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Almost two-thirds of company marketers carry out some form of attribution on at least some of their campaigns and then analyze the results, new research [download page] from AdRoll and Econsultancy has found. Marketers are carrying out their marketing attribution efforts primarily in order to optimize the media mix, and they consider the biggest benefit of attribution to be a better allocation of budgets across channels.

However, there are mixed signals about the effects of attribution on digital channel spending.

When company marketers were asked about the impact of attribution on their spending, 32% said that it resulted in increased spending across some or all digital channels. However, that was matched – and slightly exceeded – by the 36% who said that it has led to a decrease in spending on some or all channels.

The remaining third said it hasn’t had an impact.

Search and Social Benefit the Most

A closer investigation of spending allocations due to attribution reveals similarly mixed signals.

On the one hand, display advertising (41%), paid search (38%) and content marketing (34%) appear to the biggest beneficiaries of attribution. More than one-third of marketers said they’ve increased their spending in these areas as a result of attribution.

On the other hand, both content marketing (39%) and display advertising (37%) also top the list of channels most likely to have seen a decrease in spending as a result of attribution.

Paid search fares better in this regard, with only 15% having cut their budgets due to attribution.

In fact, both SEO and paid search seem to benefit the most from attribution, in that considerably more respondents have increased than decreased their spending on search marketing due to attribution. Social media marketing and advertising have also largely benefited in that way.

The opposite is true for affiliate marketing, which attribution seems to hurt more than help.

Last-Click Attribution Still Most Common

Somewhat surprisingly, in-house marketers responding to the survey still use last-click attribution (44%) more than any other method, though first-click (39%) is close behind.

Last-click attribution has been the most common method of attribution for several years now, even though marketers have long recognized that it’s the least effective. Indeed, this latest study shows that last-click and last-touch are considered the least effective methods. Custom methods – used by fewer than one-third – are perceived to be the most effective.

What’s interesting to see in this study is that social marketing and advertising are benefiting from the application of attribution, despite last-click still being the most popular.

That’s because past analyses have shown that social media’s role in the purchase path is undervalued by the last-click attribution model. This suggests that over time social media is transitioning to playing a role further down the funnel as opposed to just in awareness.

Room for Growth

Recent research shows that only around 40% of analytics data is considered useful for decision-making. Unfortunately, this study surfaces a similar problem: 7 in 10 company marketers surveyed agreed that they don’t action the insights they get from attribution – and that’s an increase from 57% surveyed last year.

The report’s authors suggest that this may be due to the ever-growing abundance of data and touchpoints with which marketers have to contend. In fact, the complexity of the data emerges as one of the key barriers to using attribution more effectively. That’s as much of a hindrance as a business culture where analytics is not prioritized.

There could be some improvement in technology’s contribution, too: 69% at least somewhat agree that their technology facilitates effective attribution models, but that’s down slightly from last year’s 73%.

Moreover, just 26% – down from 36% last year – rate their attribution system as being very flexible, in that they’re able to easily apply multiple models to their data. This may explain the reliance on less sophisticated models.

It’s worth noting that company marketers from North America seem to be more advanced than others in their use of attribution. Not only are they far more likely to be carrying out attribution modeling on the majority of their campaigns, but they’re also about twice as likely as others to say that their attribution system is very flexible.

While the biggest challenge for marketers with attribution is defining the online customer journey, marketers could also benefit from a more analytics-driven culture. Indeed, the creation of a culture of measurement and accuracy stands as the biggest gap for company respondents.

We’ll see next year if there’s been any improvement in that area…

The full report – including more data and recommendations – can be downloaded here.

About the Data: The report is based on a survey of 987 in-house marketing professionals (74%) and supply-side respondents (26%) from B2B- and B2C-focused companies. The majority of respondents are based in Europe (53%), with 22% in Asia-Pacific and 22% in North America.

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