Monday, June 4, 2012

Multichannel Attribution

I love this graphic from Joel Book, ExactTarget's Education Chief because it illustrates how the topic of multi-channel attribution often seems to me like the search for the Holy Grail (the Last Cup of Christ).  The result can be elusive. Given the proliferation of channels, the complexity of the issue, cross-firm differences in resource allocation and other aspects of implementation, is there likely to be a broad-based answer to the questions of how to 1) attribute marketing results to marketing actions and 2) develop marketing programs that maximize spending? 

The four ways that I see academics are addressing and can further address these issues are as follows:

  • By investigating an industry:  In the Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, Schultz, Block and Ramn have studied consumer media usage in three product categories, computers, automobiles and fast-food restaurants. (Schultz, et. al. 2009). In these studies as in other marketing studies elsewhere, we often see that where the marketer is spending their dollars (mass advertising) and where the customer is spending their time (social media) do not match.
  •  By examining a company:   Recently in  the Journal of Marketing (May 2012), Avery, Steenburgh, Deighton and Caravella investigated data from a high-end retailer to see if introducing a retail store in specific areas would affect catalogue and online sales.
  • By analyzing the customer:  Venkatasen and Kumar (2005) and Venkatasen, Kumar and Ravishanker (2007)  have developed a number of models from the point of view of the customer to explain and predict the adoption of multiple channels and discuss financial implications. 
  • By analyzing multiple firms (strategy):  Neil Morgan in a recent issue of JAMS (2012) outlined a conceptual framework to link all the different elements of marketing strategy and business performance, including implementation, which is often overlooked in research but critical in practice.

Although these efforts are great first steps toward answering marketing attribution questions, none of them really provide guidance as to how to attribute the results of marketing spending on brand advertising, social media, search etc. to performance.  The type of research conducted to date is a good start, but usually does not focus on the complexities facing the marketer today in a generalizable way and certainly does not look at cross-firm differences and performance.  So we as academics have an opportunity not only to apply rigor to these issues but to work on topics of real relevance to marketers today.

And the question of how to measure performance in this context is interesting also.  Should we look at ROI, or event CLV, as practitioners do, in hard numbers way?  Wouldn’t customer equity ala Rust and Lemon and Zeithaml (2004) be more appropriate or at least a metric that should be evaluated in conjunction with other measures (Stahl, Heitman, Lehmann and Neslin 2012).
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