Commentary

A Perfect Path to Purchase? It Doesn't Exist

Over the past several years, both marketers and agencies have smartly embraced the idea of “multitouch attribution,” or MTA. It’s the concept that many marketing channels work together to lead a prospect to purchase, and so credit must be divided up across channels in order to assure future decisions don’t damage the complicated ecosystem.

Here’s one use case to describe it: the eventual customer is led down a path where broadcast TV creates awareness, display ads serve as reminders, customers search for products online, and so on.

MTA influences more than just strategy; it influences marketing spend and budget, too. And while the sequential funnel has (rightly) evolved to Google’s ZMOT or some other fluid loop, my take on MTA is the same: It’s smart to use MTA to consider channel interactions, since using last-touch attribution for marketing budget decisions could lead to a less efficient mix.

This isn’t a new idea, and I’m sure most would agree. It’s what happens next that causes the friction.

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After seeing MTA results, marketers often ask questions that are, in fairness, obvious ones to ask: How can we identify the one combination of touch points that convinces everyone to buy? What is the perfect path to purchase? How can we push everyone down it?

I’ve heard these questions many times, and I understand where people are coming from. My answer? Some paths are better than others, but there isn’t one perfect path.

The more useful and sophisticated MTA algorithms treat data not as the search for the perfect path, but as a busy downtown grid. Imagine each intersection is a touch point, and customers are traffic trying to get a destination (the sale).

To understand your marketing ecosystem, you simulate shutting down one intersection and see how much traffic makes it through to the destination compared to when the intersection is open. Work your way through all the intersections to determine each touch point’s impact. That’s how you can begin to estimate importance and set budgets.

Marketers should always strive to make intuitive landing pages and site experiences, meaningful campaigns, and memorable customer interactions. But people are people – you can’t force them down a perfect path. They’re going to get sidetracked, or browse, or lose interest. It’s more productive to figure out which of the touch points are most important, and give those the most attention.

To finish the metaphor, you need to build a traffic-friendly downtown grid, not search for the single best detour.

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