Why Last-Click Attribution Is Wrong For SmartVideo

Yair Halevi May 09, 2012
Why Last-Click Attribution Is Wrong For SmartVideo

A recent study by Econsultancy and Google Analytics shows that a majority of marketers still use last-click attribution to value performance-oriented campaigns. But at the same time, marketers are realizing that it is ineffective at gauging the true influence campaigns have on the consumer’s path to conversion. For online video campaigns, be it advertising, email, or on-site, last-click attribution suffers from similar inaccuracies.

To quote Morpheus, it seems that many marketers are still on the blue pill.

They know something is wrong with last-click attribution, but still view the world through it. And while ignorance is bliss for some in The Matrix, for marketers, it can be a bane to budgets, returns, or both. Since evaluating campaigns and understanding cross-campaign interactions are critical in assigning budget and planning the marketing mix, what is a marketer to do when employing a SmartVideo strategy?

Attribution Modeling

Last-click attribution assigns the entire value of a conversion to the last campaign the user clicked prior to converting. Naturally, last-click attribution favors campaigns that influence farther down the funnel (buy decision). In contrast, first-click attribution favors campaigns that influence earlier in the funnel (awareness stage). Both are simple to use, widely supported by analytics tools, and are still the most common attribution models used, as depicted in the following chart from the EConsultancy/Google Analytics study.

Most Common Methods of AttributionMost Common Methods of Attribution

However, both models do not accurately capture the real influence a campaign has on a purchase. Indeed, February 2012 data from Adobe shows that for search, there is a 38% increase in assigned revenue when moving from a last-click model to a first-click model. Similar results are shown for social, hinting that these channels are more influential in generating awareness than in triggering a buy decision. This example teaches us three important lessons:

  1. The choice of attribution model can change the perceived value of a campaign, and hence affect future budgets, affiliate payments, and marketing mix.
  2. Attribution models place value on influence points in the funnel. Any model that puts all value on one point, as last-click and first-click do, will necessarily under-value other influences. Both last-click and first-click completely under-value marketing efforts that influence the middle of the funnel (e.g., during purchase research stages). In any case, research implies that models that assume a single touch-point influence are not great at estimating value.
  3. By comparing several models, we gain valuable insights into the type of influence each channel and campaign has on revenue.

The good news is that marketers today are more aware of the shortcomings of last-click and first-click attribution.

Perceived Effectiveness of Attribution Methods

Perceived effectiveness of attribution models

Modern attribution modeling tools (such as that recently added to Google Analytics Premium) allow marketers to explore and evaluate alternative value distribution rules such as linear, time decay, or fully customized approaches that take into account channel types, keywords, and interaction (check out Google’s Attribution Playbook for more information on these models).

SmartVideo Attribution

SmartVideo offers the potential to execute performance-driven marketing using video – in advertising, email communications, or on-site conversion optimization. This is somewhat of a paradigm-shift for traditional video marketing, which placed more focus on brand messaging than online, conversion-driven performance.

This shift means that marketers using SmartVideo need to adopt adequate performance metrics. Last-click attribution models used for SmartVideo campaigns suffer from the same shortcomings described for other campaigns. Modern attribution modeling techniques, and comparison between multiple models, are effective ways to gain better insights into SmartVideo, as well.

For video, however, any click-based attribution model under-values the effect of merely viewing the video. Being a more personal, intimate medium, that captures user attention and engagement for longer periods, video has more potential to influence a buy decision at distance, with or without a click.

Use Control-Group Analysis with Attribution

It is important to remember that attribution models assign value to campaigns based on the marketer’s view of the weight of each point in the funnel. As such, it is subject to effects of intuition, politics, budgets, and corporate structure. But it is not a true, bias-proof measure of value.

To get a true value measurement for a campaign, enhance your toolbox by using a control-group methodology. Control-group analysis delivers a true measure of a campaign’s effect, regardless of clicks, funnel position, or personal taste. Not every marketing channel supports this approach (e.g., organic search). But many marketing channels do, and marketers would be wise to select technologies, vendors and processes that enable it.

Use control-group analysis together with attribution modeling, not instead of it. Attribution models are still important for analyzing behavioral segments, optimizing the campaign via creative selection and smart targeting, and understanding cross-campaign interactions using control-group testing. However, using control-group testing can take much of the guesswork out of attribution modeling. If you employ both tools, you can use the results of control-group analysis to tune and validate your attribution models. Don’t use an attribution model that consistently disagrees with your control-group analysis.

So, it’s time to take the red pill, and see how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Are you using flexible attribution modeling combined with control-group analysis for your campaigns?