Blind Marketers: Attribution Should Not Drive Strategy



As marketers, business leaders, or even consumers - technology has driven change in how we operate. Across many channels, we can track large amounts of engagement, activity, and even revenue now; which means we can also mitigate output so that we are aiming for efficiency in spend and labor. The problem with this advent is that the platforms we use to track performance and ultimately ROI will likely have flaws in attribution or even lack the ability to attribute success to multiple highly successful and necessary channels. So what happens to these dark avenues if we can't relay their precise metrics to clients or executives?


As a global marketing strategist for a multi-billion dollar corporation, one of the most common mistakes I see is the same mistake I've witnessed my clients make back in my agency days. We are making critical decisions about the trajectory, messaging, and mission of our businesses based on misleading data, only the data we can track, or on our own historical data (ignoring variability and influence).


Why do companies do this? The answer is simple. They're (we are) basing their decisions on the tracking capabilities of revenue reporting systems like Salesforce. This means that - to put it simple - if it cannot be tracked, it cannot be utilized.


Companies become brands when they have reached a likability or recognizability status that enables them to say less with more, evoke emotion with imagery instead of words, and pull in (attention) rather than push out (information) to engage consumers.


By abandoning brand awareness and thought leadership for demand generation and attributed efficiency, our brands are wasting away - with the goal of becoming more efficient companies (that are then unintentionally no longer brands). Do we not think that the cheapest consumer to acquire is the one that already trusts and likes our brand? If we are merely a company of problem solvers and not a trustworthy partner with any level of cool factor, our customers will inadvertently become more expensive to acquire because we are chasing down and convincing each one that we can be trusted.

Long Term Influence Vs. Short Term Increases


Since entering the ad industry, I have always gravitated towards big picture ideas. These big ideas, also known as vibes, mantras, or even visions, are the underlying statements or toolkits from which all other marketing efforts and plans should come from. This is how a seamless and consistent experience is born, and this is what propels trust, culture, and creativity. If you're aiming to compel people to sit up, pay attention, and take action, or if you're seeking organic growth over one hit wonders, this is your brand's nirvana! Long term growth stems from big ideas underneath everything - the SEM, the SEO, the social media posting and advertising.


With the advent of digital marketing came a new era of attribution. Ratings were replaced by reviews, and impression share took on new meaning. Executives are more demanding than ever. With digital media buyers promising absolute measurability in order to gain business, we've invented a new problem - the demise of branding or awareness advertising. If a client wants instant ROI, there is an agency out there that is willing to promise just that. And if you want to see your results, you can do so in real time! That sounds great - right? Except it's not accurate or true! (Tip: Any marketer attributing revenue to their activities of the past 30 days is most likely lying to you to keep or gain your business.)




Cancel Culture , Marketing Channel Edition


With technology increasing our ability to track, it's also deceptively influencing non-marketers that we SHOULD rely on tracking in every channel we deploy. This means marketers are very often asked to (or eventually jaded enough to) pull any channels that aren't able to show direct revenue attribution from their marketing mix. Think about the social media posts that have influenced you to sign up with a company? What about the articles you've read. If those assets are not collecting form fills or if you're reading them on a dark social network (a network that hides your profile interaction for your privacy), then even when the company retargets you to attract you to a form fill page, the campaign driving results will probably be the asset. So - the marketer will cut social budget or efforts with lack of "attributed revenue" from the channel. BUT - that is the very place you formed a connection with their subject matter experts - and that is the place where their content reached you in the most receptive state.


The point is, awareness raising channels, such as video or social - like TV, have always had a vitally important role to play in assisting conversions and, therefore, growing brands and revenue. So, why do we question the value of awareness raising channels in digital?



So...What Should We As Marketers Do?


As a swimmer, I learned the value of a holistic effort. When I was first starting out, I would try to rely too heavily on my arms to pull me through the water. Even though I would tire quickly and start trailing near the last few laps, I stopped trying to correct this after I won a few races. It wasn't until I had a coach truly pressure me into reforming my stroke to focus on legs, not leave them out, that I was able to truly see how fast I could go. The first year I made it to the state championships was this year I'm referring to. Sure, I could spend more of my energy and kill myself to get in the top heat without my legs - but once I saw how much faster I could go with less effort (allowing me last longer without tiring), I can't see why anyone would ever want to work so hard for so little return.


This is how I feel about the current marketing climate. You need to reform your ad strategy to ensure your brand has legs! This will make every other effort you're launching feel as though it's part of a current that's already flowing. If you don't, you may see some big wins, but they will be hard fought, more expensive, and have a likelihood of being short lived.


Refresh your brand.


Here are a few questions to help you take inventory and progress with this challenging but simple step:

  1. Using a simple Q&A survey, what do people think of your brand versus others in your industry? Consider a direct comparison survey where users pick their favorites. How do you stack up? (Contact me now for more information on how I can help you with market research like this!)

  2. What are your colors, fonts, and creative elements that should live on, and which are holding your brand back? If you're aiming to attract higher spending customers but your font is whimsical and childish, this may be a simple tweak that can enable your marketing success.

  3. Who are your competitors now vs. who you aimed to compete with? For example, I've been in many meetings with Mazda sales teams where they continue to suggest their main competitor is BMW. However, their top competitors based on consumer trends are consistently Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and Kia. We must be honest with ourselves here!

  4. Don't just make changes, document them and notify everyone in your business what is new, what is different, and what is staying the same. Transparency and alignment are key here. If you want everyone to buy in, they have to know what they're buying into. This can be a fun step! If you're changing your colors, host a colorful extravaganza with your employees to get them excited about the new palette (while threatening to do away with the coffee machine if they use the old ones ever again - JK). Release a memo and (if you have it) share the new brand style guide so that everyone can be compliant. I mean everyone, partners, vendors, agencies, even make it available to the press on your website. If someone wants to use your logo, they'll google or steal it! Might as well give them the correct one.

Invest in Awareness


If you're going to future-proof your marketing efforts, you must start now to see dividends on your efforts before it's too late. You must also lay the groundwork for every marketer and executive in your company by setting the appropriate goals and KPIs for their respective actions and taking the time to educate your executives and coworkers on timeliness and expectations for each type of activity.


For example, if you CEO demands to know the return on your programmatic video ads, do not piece together numbers from salesforce that could be related to this effort but also may be misattributed. Explain that this is a part of the larger ad strategy that is holistically producing results for the short term, midterm, and long term goals set forth by the company. Without these top of funnel efforts, your customer acquisition costs will be higher in the long run - and you are aiming to build brand trust and loyalty with these efforts, something that demand generation tactics tend to deplete or bypass.


In 2022, stop relying on short term pay to play marketing tactics when you have no brand to stand on. If you spend the most but your brand is garbage, you're just the most expensive garbage on the internet. You can still spend to win, but do so with a compelling and attractive brand and brand story.


Here are some things to remember:


  • Deploy a marketing plan with an underlying vision or BIG IDEA that connects it all together!

  • Re-engage your customers earlier in their buying journey with a strong, branded approach.

  • Ensure you are not just capturing your customers, you're captivating them and building trust.

  • Report the right KPIs for the right actions, and present acceptable reporting timeliness to the strategies you launch, taking the time to educate your peers on the intentions and appropriate measurement of your activities.

  • Don't make decisions based on only the things you can measure. You're leaving out the most competitive advantages you could be taking due to internal capabilities. Be smarter than the numbers!