Marketing attribution: The next metric

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Measuring ROI in today's multichannel marketing landscape has been a persistent thorn in marketers' sides. When a team of 15 people makes dozens of marketing “touches” across a number of marketing tools for a potential customer, how do you determine which touch should get the ROI credit for the sale? And what about the ones you never saw, like when a CTO accessed your content from her tablet computer and never left any trace of her presence? For a long time, according to Ruth P. Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy, b-to-b marketers have settled on a simple solution to this problem: giving total ROI credit to the first marketing material the prospective customer touched, no matter what else happened on the way to the sale. But those days might be past. Today, marketers are working on more responsive, nuanced ROI models. Call them “proxy metrics” or “marketing attribution,” the idea is the same—it's about changing the way marketers think about ROI. Rob Cataford, VP-customer intelligence at BusinessOnline, gave a talk at SES San Francisco last month outlining a possible future with a new kind of ROI. “A lot of people optimize their marketing campaigns on one metric, which is leads generated,” Cataford told StraightLine. “But we're saying that leads aren't good enough; we're saying you should develop a set of metrics based on the intent of the campaign. We're doing analysis around opportunity, not around individuals.” The difference between these approaches is profound. Instead of tracking individuals and their lead-generation activity, Cataford said that many elements of a marketing campaign aren't even designed to directly generate leads, so it's useless to track them. Social media, for example, is a “nurturing” activity. Social media is rarely how a customer is introduced to your product, but it's not uncommon for prospective customers to take to Twitter, your Facebook page or even a blog to get more information. The result is a bunch of activity sandwiched between the initiating contact—perhaps a white paper download or trade show appearance—and the final activity, such as filling out a contact request form. This activity has value, even if it doesn't directly generate a lead. “So we've created different sets of metrics, like awareness metrics, nurturing metrics and action metrics,” he said. “Then we'll look at all of those with a single campaign and we can compare them each other. We might use unique visitors or time on site.” One of the drawbacks to this kind of measurement, however, is the work required in the front end to develop the different kinds of metrics and weigh them appropriately. “Buying is a process,” eMarketing Strategy's Stevens said. “So you have to dig into it. Where do you give the credit for the eventual action? The banner ad they clicked on, the invitation to a webinar or the tradeshow contact?” Unfortunately for now, there still isn't an easy answer, but Cataford is sure of one thing: “This is better than just tracking leads.”
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