Digital Media Attribution is Mostly Wrong because… People Google Stuff

I’m sorry, and please don’t shoot the messenger, but you have been misled. The numbers do lie. You were told that they had it all figured out and they could track everything. It is hard to look away from the screen because the numbers are right there, in black and white, from a world-leading brand in data (I’m not going to name names here and get sued, especially given our massive audience).

And yet…

It’s wrong. You may be changing up your plan tactics and watching numbers change. You want to tell yourself, when your numbers improve, it is because of the optimizations. And when it goes down – shrug – maybe there was some outside factor at play.

The reality is that marketing numbers don’t tell the whole story. It is why we love this business and why it is simultaneously so confounding. It is science and art. It is a field of communication and influence that involves people. People are messy and emotional, nuanced and wonderful animals. People do what they want, not what we want. We are giving them some ideas and options. We are trying to smooth a path between them and a product or service that will enhance their lives.

You’ve had a feeling this was the case, maybe an intuition, like the feeling I had as a child at the amusement park just before I realized the steering wheel on the car wasn’t directing the vehicle, that I wasn’t in control. 

Why is this? In three words, People Google Stuff. They do that a lot (3.5B times per day). People really like getting information. When we put messages in front of them, they like to search, whether it’s for information on the category, reviews on the brand, a better price, or for a blog about how this product/service enhanced someone’s life. And at times, they are just too busy in that moment and will come back later.

They don’t like to click on our ads all that much (about 6 clicks per one thousand ads). And different platforms are more clickable than others. More nuance. This is why referral source and UTM tracking optimization are best used with care.

People (complicated animals) are viewing thousands of messages per day, ignoring most (yet they slip into their brains), searching for some, clicking on very few, having discussions at the water cooler, and on and on it goes. When they dare veer around the message that you put in front of them, the machines lose track of their journey, and POOF! the numbers become less magically accurate and usable. The ad that impacted them didn’t catch them in time to track them or they’re on a cookieless browser or you now have duplicate attribution which tells you the organic traffic or paid search caused the conversion.

People Google Stuff.

Sorry, but now that you know the truth, it actually gets more fun from here on out. You can start looking at the art of our field again. You can ask daring questions, like, “What are the numbers not showing us” and “What else can we test that would drive incremental revenue?

You’re welcome. 😊

For many of us at Blue Onion Media, it has been a wonderful opportunity and change of pace to leave the big-agency, big-advertiser world and support small and mid-sized organizations to increase their media ROI. We have found so many more provable tests because we manage most or all of our partners media channels.

In a recent case, a client-partner was using attribution-driven “acquisition” marketing. We were tasked with building a strategic media plan to increase awareness that would supplement the “acquisition” tactics. As fate would have it (hello natural testing environment!) the acquisition campaign was paused right as our awareness campaign began, which created a rare and beautiful, natural test/control environment.

The result: We gained 50% more qualified leads (a 15:1 ROI) based on 33% fewer attributed leads.
Every business we have ever engaged with would prefer having 50% more paying customers than more lead numbers on a page. You can read the full case here.

You don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself. Give us a call and let’s talk about your goals. We do not have to throw out all metrics and we acknowledge that you may need them for internal reporting purposes. In addition to the numbers, we also focus on incremental revenue growth and provable tests, which is where the magic lives.

Here are some questions to ask to get started:

  • What attribution model (including look-back window) are we using? Why?
  • How many platforms with individual tracking do we have (i.e. Facebook attribution duplicates Google Search Ads and duplicates Digital display, etc.)?
  • How much are we investing in Search Brand terms? What would happen if we paused Brand terms for several weeks to test incrementality?
  • What non-Digital media have we tested in a test/control environment?
  • What can be done to enhance measurement/reporting of sales/revenue and any other important KPI?