The following is an excerpt taken from Sergio Maldonado’s post originally published on chiefmartech.com. This post will be the first in a series explaining why Attribution is Impossible and sharing alternatives that can lead to greater results.
I have seen the Emperor walking naked for too long, and I wish I could be that naive kid in the crowd. I do not believe in marketing “attribution”. Beyond the combined power of algorithms, data, software and professional know-how, the concept is — at its foundation — flawed.
Here’s an attempt at explaining my standpoint, although it’s worth noting that more scientific avenues have already been explored with similar conclusions.
It all started with a beautiful idea. Cross-channel attribution (or “multi-touch attribution”) became a popular concept at the time when web analytics had just completed its journey from IT to the marketing department (circa 2008).
What was it about? Essentially, our ability to assign a specific value to each touchpoint or event— often a paid ad view or click — contributing to a final business outcome or conversion. This would allow us to stop giving undeserved credit to the last or first campaign or touchpoint logged in the chosen system of record.
Increasingly more sophisticated techniques for the integration of owned, paid, and earned media touchpoints within first-party analytics environments have subsequently increased our capabilities, eventually spinning off a software category of its own.
What is not to like about the whole concept? It embodies everything marketers ever wanted to get out of data!
The cross-departmental synergies it creates cannot be ignored either, starting with a translation of marketing outcomes/touchpoints/reach into dollars — a long dreamed bridge between the CMO and CFO camps — and continuing with an engineer-friendly understanding of the marketing process, which is music to the ears of CIOs and marketing technologists. Plus CMOs can now be held accountable, making CEOs happy. In other words, killer fuel for company politics.
But there is of course an ultimate promise: a mastery of the formula results in consistently getting more money out of it than the amount originally invested. Which is truly unbeatable.
Why question it, then?
Well, attribution — even when solely focused on digital channels — places a very tall order on prerequisites:
Okay, this was somewhat vague and abstract — highly relevant picture of the lizard trying to understand the lizard brain aside — but the ground is now paved for a more straight-forward explanation.
So here’s a second try. Attribution will not happen because:
Sure, I will have to explain myself much better on this latter point:
“But what about new models combining deterministic information (truly integrated at granular level) with probabilistic data? Have we not overcome technical and legal constraints with smart algorithms?”
For starters, even though I proposed this myself as a solution at the time, probabilistic models are now facing the same legal challenge: the EU’s GDPR will label this non-PII data as “pseudonymous” (rather than anonymous) if it can be used for profiling purposes, and the collection or processing of such data will be subject to the very same limitations/burdens as of May 2018. And this month’s ruling on IP addresses by the European Court of Justice will ensure that the very concept of PII as a threshold for compliance becomes a thing of the past well before that.
Secondly, does it really matter that you put together the best sounding algorithms and weight distribution alternatives when all you ponder are touchpoints within your sphere of control? The core limitations have not changed one bit, and yet we place our faith on the more sophisticated blend. Do we simply want to believe in magic?
Now, as convinced as I am that attribution does not work in itself, I can surely appreciate that attribution efforts (i.e., investments in the pursuit of such nirvana) do in fact produce positive and tangible results.
We’ve now established that Attribution is impossible. Please look out for part 2 of this series which will assert that reporting on ROI is a much more legitimate pursuit.
Not Another Dashboard.