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See What Attribution Can't See

6 minute read
See What Attribution Can't See

Understanding how to connect with your buyers has always been one of the most important marketing puzzles. Over the years, marketers have used many tools to better understand this, and attribution has been one of the most popular ones.

As useful as it is, attribution software was never meant to be a silver bullet for answering all marketing questions. While it can show us which tactics are driving conversions, attribution isn't enough for answering broader marketing questions that are essential for setting a strategy. In this blog post, we'll explore the limits of attribution and the questions it can't answer, and why relying solely on attribution can mislead you.

The Problems with Attribution

1. Over-indexes on direct-response touchpoints and tactics.

Have you ever wondered why attribution is measured by direct-response touchpoints like clicks? These touchpoints are the easiest to track and are biased toward prospects at the bottom of the funnel who are researching and ready to buy.

However, attribution doesn’t tell you about the impact of other top and mid-funnel marketing efforts that influenced a buyer’s decision earlier in the customer journey. For example, seeing your billboard ads, hearing about your brand through industry media mentions, consuming your content on social media, and more.

This is frustrating to marketing teams but not surprising. Ad platforms like Google have a vested interest in proving that their channels caused a conversion so you allocate more of your budget to them. This leads you to believe that these direct-response touchpoints (e.g., prospects clicking on your Google Ad after typing in your brand name on Google Search) caused the conversion even though your upper-funnel efforts got prospects in a buying-ready state to begin with.

"Channels with “provable” ROI are almost always claiming credit for channels whose attribution can’t be shown. Branded search in Google, affiliate links, unbranded search, performance ads, and paid social contribute, too. Marketers who shut down those “provable” channels often see an attribution shift, but no loss in conversions." - Rand Fishkin, CEO of SparkToro

2. Helps you achieve your personal best, but not become the best.

Attribution shows which trackable tactics are working, which ones you should squeeze more out of, and how to outdo yourself. But it lacks the broader category and competitive context needed to achieve the best marketing results in your category, not just the best results relative to your previous performance. Attribution looks at your performance in isolation, and it focuses on specific touchpoints and channels, all of which create a narrow view of your marketing performance.

Consider an example of a vendor that sells a SaaS product. This vendor uses attribution to track their efforts and they learn that Facebook ads are driving most of their conversions. With this information in mind, the vendor decides to double their budget on Facebook ads and optimize their targeting and creative to get better results. While the vendor is now performing better on Facebook ads, at the end of the day, this is only a single channel. This doesn't mean they're outperforming your competitors, or that they're on track to winning the category. It just means they're doing better on one channel that they can see with attribution — but they don't see how their performance compares to competitors on other channels, the opportunities to improve overall performance, and what leading competitors are doing to engage their audiences. These are strategic questions, ones that attribution isn't made to answer.

3. Shows a narrow view of your marketing.

The previous points we covered about attribution all have a common pattern: very narrow marketing visibility. When it comes to strategy, a narrow view is a weakness. By only looking at a fraction of your marketing efforts and results, you're missing out on the bigger picture and may be unaware of critical opportunities for growth. A successful marketing strategy requires a holistic approach that considers all channels and tactics being used, as well as competitors, positioning, cadence, brand reputation and health, messaging, full-funnel visibility, and more. Only by taking this complete view can you identify areas for improvement, discover new channels to explore, and make strategic decisions that will have a significant impact on your marketing results and business outcomes.

But if complete marketing visibility is crucial for strategy, which questions should this visibility answer?

The Essential Questions For Setting Strategy

1. Which actions will have the most impact?

The power of an effective strategy isn't in doing everything, it's doing things that have the most impact. Seeing the complete picture of your marketing relative to competitors, benchmarks, and business outcomes makes it easy to know what will have the most impact, and therefore what to build your strategy around.

2. Have our competitors found a better way?

Understanding the context of your competitors' marketing helps you know what works for others in your category, as well as find what's needed not just to achieve your personal best, but to surpass your competitors and become the leading brand.

3. What are the right goals for our category?

While great marketing strategies often set ambitious goals, it's important to remember that even the loftiest goals have limits. A complete view of your marketing relative to competitors and category benchmarks helps you better understand which goals are realistic, and which goals you should prioritize to maximize the impact of your strategy.

4. Is our upper funnel driving revenue?

Marketing leaders need to know how their full-funnel marketing efforts drive revenue, not just the bottom-funnel ones attribution sees. This allows marketing leaders to make informed and more impactful marketing decisions about where and how to allocate their resources.

5. Are we growing our brand awareness, reputation, and interest?

Setting the winning strategy means creating an impact that often goes well beyond attribution's tactical realm of clicks and conversions. Brand health metrics like awareness, reputation, and interest matter for long-term success as they can lead to increased customer loyalty, word-of-mouth advocacy, higher close rates, and ultimately, more revenue over time.

6. How does one channel affect the others?

A holistic view of your marketing across all channels helps you understand how different channels support one another, helping you make an informed decision on which channels to invest in, and how to combine channels in the most impactful way.

7. Is our positioning and messaging resonating?

Understanding which messages resonate best with your target buyers (and whether your current messages do) allows you to strategically shape your positioning, messages, and all your marketing materials in a way that makes your target buyers perceive you as the perfect choice for them. This perception, in turn, makes all your marketing efforts more effective.

Answering these questions is crucial for strategy, but how can you answer them? We have built the solution.

Set Your Perfect Strategy With BrandOps

BrandOps is a platform specifically geared toward answering these broad and essential marketing strategy questions. The platform does it by consolidating data that used to be fragmented across various marketing tools (like web analytics, social listening, media monitoring, and more) into a single, unified view. It captures a wide range of signals, even brand health metrics like awareness, interest, and reputation, from all channels and funnel stages, relative to competitors, benchmarks, and leading brands, all within one platform. Unlike attribution, BrandOps doesn't just consider your tactics, conversions, and direct-response touchpoints. It considers everything. BrandOps is the most complete, holistic view of your marketing needed to set the winning strategy.

BrandOps is the most comprehensive platform for strategy,

As with any great platform for strategy, BrandOps has strong collaboration capabilities. It's meant to be used by everyone on the marketing team, not just for marketing leaders to monitor their teams' performance. Any marketer can access the platform to get insights, share data and reports across teams, and collaborate on marketing OKRs. Though BrandOps is essential for every marketer, some roles benefit in unique and more impactful ways. Here are some standouts.

BrandOps offers essential insights for every role.

And the best part? BrandOps uses correlation analysis to discover how all your marketing activities, results, and metrics affect business outcomes, so you always know what will have the most impact. You don't even have to spend too much analyzing all this data yourself. The platform uses AI that makes sense of all this data, which then automatically pinpoints your biggest areas for improvement across the entire funnel. With areas for improvement clearly laid out, you can then use them to focus your teams on what matters most and set smart goals. We call this Full-Funnel Listening.

Full-Funnel Listening gives marketers another advantage over attribution: the ability to see how top and mid-funnel activities and results affect revenue. Attribution will never know the impact of a podcast mention, a viral social media post, or your name on a billboard — but BrandOps will. We call this concept "Marketing Contribution", and we believe it should be used in tandem with Marketing Attribution which more accurately measures the impact of direct-response touchpoints and marketing near the bottom of the funnel.

The revenue impact of top-Funnel and mid-funnel marketing that was traditionally labeled as "intangible" and "hard to measure" (including but not limited to a strong reputation on review sites or media mentions) is handled by BrandOps correlation analysis (Marketing Contribution), whereas bottom-funnel, demand-capture activities (including but not limited to search ads and emails) should be measured by Attribution. Combining Contribution and Attribution creates a holistic, full-funnel view of how marketing drives business outcomes.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. While the idea of trusting your gut sounds good in theory, it's not something finance will easily buy into. You need evidence to inform and support major marketing strategy decisions. BrandOps provides the evidence.

Measure Contribution AND Atrribution!


Ready to start seeing what attribution can't?

Marketing attribution is great for tactics, but it's not enough for the big-picture marketing leaders who set strategies. Attribution over-indexes on direct-response touchpoints, can't measure how demand was created at the upper funnel stages, and sees marketing through a very narrow lens. To find your best marketing strategy and achieve amazing results, a complete view of your marketing relative to competitors, benchmarks, and business outcomes is needed. Luckily, a solution exists in BrandOps. Although no tool is perfect, BrandOps is a superior choice for strategy. At a certain point, relying solely on attribution can lead your teams astray. For a more balanced approach, we recommend combining BrandOps' Marketing Contribution with attribution to get the most accurate view of
how marketing drives business outcomes.

What Makes BrandOps a Superior Tool for Marketing Strategy

If you'd like to see BrandOps in action, click here to schedule a live demo.
And if you'd like to learn more about how BrandOps answers essential strategy questions, click here to visit our website.


Want to learn more?

BrandOps CCO Alex Rosen presents an on-demand webinar, "See What Attribution Can't See". In this 16-minute webinar, you'll learn more about why and where attribution fails, what marketing leaders need to improve strategy, and how you can unlock complete marketing visibility with BrandOps. Watch the webinar now.

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