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Marketing attribution was always broken and shouldn't be missed

If you understand who your users or customers really are – as a person – and why they chose your product or service, you can develop successful marketing strategies without attribution.

Mari Luukkainen
Mari Luukkainen
4 min read
Marketing attribution was always broken and shouldn't be missed

Losing a large degree of marketing attribution due to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been one of the marketing community’s hottest topics lately.

Both business owners and marketers are scratching their heads about how to proceed. Plus, there is a lot of fear in the industry that companies will lose business because they can no longer track their users.

That fear is not only unnecessary, but it is also misguided to a degree. Here are the reasons why.

What is marketing attribution?

Before we go deeper into those reasons, it is worth recapping what marketing attribution actually is. As a reporting strategy, marketing attribution helps marketing and sales professionals see what impact a specific activity had on a goal like a purchase. For example, marketing attribution techniques help you see whether last week’s social media posts contributed to this week’s increase in sales.

Marketing attribution highlights the touchpoints your customers had and how they interacted with your brand on their way to buying your product or subscribing to your service.

This strategy is heavily reliant on technology and analytics tools like cookies. As more customers choose to opt out from cookie collection, marketing attribution is likely to lose its edge.

How did we do it before?

Remember the days when we went to a library to research a topic rather than asking Google or other search engines? I do.

Likewise, I remember when I started out in marketing in the second half of the 1990s. At the time, the world did not have tools like Google Analytics or sophisticated tracking facilities. Saying that we were still able to build strong businesses catering to our customers.

At the time, marketers were simply looking at the income the company generated following a specific campaign. Did we generate more income after the campaign or not? If yes, the campaign was successful. If not, it was clear that we needed to try something new. The logical next step was to continue doing more of the things that worked and less of those things that did not help the business grow.

Automation does not tell the whole story

Here is how I see it: relying on automation and “easy” attribution with the help of technology has left marketers unable to think for themselves.

Countless marketing professionals just execute their job blindly without really questioning why they are choosing a specific attribution strategy. Following the data is often the right choice, but following the data blindly rarely is.

Instead, I recommend applying common sense rather than an arsenal of tools. Think about these questions. What is the actual value of your product or service to whom? This helps you narrow down your target audience. From there, the next question is logical: where is my target audience in their customer journey? As a highly trained, professional marketer, you can figure it out. Overreliance on automated advertising and reporting has simply stopped people from thinking.

The attribution obsession

Over the past few years, figuring out attribution has become an obsession for business owners, investors, and marketers alike. Thousands of times throughout my career, I have been asked for 100% attribution. Here is the thing: this can never be delivered.

Customers are human, and people rarely make purchase decisions based on one single click on an advert. The advert may have been the last step in their customer journey, but it does not even begin to cover the entire journey. Most customers consume a mix of different media. Moreover, they are influenced by other individuals and materials. All those influences together lead them to the moment where they see your advert. And based on all the information that your prospective customers have already gathered; they click on your company’s advert. They may not even consciously see the ad.

Especially when it comes to high-value and therefore high-risk purchases, the path leading to the purchase decision is always complex. It is a combination of online and offline signals combined with an individual’s history and lifestyle. It is infinitely more intricate than cookies can measure.

The future of attribution

So, how do you understand this complex customer journey? The answer may seem a little simplistic but it works.

The best way to understand your users and their intentions is by talking to them. This is where marketers in 2020s have an advantage over those working in the late 1990s. There are plenty of channels today that allow marketers to connect to customers directly and ask their opinions.

When you do this, you will inevitably gain new insights. Try them out in your marketing or product development and wait for the result. You will either see income and profits rise – or not. The results you see will point you in the direction of the next thing to try. It really is that simple.

Business owners and marketers with great products have nothing to fear from GDPR rules and cookie consent. Talking to existing and prospective customers, and especially listening to them will give you a higher quality of insights than an automated attribution-only approach ever could.

Making better products and finetuning services based on the feedback you receive are equally important. The best marketing strategy cannot sell a product that continues to fall short as soon as customers receive it. Remember, not only do you have countless channels to reach out to customers, but they also have plenty of channels to talk about your product, positively or negatively.

If you understand who your users or customers really are – as a person – and why they chose your product or service, you can develop successful marketing strategies without attribution. The results will be perfectly clear from your cash flow. Give it a try!

Marketing

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