Multi-touch attribution, explained: An interview with Peter Bell, Marketing Director at Adobe

By Chuck Leddy

Marketers have traditionally struggled to connect their activities to revenues. As U.S. retail pioneer James Wanamaker (1832-1922) once famously said, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” We spoke with Peter Bell, Marketing Director at Adobe, about the what, why, and how of multi-touch marketing attribution. Bell spoke about this topic on March 21 at the Get Stacked conference in London.

What is multi-touch attribution?

Bell: If I could hire a marketer who has the perfect marketing campaigns, resulting in initial interest converting into measurable pipeline value in a single step, then I’d love to hire that marketer. But the reality is, no one can create a campaign that perfect. So multi-touch looks at the impact of the aggregate marketing campaigns that influenced revenue, tracking the multiple touches along the way, over a period of time, showing you what your total marketing influence was. I don’t want to discount first-touch attribution. If I’m looking at a top of funnel activity, which is fundamentally about adding new names to the database or net new leads then first touch-attribution is  a completely appropriate measure.. But where you’re looking at revenue, you’ve got to attribute value across all of your marketing activities, because no single activity will have generated that revenue.

Why is marketing attribution so important for marketers?

Bell: It gets you out of that annual conversation about “can you do more with less next year?” You’re in that conversation because you can’t prove your impact. Multi-touch attribution allows you to talk about the return on marketing investment in terms that a CFO, a sales director, a general manager is going to understand. And they don’t care about CTA, DMP,  open rates or any of that. MTA gets you credibility because you can answer, “if I invested $1 million in marketing, what did we get back?”

The C-suite are not interested in multi-touch attribution itself but what it enables marketers to talk about, which is return on marketing investment.

What’s needed to enable MTA?

Bell: You need a solution that’s going to enable you to track all marketing touch points. At the end of the day, if you’re only tracking certain activities, perhaps a subset of your digital activity, or if you’re tracking only your digital activity but not your offline activity, then you have only a partial picture. You can only show your true impact if you measure all of the marketing activity, and you’re able to bring it all together into a single model.

As for tools, we’re a bit biased at Marketo because of our acquisition of Bizible. Marketo itself, just the core platform, is very good at measuring the effectiveness of your marketing programs within Marketo. And you can import data from other digital activity or offline activity. But what it doesn’t offer is the level of flexibility that Bizible has in terms of supporting multiple attribution models for example.

What else needs to happen to implement MTA?

Bell: You’re going to have to build a model before you start. And this doesn’t mean marketing. This means the entire organization agreeing upon a financial model on which ROI will be calculated. That means first defining your objectives. Secondly, what’s your strategy? And then what are the tactical plans, the execution side which you’re going to measure the impact and contribution on? And then you can optimize along the way.

One of the fears people have when they’re building a model is that the model will be wrong. And here’s the big news: all models are wrong, otherwise they’d be the truth. It’s called a model because it’s built on assumptions, not facts. What we should do is model, measure, and then use history to guide our next campaigns so that we optimize along the way.

How should marketing teams launch MTA?

Bell: I think it depends on who you are. If I were a large enterprise, I would probably focus on doing this as a single product division, so I could understand the impact of marketing within my product division. Or if it’s a services company, that services division. Pick a small division because then you can intrinsically move faster, iterate faster, make your mistakes quicker, learn from them, and move forward. And you’re less likely to get bogged down in politics.Once you’ve gotten that experience and know-how, then you can look at the bigger divisions and then cross-company,

What capabilities are now emerging from multi-touch attribution?

Bell: We’ve been talking about multi-touch in terms of unweighted multi-touch. So for example I’ve implied that, over a 12 month period, where there has been five marketing touches, which resulted in $100,000 of revenue, each one of those would get an equal value placed on them and therefore $20,000 per touch. That’s kind of crude, better than just first touch in this example and better than nothing. But still crude.

There are multiple statistical models which are emerging which move beyond simple unweighted multi-touch. The simplest to describe is the W-touch model, which is a clear step up from unweighted, yet not getting into the realms of highly-complex custom models. What the W-touch model does is place a higher emphasis of the anonymous first touch, the lead conversion touch and the opportunity creation touch whilst not ignoring the other marketing touches.

Can you offer an example of this W-touch model?

Bell: So maybe the first touch was a keyword search, and let’s say we give 30% credit to that. There was then a Facebook ad that someone responded to, which we give 5% to. But then the person attended an in-person event, which they registered for and shared their details. At that point, there was lead conversion. Let’s give that 30%, the same as the first touch. Let’s say there was subsequently a LinkedIn post that someone responded to. No specific high value outcome there, so let’s give it 5%. And then when the lead connected with a salesperson and it was converted into an opportunity in pipeline, that’s obviously a very high value interaction. So we’ll give that 30%.

We’re placing emphasis on the initial keyword search, the attendance to an in-person event, which required the person to commit personal details, and then the connection with a salesperson. But we’re not throwing away the value of that paid media, which obviously played a role.

What else should marketers know about multi-touch attribution?

I don’t think people really understand it as a topic; or understand how important it could be to both being better marketers and optimizing towards what works, and just frankly gaining respect and credibility outside of marketing. There’s a lot of debate about why so few CMOs make it to CEO. I think it’s because they’re not talking the language of business. They’re not able to translate the activity of marketing into the language of business, and therefore they’re not able to progress to either a longer tenure as CMO or advance to the CEO role. Multi-touch attribution is a potential solution to that.

Where are you in your marketing attribution journey? We’d appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about your goals, and we can show you what we’ve helped our clients achieve in terms of more measurable business outcomes. Conveniently, we’re also a Bizible Implementation Partner, so we’ve got the martech covered, too. Contact us today!

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