressed—and it is so worth it. Gartner reports that companies that implement multi-touch attribution see a 20-30% improvement in efficiency.

The Attribution Industry Grows Up

For far too long, the industry has built measurement off of the bottom of the supply chain, the exhaust data of the ad delivery ecosystem: transfer log files (to trace back what happened) or cookies (to trace what final execution was) and last touch.

It’s time for attribution to mature. This will require innovation in three areas: integration, trust and comparability.

The first factor that will enable the industry to grow up is data integration. We have to move to stronger and more robust integrations between the distribution of the ad and the source of the ad, which is where publishers execute the placements. This allows us to move away from cookies and device ids, which are quite fragile, to logged in, authenticated user experiences where we truly know that an individual was exposed to an ad. 

Establishing trust is essential. Trust is foundational to relationships. Consumers are in the driver’s seat now with regard to their privacy. Standards are evolving to opt-in versus a world in which we collected data from an opt-out perspective. It is not the exception, it’s the new normal.

The Drive for Comparability

The demand for comparable metrics is also driving the industry. Comparability is increasingly important as the world and choices become more fragmented. Digital offers an amazing ability to reach consumers. However, comparability is important for advertisers and brand owners to make informed decisions across the open web and across walled gardens that hold their data privately and securely. 

Comparability is only becoming more relevant as new platforms emerge such as Tik Tok and Twitch, which provide unique and innovative ways to reach consumers. At the same time older platforms such as TV are evolving and becoming addressable. This offers new opportunities to communicate with customers and consumers.

Brand owners want comparability across vehicles for reaching consumers. They’re anxious to enable comparisons across new and traditional, digital and linear so that they can spend their next ad dollars in the smartest possible way. Networks are excited to level the playing field and be measured across the same options that brand owners have when investing in their brands.

Investing Wisely

The objective of measurement is to ensure and verify the exchange between buyers and sellers in the ad ecosystem and track that all the way through the customer journey. Our goal is to help marketers have the confidence that not only are those ads reaching real viewers, but that when they reach a viewer, they’re driving a conversion, site visit, request for info, or check out.

It’s time for the attribution industry to grow up, enabling advertisers to invest wisely and responsibly in each impression—speaking to the right customer with the right communication.

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To learn how you can be a better marketer in the digital era, download our ebook: Untangling Attribution's Web of Confusion: A Primer for Marketers

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