The Silo-Ification Of Attribution

What is the value of a brand?

Why is easier for me to buy t-shirts at The Gap than elsewhere? Why, when I want to buy something online, do I go straight to Amazon -- even if it's a specialty product that I know is only offered by one of its stores, rather than Amazon itself?

The value of these brand shortcuts is tremendously difficult to measure, at least the way we've grown accustomed to measuring things: with funnels, and rapid iterations, and lean development, and direct attribution. This Google-trained world is full of linear cause and effect: a dollar here flows through to two dollars there; this silo of advertising has no effect on the customers who have come through this silo.

But we forget. The world is not linear. It is messy, and complex, and adaptive, and emergent. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

My mother's Ph.D. is in holistic nutrition. In her dissertation, she looked at the particle/wave duality of light. Historically, it was thought that things could only be a particle (elephants) or a wave (sound). But then quantum physics revealed that if you test light for particle properties, it is shown to be made of particles -- while if you test it for wave properties, it is shown to be made of waves. It is both, depending on what you are looking for.



My mother was intrigued by this idea, and extrapolated it. If light can have both particle and wave properties, she reasoned, so could nutrition. Particle nutrition is simple and familiar: it's calories, and carbohydrates, and vitamin B12. Wave nutrition is less obvious; it's the reason why there will never be a pill that can replace your mother's cooking.

She also considered complex adaptive systems: systems that have emergent properties that can't be attributed to any of the individual components of the systems. Think of a hurricane, or a stock market, or a swarm of bees. There are attributes of these systems that cannot be broken down or linearly derived. They are a function of the system itself; a result of the wave magic that happens when particles interact in unexpected or unpredictable ways.

And now think of consumer behavior, and of marketing. We could just as easily say that there is particle marketing and wave marketing. Particle marketing is Adwords and funnels. Wave marketing is brands and synergies across channels. How do you attribute the fact that a cross-channel campaign will outperform the sum of the channels' individual results?

If you are growing a global brand, you must consider the entire system. You must consider how online will enhance outdoor and how print will support broadcast. You must consider that being on the news AND in the paper AND on a blog AND in the supermarkets simultaneously will have a far greater effect than being on each of these channels separately.

Yes, you can directly measure the result of a Google campaign. And, yes, it is far harder to measure the impact of a cohesive marketing ecosystem with its own emergent properties. Yet this kind of ecosystem is exactly what you need if you're developing a global consumer brand. We need to understand how to measure the additional value from the cohesion among channels, from giving that impression of "being everywhere," from being more than a direct Google advertiser and becoming instead a trusted brand like The Gap or Amazon, and benefiting from the commensurate brand shortcuts. Ideas are made of waves, and brands are ideas. If you want to truly support your brand, remember the wave marketing.

How do you value the emergent properties of your brand? Looking forward to your comments or tweets.

2 comments about "The Silo-Ification Of Attribution".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, July 29, 2011 at 1:10 p.m.

    Without answering your question, I'd add this (because anyone who talks about complex emergent systems is speaking to my core beliefs):
    you can create rules for them, if you are willing to make them simple.
    The famous artificial life program "Boids" simulated a flock of birds more effectively than any other. And it only had three rules:

    separation: steer to avoid crowding local flockmates
    alignment: steer towards the average heading of local flockmates
    cohesion: steer to move toward the average position (center of mass) of local flockmates

    Humans have a tendency to try to make things more complex than they really are. Sometimes the answers are simple, but we tend to overlook them because they are simple.

  2. Eric Brown from Dataium, July 29, 2011 at 2:17 p.m.


    enjoyed your article especially because it speaks to the very reason we created "unbroken" attribution our technology ties all media outlets or channels together and reports on their shared audience and audience behavior as a channel or down to the individual.

    Our goal was to break through the search engine firewall and get behind it to see what created the consumers awareness and desire to search out the brand, etc.

    Nice blog and we are hard at work blowing up Silos.

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