C3 Metrics, a leader in so-called “attribution” modeling and analytics for online media, has tapped well-known TV researcher to lead the development and strategy for its move into television: John Dimling, the former CEO of Nielsen, and former head of media industry watchdog the Media Rating Council.
Dimling, who stepped down from any formal role with Nielsen in April 2008, has been working behind-the-scenes as a board member of beleaguered radio audience measurement giant Arbitron and promising neuromarketing researcher Innerscope, and he says he’s most interested in helping to develop ways of correlating media exposure to media effects, which is exactly what C3 has been focused on.
Dimling said he was a big champion of Nielsen’s and Aribtron’s ambitious but ill-fated Project Apollo joint-venture to create a “single-source” measurement system that would do that humongous database measuring the media and product usage of consumer households, and now believes attribution modeling and analysis may be the next best thing.
That’s good timing for C3, which has been trying to extend its reach beyond online media to incorporate the entire “funnel” of consumer media and marketing exposure to explain how people are influenced by brand communications to make their purchase decisions.
“As you know their whole business is full of funnel attribution analysis,” Dimling tells Online Media Daily. “The idea is that they track what led a person ultimately to an action that an advertiser is interested in. It starts with bringing a person into the funnel and leads to them doing something. The goal is to get away from crediting just the last [online] click, and to recognize that there was advertising activity beyond the last click that influenced the behavior.”
Dimling says while attribution analysis has been well developed for online media, it cannot function in a vacuum and must ultimately incorporate all of the brand communications a consumer is exposed to – both online and offline – over the entire process that leads up to their purchase decision.
For some products and brands that purchase cycle can be a very long time. For others, it can be almost immediate, Dimling says.
“The reality is, less than 300 companies are doing anything right now but last click measurement,” says Jeff Greenfield, COO of C3, asserting that while attribution analysis is gaining momentum among advertisers and agencies using online media, the “adoption has been incredibly slow” with offline media, especially television.
While C3 is far from alone in the burgeoning attribution marketplace – everyone from Visual IQ and ClearSaleing to Omniture, Turn and even DoubleClick offer some form of attribution modeling to marketers – he claims that C3 is the only one doing it with the fidelity to identify and assign credit to every step in the attribution process, from the so-called “originator” (the ad exposure that first got the consumer’s attention in the process, to the “assist” (the exposure that facilitates it) to the “converter” (the one that actually closed the deal).
Greenfield says C3 does this with a unique tracking pixel in an online ad that lets C3 know when a consumer was exposed to it, and what role it played in the process that led to the ultimate conversion. He says the goal is to extend that concept to all offline media, especially television.
He says the implications are huge for all media, but especially for the burgeoning “real-time bidding,” or RTB marketplace, where attribution analysis is being applied to real-time audience data and advertising impressions. While RTB is growing fast, it has mainly been a factor in the online display advertising marketplace where the majority of ad impressions were going unsold. But the momentum and increasing science behind the trading and data platforms, and more sophisticated analytics are leading some to believe that most, if not all media can be managed faster and more intelligently with machines. That intelligence, he Greenfield says, will be powered by people and systems utilizing better attribution analysis.
“It’s not going to be a ‘set it/forget it’ world,” Greenfield says, referring to a popular misconception about the RTB marketplace that, once a machine learns consumer behavior, it can continue to process it on its own.
That said, Greenfield says the complexity of the data that goes into attribution analysis is now too complex for individual people to process on their own, without the help of better systems. To illustrate that, it does some quick math adding up all the elements going into a typical real-time ad exposure and estimates that it could be as much as “10 million combinations.”
By assigning a value to every one of those 10 million combinations, or clicks, Greenfield says systems like C3 can do a better job of determining which ones had an effect.
“This allows buyers to take out the scatter-braining of 10 million combinations,” he says, adding, “Now we know that 500 of them are generating 90% of the results, and that is where you need to focus your attention.”