The Halo Effect: Marketers Stuck In Last-Click Attribution

Consumers are likely to use a dozen types of media before they make a purchase. They may begin with print, come online, type in a non-brand search term, and check emails for discounts. These customers will go back and forth between desktop and mobile. Most have a bias for certain products.

Attribution models are complex, and data proves it. And company executives who do not typically come in contact with digital marketing may have a bias to use the retailer's or the brand's resources in a specific way. The bias may reflect the way they do things and not necessarily how customers transact business with them.

Theresa Duerr, director of digital marketing at, the small-to-midsize business division of Staples, recognizes that bias. During last week's MediaPost Search Insider Summit, Duerr and a panel of search experts took the concept of the Halo Effect in-house to view it through the eyes of search marketers and C-level executives responsible for budgets.

The panel discussed how paid search influences other media and what media consumers might use after searching on a non-brand paid-search advertisement. The variables seem endless now that voice and gesture search are a reality.

Kaleo Director of Marketing Keith Burke, US Auto Parts Marketing Acquisition Charlene Chao, MARC USA Senior Director of Search and Biddable Media Jon Kagan and Big5 Senior Digital Marketing Manager Sarah McMahon participated in a panel discussion on attribution led by Duerr.

Despite an admission by brands that many of their customers use multiple types of media and devices before making a purchase, all participating in the panel led by Theresa Duerr, director of digital marketing at, said for the most they use a last-click attribution model because it produces a tangible number that drives an action. Kagan, from the agency MARC USA, said some of his clients have migrated to multitouch attribution.

Most clients are "surprised and shocked," Kagan said, when they find that in reality it took eight impressions and six clicks until the consumer made the purchase.

Findings from a study released by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) in November 2016 confirm that marketers are moving at a snail's pace toward multitouch attribution tools. The industry has been talking about multitouch attribution for years, but in the U.S., the findings suggest that one-third of marketers use multi-touch attribution, and three in four plan to use the technique by the end of 2017.

The discussion compared the Halo Effect to the way those holding the purse strings within the company view attribution models and how marketing teams that want to move past the last-click attribution model need to change the perception of a multi-click model within the company.

Burke, who works at the pharma company Kaleo, described an unusual challenge. He said laws make it difficult to link a patient's prescription to a search, display ad impression or targeted messages in an email. There are ways to use search phrases, time of year and other factors to target specific messages.

When analyzing non-branded paid search on branded paid search or other channels, Chao from US Auto Parts saw a "bleed over" on search looking for branded products because the retailer's customers are price conscious and mostly come to the site on a need-only basis.

McHahon from Big5 said that a few years back, the team tested moving a good chunk of fourth-quarter non-branded search in November. Despite the return on investment falling a bit in November, the team brought in much more acquisition traffic, and by December, "cookie pools were so much larger and it opted a lot more people back into email," she said.

The move to shift between 10% and 15% the Q4 budget into November allowed Big5 to retarget consumers at a lower CPC and CPM through December. It also increased the fourth-quarter ROI by about 24%. The success helped McHahon justify moving some of the budget into another media during subsequent holiday seasons.

"Just looking at places where you can move your budget and do more acquisition though paid search will look like the bad guy in the beginning -- later on you can show it fuels a lot of success a few weeks or a month down the road," McHahon said.

Kagan said that even if consumers do not convert, brands can use the tactic to refill their cookie pool and build up their remarketing list, which can become an expansion of CRM lists. "It helps to refeed itself back," he said. " … From a Halo Effect, we look at what people search for and what they actually booked. And what we see is a pricing comparison for a financial alternative."

If someone searches for a travel destination in a specific price range and they abandon the purchase, Kagan will add the person to a remarketing list to target the individual on a lesser expensive destination. It becomes an expansion of the consumer's decision process to look for something less expensive.

It's also important to note that some brands use a first-click attribution model. Kagan, for example, said MARCH USA has a couple of clients who use it typically to reach an older demographic. 

(You can watch the 33-minute video full of examples and tips here.) 

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