Is Channel Attribution Like A Snipe Hunt?

I recently received an inquiry from a client who wanted to know if push notifications from apps might be cannibalizing his company’s email program engagement. It’s a question that continues to be asked as more and more communication channels are added to the marketer’s quiver, begging the question, is channel attribution like a “snipe hunt”?

For those unfamiliar with the term, a snipe hunt is defined as, “a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task.  It is a specific type of ‘wild-goose chase,’ where a person embarks on an impossible search. Where a wild-goose chase may be accidental, a snipe hunt is always initiated by a second person, as a prank.”

Back in the day, when I first started in direct marketing, attribution wasn’t all that complicated. Marketers were either doing some type of mass marketing (radio, television, magazine, newspaper, billboards, POS) or direct marketing (personal selling, telemarketing, direct mail). While trying to determine the proper mix did require some planning, the ability to identify the incremental lift associated with adding a new channel was completely accomplishable. Back then (geez, I sound like my grandfather), impressions were an important measurement of marketing and advertising success. Understanding how many times someone was exposed to your brand was part of the equation of driving success. Today, things are very different – and they continue to evolve on a daily basis.



Challenge #1: Which Channels?

The first attribution challenge the modern marketer faces is how to leverage the number of channels available today. The opportunities aroud social marketing, text, in-app advertising, display ads and push-app notifications, just to name a few, continue to grow and evolve. Many marketers, anxious to try them out, jump in feet-first without really determining how success will be measured. As a result, while many of these early efforts can be chalked up to learning experiences, they don’t provide much in the way of actionable intelligence.

Challenge #2: Silos and Budget

The next challenge is a double whammy: organizational silos and battles over budget. Again, back when there was one marketing department and a single budget allocated across multiple channels, everyone worked toward shared goals and objectives. Today, many companies have silos within their marketing departments.

In fact, some marketing-related functions don’t even sit within the marketing department at all these days. There are email teams, social teams, web teams, e-commerce teams, etc., all of which have a direct impact on the marketing department. All are fighting for their own budgets -- and, quite frankly, many are not playing together very nicely.

For many of these departments, attribution has become a competition, if not an outright game. I once heard a brand, known to be a “last-click attribution house,” admit to limiting the amount of content placed in a confirmation email to force users to click from the email to the site, thus inflating attribution to the email channel. Truly defining and quantifying channel attribution in these kinds of companies could cause an internal uproar.

Challenge #3: Patience, Grasshopper

While there are a series of other challenges, the other big one from my perspective, is patience. Marketers are just not that patient today --everything needs to happen right now. But attribution measurement requires everyone, from all sides and all channels, to hit the pause button for a minute. Teams should come together and really talk through the plan, determining how they are going to slice and dice the list for channel alignment and answering   the question “What incremental lift is realized when I add XYZ channel to the marketing mix?”

As part of this process, you might determine that some customers should be suppressed from experiences (not shown a display ad, not sent a push notification, not sent an email….gasp!) for a while. And c’mon, who has the time for that?

While looking up definitions of snipe hunting, I found one at Wikipedia that I’ll leave you with today: “The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises such as banging rocks together. Real snipe (a family of shorebirds) are difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word ‘sniper’ is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.”

Attribution can be accomplished. It truly isn’t a snipe hunt -- you just have to be willing to do it. On the other hand, if you have gone through the effort of conducting true attribution modeling for your marketing programs, consider yourself an Attribution Sniper. That is what we should all strive to become -- for the betterment of our programs and the channels that support them.

1 comment about "Is Channel Attribution Like A Snipe Hunt?".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, August 21, 2013 at 4:48 a.m.

    The question “What incremental lift is realized when I add XYZ channel to the marketing mix?” is an extremely simplistic example of multivariate testing. It's not a bad thing to do, but it's not *the* solution to attribution issues.

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