Finding Meaningful Sales Attribution

Pre-internet, everyone talked about being top of mind. Ads made you top of mind with the customer, and no one knew how to attribute it to ad spend.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

Attribution is a mysterious thing. You have to figure out which something got someone to think “Hey, I need X Thing and I should buy it from Y Store.” But what was it? When you take all the factors possible into consideration it ends up feeling like the butterfly effect. You know where a butterfly flaps its wings in California and you can track it to a typhoon on the other side of the world.

The internet was supposed to be 100% trackable, but when I look at the palimpsest (your word of the day) of marketing messages a customer receives over time it’s impossible to know where the decision is made. Here are some thoughts.

Free Money

If the customer knows your brand already and is a regular customer does last touch make sense? I am a regular customer of Lands’ End and when I need a new turtleneck or fleece I’m going to start there. I’m not a fool with my money so I also check the GIANT folder of e-coupons I get from them every day. I never look at it until I need something though. I would shop at Lands’ End without the coupons because their stuff is well made. When I get the catalog I flip through to see if there is anything new or interesting. If I see something I like, I head for the e-coupons folder again. It’s free money. Does it keep me from shopping at L.L.Bean instead?

Joanne Stores sends me e-coupons as well. I have the app so when I need fabric or art supplies I check the app in-store before checking out. It’s free money. I get their printed coupons in the mail as well. They at least make me ask myself if I need anything before they give me free money, the e-coupons are just free money. If I go to the store and forget my flyer (which is about 90% of the time) the e-coupon in the app will get credit for the sale. Would the app have gotten me to the store without the flyer? Would I have asked myself if I needed anything if I hadn’t seen the flyer? Would just driving by a Joanne Store, knowing that I have the app on my phone have done the trick? Does the app keep me from going to Michael’s or Hobby Lobby? It’s a mystery.

Finding Truth

Years ago I was promoting a tent sale for a client. We did ads and send out flyers. When we asked the folks who showed up at the tent sale what motivated them to come by, the number one answer was the 8 1/2 x 11 posters and oversized arrows we had run out on the office copier and stapled to telephone poles at local intersections. Talk about attribution buzz kill. The event wasn’t important enough for most people to put on their calendars but they were happy to stop by when they saw the signs. Asking customers what made them show up saved the client a ton of money the next year. Maybe, before you start worrying about which touch matters most in a multi-touch purchase cycle, or which attribution model is most likely to be predictive for multichannel and cross channel, you should ask your customer what motivated them to go shopping with you in the first place. You may not get the answer you wanted to hear, but it could save you a ton of money next year.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher

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