eMarketer: Attribution Won’t Work Without Putting the Consumer at the Center

No marketer will argue that attributing consumers’ exposures to marketing and advertising is important, but many have realized it’s only one piece of a bigger puzzle. eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher spoke with Rolf Olsen, chief data officer at advertising agency Mindshare North America, about customer-centric approaches to attribution and how they’re benefiting businesses.

eMarketer Many companies are embracing a more holistic approach to attribution. Where do conventional attribution models fall short?
Rolf Olsen Businesses spend a lot of time looking at their core customer group and understanding what they look like. What are their immediate behaviors? What are their personal behaviors? They want to make sure they market best to those people.

But typical attribution models ignore that. They assume everyone responds in the same way, and then you get channel-specific learnings about what works. Typical models ignore the fact that you start the process by thinking about the consumer.

This is starting to come through in some digital attribution solutions. It’s a core tenet of agent-based modeling.

eMarketer What is agent-based modeling, and how does it fit with holistic attribution?
Olsen Roughly speaking, it’s segment-based modeling. It focuses on the fact that each consumer segment behaves differently, and therefore should be treated differently within the marketing ecosystem and the measurement ecosystem.

This is important because if you make assumptions in aggregate, you assume that all consumers respond to all channels in the same way. That’s not true. Each segment has some nuance.

eMarketer Can this way of thinking also extend beyond marketing and advertising?
Olsen Yes. There’s also activity around store satisfaction. Many of these things are connected. The role of marketing is often to drive people somewhere. “I want you to be aware of my brand,” or “I want you to go to my store.” Typically, these things are ignored from the attribution modeling exercise, but they’re important. If someone goes to a store and the staff is rude or the product is displayed weirdly, it will diminish your ability to convert that consumer into a sale. These metrics should be measured and addressed with the right attribution solution.
eMarketer How is this approach changing the way companies view marketing success?
Olsen Marketing is more than just ads. It’s about the experience, and that experience needs to connect with what consumers are looking for. It’s more than just talking about the value of your products and services. The experience has to be full circle.

If you believe that the success of your business is tied to ads, you’re missing the bigger picture. From time to time, we hear that marketing isn’t delivering the sales a company expected. But marketing is just a part of what goes into the marketplace.

You need to understand how everything connects with the consumer. Think about how you can create the quantitative components that go with those measures, and be able to account for them in your attribution model.

eMarketer Can you give an example of this?
Olsen You can use your attribution model to understand if increasing store satisfaction by 5 points has an impact on the bottom line. As a brand leader, you can then determine if you need to invest more in traditional marketing or the product. What’s the trade-off between the two? It’s always about striking the right balance. By not having the right measures included in your modeling, you’re ignoring the underlying values.
eMarketer How are companies dealing with these significant changes organizationally?
Olsen It varies. Some companies are more ad-driven, some are more product-driven, and there’s everything in between. But across the board, more stakeholders—like the brand owners and the distribution, pricing and finance teams, not just the marketers—are getting involved in the analysis. Attribution is a journey, not a destination. The businesses making strides are the ones that understand the consumer at heart and understand how to connect all those pieces.
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