Principle of Last-Click Attribution Clouding Analysis of Marketing Effectiveness

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When marketers advise businesses on how to spend their money, they look at statistics on effectiveness in order to tell businesses which marketing channels yield sales. However, one commonly used principle may be undermining the value of those statistics — and the decisions based off of them.

The principle itself is called last-click attribution, and it’s used to describe the belief that the final interaction a customer has with a brand before taking the desired action (becoming a client, buying a product, signing up for a list, etc.) is the most effective one.

In a recent article for industry site Internet Retailer, Robert Glazer uses the analogy of a soccer goal to describe last-click attribution. The principle would award credit only to the player who actually makes a goal in a soccer match, instead of the players who stole the ball from the other team, moved it downfield, and defended it from interception.

When marketing decisions are made based on the same type of reasoning, it can lead to some serious errors in the assessment of certain marketing channels. “Last-click attribution does not account for the entirety of the marketing budget that included brand building, email campaigns, and any number of other interactions with prospective customers,” Russell Ratshin explained in a Feb. 12 Forbes article.

The same problem presents itself when print marketing is thrown into the mix.

For example, a person might see an advertising banner or receive a direct mailer but search the company’s website online before making a purchase. Last-click attribution would give the credit for the resulting sale to search engine marketing, artificially inflating the importance of that method while discounting all the branding and marketing work done through other channels up to that point.

Print advertising is an important part of company’s branding, but the direct results can be difficult to measure,” said Adam Sturm, president of Apple Visual Graphics. “We recommend that any print campaign have clear goals and an easy way to measure the results. For example, if you’re company is doing a direct mail campaign we would like to see a code on the mailer that the customer would use to get a discount upon checkout.”
Multi-Channel Attribution Methods
The growing solution to the obvious flaws of last-click attribution is a system called multi-channel attribution.

In this strategy, marketers track not only the interactions that lead to sales, but instead map all the interactions each customer has had with a brand. As Ratshin explains, multi-channel methods use analyses to track sequences of many actions in order to establish a fuller idea of the relationship between a consumer and a business.

There are, of course, channels that are difficult to account for in this model. If someone sees a Nikon product placement in a film and then buys a Nikon online, the first part of that interaction will probably be missed. But the overall picture is still more nuanced than one that would be produced by a last-click analysis.

Marketers intimidated by the more in-depth process probably aren’t alone. But there’s no way around it if marketing data is to better reflect the way various channels actually impact outcomes. “If that sounds complex,” Ratshin sums up, “well, so is life.”

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