Why Real-Time Attribution is a Real Change for Marketers
March 1, 2017
Note: This article, authored by Antonio Tomarchio, Cuebiq CEO & Founder, was published in MarTech Advisor in June 2016. When the first Star Wars came out in 1977, there were lines around the block waiting to see the movie. When the most recent chapter in the story hit screens in late 2015, the queues may not have been around the block, but they were outside the multiplexes. In 35 years, a lot has changed. Han Solo’s hair went gray. Luke Skywalker has begun to resemble Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. What didn’t evolve much though was the ability to discern which advertising, in particular, drove fans to the theaters. That’s finally changing in 2016. For the first time, we really have the ability to see which ads are driving consumers to take action, whether it’s purchasing a movie ticket, renting a car or buying a hamburger. This is a game changer for marketers. We can now see how advertising is working in real time, which lets us switch up ads that aren’t working and double down on ones that are. This real-time attribution is such a profound change in marketing strategy that things will never be the same. Soon, the “walk-to rate” will replace the click-through rate. What’s different: Being able to measure the effects of an ad campaign is nothing new, of course. Typically, marketers launch a campaign and then look back at certain metrics like brand lift and consideration and above all, sales, to see if it worked. The problem was, this information usually didn’t come until weeks later, when it was too late to do anything about it until the next campaign. This explains why advertisers stuck with disastrous campaigns like Quizno’s Spongemonkeys and a 2013 Hyundai ad featuring an apparent suicide that was dubbed “the worst car ad in history” far longer than they should have. Online media didn’t help much. While it was easy to track the effect of an ad’s exposure on online purchases, something like 94% of all purchases still occurred offline in 2014, according to eMarketer. If you wanted to see if the ads you ran actually drove someone to buy something, then you’d have to wait about a month to find out. That’s why the walk-to rate is a superior KPI to click-throughs. The former shows that the ad actually motivated a consumer to take an offline action that resulted in a sale. The latter merely illustrates that they clicked on an ad. The interesting thing is that often an ad will prompt a store visit even though the consumer has never clicked on it. Likewise, many people click on ads that never prompt a sale. These clicks often happen on accident – especially on mobile. What’s changed: The media environment of 2016 is much more complex than in the past. These days, consumers use as many as seven different digital devices throughout the day including laptops, tablets, smartphones and connected TVs. If marketers don’t take all of those into account, then they get an incomplete picture. This is the flaw in so-called “last touch attribution,” which puts emphasis on the very last ad the consumer interacted with. That consumer may have actually been influenced by an ad she saw three days ago on her tablet, but using last touch attribution, the marketer would incorrectly assume that a more recently seen desktop ad did the trick. To get a complete picture, you need to combine cross-device targeting capabilities with geo-behavioral data, impression heat maps, time-spent consuming ads and finally footfalls into retail locations and purchase activity. Connecting the dots isn’t easy, but it is now possible. What this means for advertisers: With true real-time attribution, advertisers can also update their campaigns in real time. If you understand which ads are actually driving more in-store visits, then you can stop wasting money on ads that don’t work. For instance, the same exact ad may perform much better with one publisher compared to another. Or the creative execution for one ad may resonate much better than another. In each case, advertisers can make changes on the fly that will improve their results, meaning the ads will drive more people to the stores. The variations are endless. An ad might resonate with a particular age group versus others, so advertisers can increase their targeting with that group. A certain time of day might prove to be more beneficial than another. In each case, hard data, delivered in real time will trump intuition. Scientific experimentation will take the place of “spray and pray.” Egos might be hurt during this process, but marketers will get better at what they do. To put it in Star Wars terms, a new, powerful force has been awakened. The good news is, this isn’t happening in a galaxy far, far away, it’s happening right here and right now, in real time.