Redefining Digital Success: Beyond Last-Click Attribution

In digital, data is king. However, recent evolutions in digital marketing necessitated changes in how we measure that data, as conventional metrics can hide the bigger picture.

Traditional digital marketing has relied heavily on the last-click attribution model – attributing conversions to the final touchpoint (like clicking on an ad or initiating an organic Google search) before a purchase or sign-up. But this approach is flawed. Consider this scenario:

Jerry is in the market for a new computer and sees an ad through Facebook for a deal on an Apple Macbook from Computers Direct, an online store. He hesitates to purchase it right away because he has never heard of Computers Direct, and even with the discount, the $1,000 price tag is still a significant investment. A week goes by, and Jerry is still thinking about that Macbook. So he decides to see if Computers Direct still has the deal for the Apple MacBook, but instead of going back to Facebook to find the ad, he goes to Google and searches for the company’s website. Right on the homepage is the deal, and he purchases the computer. In this scenario, the purchase is attributed to Google Organic Search, not the original Facebook ad (due to last-click attribution models).

What’s the problem? Jerry bought the computer you were promoting! Digital marketers rely on tracking to see which activities drive conversions. In this example, the last-click attribution model would erroneously show that Facebook drove zero purchases, potentially leading to a premature decision to pause the platform, cutting off a crucial source of purchases, and limiting awareness among potential customers.

This last-click attribution approach has long faced criticism for its effectiveness in measuring digital marketing campaigns. With the impending demise of cookies and privacy changes like iOS 14’s default opt-out of tracking, the last-click attribution has become even more unreliable. It’s time for our industry to evolve, finding a balance between existing, easily measurable key performance indicators (i.e., clicks, reach, and impressions) and a more holistic assessment of marketing efforts. Furthermore, traditional digital retail marketing that optimizes return on advertising spend (ROAS) based only on measuring purchase completions attributed to the last click of an ad is not just misleading; it can actually harm a campaign’s overall success.

This got us thinking about how advertisers optimize digital campaigns. We identified three guiding principles for holistic campaign evaluation:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution to digital measurement and performance tracking. A nonprofit advocacy client might do better if you optimize for impressions and frequency to improve message retention. In contrast, a legislative campaign may need to get people to spend more time on a landing page to absorb the information.
  • Establish clear benchmarks to evaluate performance prior to launch. Allowing paid campaigns enough time to unfold before you judge whether something isn’t working, particularly during the test phase of a new campaign, will give you a better sense of performance. You can achieve this by collaborating with your clients to set benchmarks – determining acceptable expenditures and timelines – and identifying alternative success metrics. This approach ensures a more comprehensive evaluation of campaign performance, while keeping our clients’ goals front and center and, of course, spending money efficiently and effectively.
  • Consider the complete online journey our audiences take and, when possible, deliver a multi-touch approach. Action doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and it often takes our audiences seeing ads from multiple platforms before they move further down the decision-making funnel. Meaning that, without exposure across multiple platforms, you could be limiting your campaign’s potential (even if some of those platforms don’t show conversions in their ads dashboards).

The digital industry is constantly changing and growing, and there is no single solution to performance measurement. Adaptability is vital to ensure you have the right data to achieve success in your campaigns.

The Messina Group
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