Multichannel Attribution Confusion

If your inbox is anything like mine, every week it gets flooded with many, many white papers from a wide variety of companies.

Some white papers are insightful and good, some are shameless self-promotion. But what many of them manage to do, rather than help, is create or add to the already large amount of confusion in marketing present today. And this is because they use terminology that sounds relevant, but usually refers to a narrow definition that contradicts and under-delivers the white paper’s typically grandiose title.

Language is a huge challenge in marketing in general. The definition of the word “campaign,” for instance, has a very different meaning for a creative agency vs. a media agency or a PR agency.

Words that many white papers are throwing around these days are “multichannel” or “omni-channel,” and “attribution.” The root of this issue is that many measurement companies, agencies and consultancies have heard marketers say that they are desperately trying to prove that their marketing investment actually moved the needle — that is, delivered an ROI on marketing investment.



And so, with that gauntlet thrown, these companies produce white papers with titles like “Multichannel marketing optimization” (IBM), “Accelerate your multichannel marketing strategy” (Gartner), “Breaking Down Communication Barriers With a Multichannel Sales Approach” (Salesforce), “How to Make Multichannel Marketing Work” (eMarketer), “Making Omnichannel Marketing Work” (Nielsen) and “10 Helpful Non-Kitty Uses for Cat Litter.” Oh, wait, that last one was multi-use, not multichannel.

And here's my problem. When I think multichannel, (or omni-channel) I think ALL channels, but when most of these white papers talk about multichannel, they limit themselves to e-commerce or digital advertising or shopper marketing. Perhaps this is because they find true multichannel measurement too difficult. Especially if you try to tie multi-channel measurement to the other “word du jour”: attribution.

In my mind, multichannel attribution is trying to gain an understanding of the relative contribution of all activities across all channels (paid, owned, earned — and, as Joseph Jaffe called them once, “non-media,” by which he meant all other collateral that is branded or helps with branding).

However, the white papers that talk about omni-channel attribution rarely, if ever manage to show marketers how all the pieces of the marketing puzzle deliver a result. Instead, they limit themselves to linking online activity to online sales, or shopper activity to in-store sales. These are important for sure, but for most marketers these are relatively small slices of the overall marketing arsenal.

Most marketers (rightly) still spend the largest share of their marketing budget on paid media and then add things like online and in-store activation, UGC or sports sponsorship, PR, price promotions and many other marketing activities. They also sell their products across multiple sales channels (I guess we can call that omni-channel sales, adding to the definition confusion).

Even Nielsen, who you would think is sitting on all the data needed, has not cracked the magic code yet. And perhaps cracking it is an impossibility. At the same time, as the naïve optimist that I am, I have to believe that with all the data available to marketers today, and in combination with smart, self-learning AI, we should be able to develop a model that is capable of calculating true multichannel attribution covering all touch points. What do you think?

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