Shifting Gears: Why Automakers are Embracing Multi-Touch Attribution

December 13, 2018 Anne Curtin

As technology has advanced, so too has the way that consumers shop for cars. Multiple visits to a series of dealerships are out. Today, the majority of consumers begin the car-shopping process online, researching options and making purchase decisions before ever stepping onto a dealer lot.

In response to this changing behavior, automakers have quickly learned that they must meet consumer demands for a digitally enhanced experience when researching and buying a car. According to Nielsen’s recent Auto Marketing Report, capturing people’s attention when they are weighing their options is critical. This takes an understanding of how different channels and touchpoints should be leveraged along the path to purchase to retain existing customers and win over new ones.

Many automotive marketers are finding that the key to success is fueled by multi-touch attribution. This advanced approach for measuring marketing effectiveness is helping them understand consumer preferences, engage customers and prospects across channels and devices, and identify the strategies and tactics that lead to improvements in key business outcomes.

Case Study: Driving Insights & Performance

It’s exciting for auto brands to see the kind of results that can be achieved when they embrace attribution. Here’s how Nielsen is helping one automaker and its agency partner refocus their efforts to optimize performance.


Like other automakers, this company recognized its customers were interacting with a growing number of digital channels along their path to purchase. In response, the automaker and its agency partner began shifting more budget into digital media, leveraging online display advertising, paid search, video, retargeting, and endemic advertising to influence potential customers and drive visits to their dealer websites. Yet accurately measuring and optimizing the performance of these digital investments remained a key challenge.


Historically, the automaker and its agency relied on last-click data collected from its ad server to understand how each channel contributed to conversions. However, this approach was ineffective for optimizing campaigns, since they weren’t able to accurately determine how different media channels and placements impacted consumer response, or where to invest budget to maximize conversions and spend efficiencies.

The automaker turned to Nielsen for a better way to track all marketing touchpoints, uncover cross-channel insights, and quickly reallocate budget to the channels and tactics that drive the most unique users and produce the most conversions.


Leveraging the speed of Nielsen’s daily multi-touch attribution solution to measure performance in near real-time and quickly activate optimization recommendations, the automaker and its agency were able to:

  • Measure What Matters Most: Previously, interactions with the automaker’s “Find a Dealer” web page were used as the primary key performance indicator (KPI). Working with Nielsen, the agency was able to consolidate multiple high-value activities, including dealer searches, inventory views, quote requests and financing applications, into a single, financially oriented KPI. They were then able to optimize media spend towards this new KPI, and more effectively evaluate the bottom-line impact of their online campaigns.
  • Calculate the True Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): Leveraging Nielsen’s daily data feeds, the agency was able to bridge ad server discrepancies quickly and easily, reconciling ad server reported costs against actual costs at the most granular level in order to calculate the automaker’s true cost per acquisition. The agency was then able to adjust media spend among channels and tactics in order to drive more unique users and conversions at a lower cost per acquisition.
  • Prove the Effectiveness of Endemic Advertising: With Nielsen’s unmatched data access, the agency was able to fractionally assign conversion credit to 100% of the automaker’s in-market media and identify the true (and unexpected) importance of certain channels. For instance, they were able to uncover the impact of endemic advertising on car-shopping sites like and, as well as display ads on bottom-funnel pages of the automaker’s site, and invest their budget in the top performing publishers and placements.
  • Capitalize on Cross-Channel Synergies: By analyzing the entire online sales funnel, Nielsen revealed insights into the true value of automaker’s mid-funnel tactics, their impact on lower-funnel activities, and the sequence of channels that would provide the best opportunity to drive conversions.
  • Make Course Corrections On The Fly: Using Nielsen’s Deploy for Envoy product to automatically send attributed metrics to programmatic media buying platforms, the agency was able to make tactical optimizations to the automaker’s in-flight campaigns at the publisher, placement and keyword level. These in-flight optimizations generated a measurable lift in conversions, and validated the accuracy of Nielsen's modeling approach and resulting metrics.


As a result of the insights provided by Nielsen’s multi-touch attribution solution, the automaker and its agency were able to implement changes to their digital advertising campaigns that produced a 9.7% increase in conversion volume, a 27% increase in conversion rate, and a 7.2% increase in media efficiency.

Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era

Buying a car is a long process that requires marketers to strike a balance between consumers’ wants and needs, and the marketing and advertising touchpoints that will have the greatest influence along the way. By unifying audience insights with multi-touch attribution, automotive marketers can gain clarity into the channels, messages and tactics that connect with consumers, encourage more dealership visits, and—most importantly—drive new car sales.

Learn More

To learn how to connect your best-performing marketing with the people who matter most, download our ebrief: Reaching the Consumers Who Matter Most: A Q&A with Forrester’s Susan Bidel

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