Archive for the ‘Strategy’ category

It’s Hard to Solve Problems from an Ivory Tower

March 2nd, 2012

Today a colleague sent me a link to a new article on Attribution and media measurement with a request to share my thoughts. Written by a statistician, it was the latest in a series of published perspectives on how Attribution should be done. When I read it, several things occurred to me (and prompted me to blog about it):

  1. Are we still at a point where we have to argue against last-click attribution?  If so, who is actually arguing for it?  And are we already at a point where we can start criticizing those few pioneers who are testing attribution methodologies?
  2. Would a media planner (usually the person tasked with optimizing campaigns) understand what the author meant in his critique: “the problem with this approach is that it can’t properly handle the complex non-linear interactions of the real world, and therefore will never result in a completely optimal set of recommendations”?  It may be a technical audience, but we’re still marketers… right?
  3. The article discusses “problems” that only a few of the largest, most advanced advertisers have even thought about.  When it comes to analytics and media measurement, 95% of advertisers are still in first grade, using CTRs and direct-conversions as the primary metric for online marketing success. They have a lot of ground to cover before they are even at a point where they can make the mistakes the author is pointing out.

In reading the comments below the article, my mind drifted back to business school (or was it my brief stint in management consulting?) and the theoretical discussions that took place among pontificating strategists.   And then it hit me… even in one of the most innovative, entrepreneurial and growth-oriented industries, an Ivory Tower mindset somehow still persists in some corners of agencies, corporations, media shops and solution providers.  Not afraid to share my views, I responded to the article in what I hope was a polite and direct way of saying “stop theorizing and focus on the real problem.” Here is my post:

“…We all agree that you need a statistically validated attribution model to assign weightings and re-allocate credit to assist impressions and clicks (is anyone taking the other side of this argument?).  And we all agree that online is not the only channel that shapes brand preferences and drive intent to purchase.

I sympathize with Mr. X – it’s not easy (or economically feasible) for most advertisers to understand every brand interaction (offline and online) that influences a sale. The more you learn about this problem, the more you realize how hard it is to solve.  So I agree with Mr. Y’s comment that we should focus on what we can measure, and use statistical analyses (coupled with common sense) to reach the best conclusions we can. And we need to do it efficiently and cost-effectively.

While we’d all love to have a 99.9% answer to every question re: attribution and causation, there will always be some margin of error and/or room for disagreement. There are many practitioners (solution providers and in-house data science teams) that have studied the problem and developed statistical approaches to attributing credit in a way that is more than sufficient for most marketers.  Our problem is not that the perfect solution doesn’t exist. It’s that most marketers are still hesitant to change the way they measure media (even when they know better).

The roadblocks to industry adoption are not the lack of smart solutions or questionable efficacy, but rather the cost and level of effort required to deploy and manage a solution.  The challenge is exacerbated by a widespread lack of resources within the organizations that have to implement and manage them: the agencies who are being paid less to do more every year.  Until we address these issues and make it easy for agencies and brands to realize meaningful insights, we’ll continue to struggle in our battle against inertia. For more on this, see “Ph.D Targeting & First Grade Metrics…”

I then emailed one of the smartest guys I know (data scientist for a top ad-tech company) with a link to the article and thought his reply was worth sharing:

“I think people are entirely unrealistic, and it seems they say no to progress unless you can offer Nirvana.”

This brings me to the title of this post: It’s hard to solve problems from an Ivory tower.  Note that this is not directed at the author of the article, but rather a mindset that persists in every industry.  My point is that arm-chair quarterbacks do not solve problems. We need practical solutions that make economic sense.  Unless you are blessed with abundant time, energy and resources, you have to strike a balance between “good enough” and the opportunity cost of allocating any more time to the problem.   This is not to say shoddy work is acceptable; as stated above, statistical analysis and validation is the best practice we preach and practice.  But even so-called “arbitrary” allocation of credit to interactions that precede conversions is better than last-click attribution.  It all depends on your budget, resources and the value of advanced insights.  Each marketer needs to determine what is good enough, and how to allocate their resources accordingly.

Most of us learned this tradeoff when studying for finals in college: if you can study 3 hours and make a 90, or invest another 3 hours to make a 97 (recognizing that 100 is impossible), which path would you choose?  In my book, an A is an A, and with those 3 additional hours you could have prepared for another test, sold your text books or drank beer with your friends.  Either way, you would extract more value from your limited time and energy.

To sum up, we need to focus our energies away from theoretical debates on analytics and media measurement, and address the issues that prohibit progress.  The absence of a perfect solution is not an excuse to do nothing. And more often than not, the perfect solution is not worth the incremental cost and effort.

As always, feel free to comment, tweet, like, post, share, or whatever it is you do in your own social sphere.  Thanks for stopping by!


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Conversion Paths vs. Full Attribution

February 24th, 2012

Attribution is a hot topic!  As marketers are shifting their focus to measurement and optimization, Attribution is rising to the top of the priority list for 2012.  However, like many things, Attribution has many flavors and often means different things to different people.  In this and future posts, I will shed some needed light on this topic and help marketers make sense of this complicated and ever-evolving discipline.

For starters, let’s define Attribution is simply the process of attributing credit to each interaction in a user’s path to conversion.  These interactions may include display ads, paid searches, natural searches, emails, social and other media.  To truly optimize your online marketing efforts, we must measure each channel, vendor, placement and keyword’s contribution, and give appropriate credit in the final analysis.  While the industry generally agrees on the problem (last-click measurement is woefully insufficient) and the objectives (give credit where it’s due), there are many divergent opinions on which approach is best for solving this problem.  With the goal of illuminating and educating (vs. selling) here is my perspective.

Analyzing Conversion Paths

Conversion path analysis is quite popular these days and is usually at the top of marketers’ wish lists.  Not to be confused with site-specific conversion analysis, media-centric “conversion path analysis” looks at the digital channels that influence customers throughout the conversion cycle.  In short, marketers want to a macro-view of all the touch points (we call them “assists”) that drive a conversion.

To capture the data needed to view conversion paths, you need to match impression cookies (set by your ad server when a user is exposed to display ads) and your site visitor cookies (set by your site analytics software).  You’ll also need to maintain all the details for each impression or visit as time-stamped, individual records are a key requirement for conversion path analysis and more advanced attribution.

Once you have the detailed history of impressions, clicks, visits and actions for each visitor, you can query the data to visualize the conversion paths for those who converted.

The table below shows the “average” path for all visitors, as well as the common paths for 4 unique groups of converters (segmented into natural clusters by a machine-learning algorithm).  As noted, the “average” converter saw 6.8 display ads and visited the site 2.9 times before converting, with natural search accounting for 0.4 visits, paid search 0.4 visits and display ads 0.9 visits.


Most marketers are content with channel-specific conversion paths, but we’re seeing more and more interest in vendor and placement specific paths and expect this will become more common over time.

Conversion path analysis is a good start towards cross-channel / full-funnel Attribution and should provide a foundation for more advanced (and necessary) analysis.  That said, there are a few limitations that marketers should be aware of when looking at conversion paths.

First, it’s important to note that Averages can be misleading and there is usually a broad distribution of paths that are not represented by the mean. While the average number of impressions was 6.8 in the case above, the number varied between 1.5 and 20 for each group (that’s a big range).  Likewise, while Display accounted for 70% (on average) of interactions that led to a conversion, it ranged between 38% and 88% among the four clusters.

Second, while conversion path analysis is insightful (and may help justify your display buys), you’ll need more information to truly understand campaign performance and determine how to optimize your media plan.  This is where Attribution comes into the picture.

Moving Beyond Conversion Paths to Full Attribution

If you have detailed conversion paths for each visitor, you have the data you need for advanced analysis.  Now you need a model that allocates credit for every impression and click assist in a way that makes sense.

And now we move into the realm of debate and disagreement that is characterized by “my math is better than your math.”  Truth is, Attribution models come in all shapes and sizes; some are proprietary and some are based on well-known statistical methodologies.  While there is no universally-accepted algorithm that constitutes the gold standard in Attribution modeling, there are numerous approaches that are more than sufficient.  The good news is that you don’t need a 99.9% solution to be successful.  In most cases, a 90% solution is sufficient and more cost-effective.

So without getting too deep into Attribution modeling, let’s talk about the Questions your attribution model should answer, such as:

  • What is the relative contribution of each channel, vendor, placement or keyword (i.e. how many conversions should each get credit for)?
  • What is the attributable cost per action (or return on spend) for each channel, vendor, placement or keyword? (see sample report below)
  • How many impressions are required to influence a visit and/or a conversion?  (i.e. what is the optimal frequency?)
  • How does the optimal frequency vary by vendor or placement?
  • What was the actual frequency (and how many impressions were wasted)?
  • What is the appropriate look-back period (how far back should we give credit for assist impressions and clicks)?








As always, feel free to comment and share!

The Encore Team

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The Five Forces Driving Attribution: Media Measurement Comes of Age

May 27th, 2011

Advertisers are (finally) looking beyond the last click.  Here is an overview of the Five Forces that are driving adoption (also published by MediaPost in May 2011)

It’s been 3 years since measurement buzzwords “attribution” and “engagement mapping” emerged with great anticipation and excitement in online advertising.  The idea of looking across digital channels and beyond the last click to measure media throughout the funnel was thought to be the holy grail in online marketing.  Recognizing that “last-click wins” is insufficient for measuring the brand-building attributes of display media, brands, agencies and media vendors saw Attribution as the next big thing in digital advertising.

Yet as we entered 2011, very few marketers were using Attribution to measure and optimize online media spend.  Despite the universal desire for better measurement, most were still using old metrics (click-through rates, cost per click and direct cost per action) to analyze paid media.  Greg Papaleoni, who develops Analytics and Insights for Yahoo! Advertising Solutions, sums it up well: “While Full Funnel Attribution is the future of the ever-evolving digital media measurement landscape – it should be the present.  Those advertisers who embrace and implement this logic, methodology and technology sooner rather than later will enjoy a massive advantage over their competition.”

While adoption has been slow to date, this is changing quickly due to the convergence of numerous factors.  Borrowing on Michael Porter’s “Five Forces” model for analyzing industries, here is my take on the Five Forces that are driving digital media attribution (author note – I received permission from Professor Porter to adopt his model to this category):

1. The continuing shift of media budgets from traditional to digital.

While total U.S. media spend will grow only 3% in 2011, digital spend will grow 14%, surpassing Newspaper as the #2 medium.  Accounting for almost 30% of daily media consumption, Digital spend will continue to outpace all other channels for the foreseeable future.

2. The resurgence of display advertising

Per eMarketer, Display media spend will grow 14% in 2011, outpacing 10.5% growth in paid search.  While there are many reasons behind the growth (consumption of social, video and mobile content, better targeting capabilities, real-time bidding, richer formats, etc.) I believe the resurgence of display is driven by two primary factors:

  • The maturing of search: There are only so many searches every day, and most marketers have optimized their paid search efforts.  For the big advertisers, there are no more keywords to buy.  As one search exec was recently quoted “paid search inventory is maxed out.” Incremental dollars will have to go elsewhere.  Display is the obvious choice.
  • The return of branding:  As the economy recovers, marketers are re-investing in their brands.  During lean times, online dollars focused on harvesting existing demand (via search).  But with the improving economy, brand-building is once again a strategic priority.  In the digital realm, display media offers the most efficient, effective and scalable way to create awareness, consideration and preference for brands, products and services.

3. Increasing focus on accountability

While marketing budgets may have loosened, the focus on results has not.  As a result, marketers are keeping a very close eye on ROI from “brand-building” media.  With the ever-increasing need to show ROI, brands now want branding plus performance.  To properly measure brand-building media, we need to measure engagement, not clicks.

4. Evolution of web architecture

Recent forays by IBM and Oracle into the marketing arena signal a new wave in convergence of IT and Marketing.  As the IT behemoths push technology-based marketing solutions, CIOs are becoming more attentive to the needs of the marketing department.  The deployment of Data Management and Universal Tagging Platforms enable advanced analytics and media measurement that were off-limits to marketers in the past.  With this roadblock removed, the stage is set for new measurement tools to be deployed across their digital infrastructure.

5. The emergence of better Attribution solutions.

While early Attribution solutions were expensive and limited in capabilities (e.g. couldn’t attribute credit for organic conversions), a new breed of point-solution vendors (including my company Encore Media Metrics), are now offering more effective, flexible and affordable solutions.  For a very modest investment (as low as 1-2% of media spend), advertisers can now have a much more holistic and accurate view into the performance of each channel, vendor, format, placement and keyword.  These insights are enabling advertisers to optimize media budgets, yielding 20-40% gains in revenue.  The immediate return on investment in Attribution solutions may exceed 1-20x (100%-2,000%).

The Five Forces Driving Attribution are illustrated below:

Five Forces Driving Attribution

As our business objectives change, so must the manner in which we measure results.  As dollars continue to flow into digital, brands and their agencies must use more efficient, accurate and effective metrics for measuring media throughout the funnel.  The emergence of more advanced and affordable Attribution solutions, supported by growing support from IT departments is paving the way for Attribution to become a foundational component within the digital marketing ecosystem.

Matt Miller, SVP of Strategy & Analytics at Performics, agrees, stating “Attribution is one of the top priorities for us and our advertisers.  Focus on attribution will only increase as advertisers build and implement strategies to maximize ROI across all digital channels.”

As always, comments are encouraged. And please feel free to share!

Steve Latham (@stevelatham)

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AdExchanger Q&A with Steve Latham, Encore CEO

April 12th, 2011

Encore’s CEO was recently interviewed by AdExchanger, a leading online marketing  news publisher, about the launch of Encore, the problems we solve and how we’re positioned.  You can read the article on AdExchanger or see the transcript below.  Enjoy and feel free free to share!

Encore Media Metrics Incorporating Attribution For Paid, Owned And Earned Media

Encore Media MetricsSteve Latham is CEO of Encore Media Metrics, an attribution technology company.

So, what problem are you solving with Encore?

We solve 2 problems for agencies and brands alike.  First, we provide advanced attribution and measurement, enabling them to see across channels and beyond the last click to measure performance of paid, owned and earned media.  While most marketers are aware of the need for attribution, very few are doing it.  Second, we allow them to offload the tedious, manual work of reporting and measurement, which is a loss-leader for most agencies.  They need good metrics, but it’s hard to justify the cost of large teams needed to manage all aspects of reporting.  We offer a cost-effective way to produce the insights they need to optimize budgets and maximize campaign ROI.  So to sum it up, we provide better reports and deeper insights in a way that saves them time and money.

I believe we’re hitting the market at a great time and that this will be the year Attribution goes mainstream for a few reasons.  First, paid search is maturing and expanding digital budgets will have to be deployed elsewhere (display, social, mobile, etc).  There are only so many searches every day and most companies have optimized their ppc campaigns.  The low hanging fruit in search has been picked; further gains will be in much smaller increments and will require buying short-tail terms that start conversations rather close them (hence the need for keyword attribution).  This is supported by the fact that Display will grow faster than search in 2011 and is expected to outpace it for coming years. Search is still the big dog, but display and other brand-building media are nipping at its heels.  If you believe Eric Schmidt’s prediction of a $200 billion global display market, we’re still very early in this game. Other factors driving Attribution are the increasing focus on accountability, the upgrading of web architecture (e.g. adoption of universal tags) and the emergence of affordable attribution solutions – such as ours.  These factors are converging to make 2011 a very exciting year for those of us in the attribution space.

What’s your view on the competitive set and where you’ve been and how would you say you differentiate?

To understand how we’re positioned, you must first understand how the Attribution marketplace is segmented. For starters, there are two different approaches to attribution: operational attribution and statistical or algorithmic modeling. Each approach has its place and I believe they are more complementary than competitive. Statistical modeling analyzes vast amounts of data to look for correlations that indicate how media channels (display, search, email, affiliate, etc.) work together to drive results. Modeling allows you to see which channels feed each other, and which mix should yield the best overall ROI.

In contrast, operational attribution creates detailed records for each visitor that enable you to see which ads were seen and clicked on, how the visitor found your site, what pages they viewed and what actions they took. You can then query the data to analyze engagement paths and assess the performance of each channel, vendor, keyword and placement. We believe operational attribution is the foundation for advanced analytics as it’s based on actual visitor data (vs. a black box) and provides much more granular insights into performance of all types of media. Once you have operational attribution, you can then do advanced modeling of that data to glean additional insights. But, operational attribution will provide 80-90% of the insight you need to optimize your spend.

Within the Operational segment, you then have to look at the extent of attribution: lower-funnel (click-based) vs. full-funnel (clicks and impressions). While click-based attribution is better than nothing, it doesn’t answer the question: “which media buys are creating demand?” The lower-funnel approach relies on clicks, which may be great for search, but insufficient for measuring the impact of display media. If you want a true picture of which ads are creating demand and which placements are satisfying demand, you need a full-funnel solution.

Now to the original question: how are we positioned vs. our competitors? While I can’t speak for our competitors, I can say we differentiate in a few ways: 1) we incorporate attribution from social media (even in the absence of referring clicks), allowing us to provide attribution for paid, owned and earned media, 2) we have a flexible approach that is designed to accommodate varying needs of agencies and brands (no long-term commitments, pay for what you use, etc.), and 3) we are affordable for most marketers. If a client spends between $50,000 and $5 million per month in online media, they can afford our solution.

Is scale of ad spend critical to Encore’s services – attribution, media mix modeling?

If you’re asking is Attribution is only suited for the biggest advertisers, the answer is no. It really doesn’t matter how much you spend; you still need to look across channels and beyond the last click to optimize your mix. Even if you’re only spending $50,000 a month, a small incremental investment can yield a dramatic improvement in Return on Spend. Any advertiser who is buying more than just search is going to benefit from Attribution.

What’s your view on the “view‑through conversion”?

View-throughs are good for ad networks seeking to optimize their media placement, but they are limited in what they offer advertisers.  If you are buying display media from 5-6 vendors, you’re likely to get some view-throughs from each buy.  While view-throughs tell you if an ad was seen they don’t tell you which ads were the most effective (and cost-effective) in creating demand, or how each media buy influenced results from paid or natural search.  You can’t analyze recency or frequency and you can’t tell the order in which ads were viewed.  You need more details to truly understand which placements created demand, the role they played in the engagement path, and how to attribute credit within the channel.  Yes, you need a full-funnel attribution solution.

What’s the difference between attribution modeling and media‑mix modeling?

In the context of measuring the impact of digital media, they’re effectively the same thing.  But for most marketers, media‑mix modeling encompasses all channels, including TV, print, radio and other traditional media.  Within that context, operational attribution should play an important role in providing the inputs that go into such a model.  We can provide a much more accurate and richer set of data inputs that will enable the global media mix model to produce more relevant and insightful outputs.  As mentioned earlier, it shouldn’t be “either / or” when evaluating operational vs. algorithmic attribution.  They can work in concert quite well.

What do you see out there as the most difficult channel to provide the sort of service you’re providing today?

Within digital media, Social is definitely the hardest to measure.  First, referring clicks are not good indicators as very few actually click-through from social sites to the brand’s web site (see “Connecting the Dots”).  But beyond clicks, how do you attribute credit back to people who are watching your You Tube channel, viewing comments on your Facebook page or reading a blog about you?  It’s hard because you can’t cookie browsers on 3rd party social media sites.  While Facebook now allows marketers to set cookies via iframes on company pages, very few are doing it.

Some try to do social attribution via correlation or looking at directional trends, where a social mentions drove a spike in traffic and a lift in conversions.  But this approach is, in technical terms, “squishy.”  For most, social attribution is a future goal more than a near term objective.

But since you asked, I should mention that we offer a unique solution to the social media attribution problem. We use a patent-pending tool that allows us to identify which visitors or purchasers have engaged with the brand in social media, regardless of whether or not they clicked through to the site.   Through this, we can draw a direct line between online conversions and the social interactions that preceded them.  We think it’s pretty cool and we’re seeing a lot of interest from brands, agencies and media vendors.

Do you see social media attribution as an opportunity?

It’s definitely something we see as a differentiator but it should be viewed as part of our solution for two reasons: 1) social should be integrated with other channels from a measurement perspective, and 2) it’s hard to make a ton of money on social media measurement.  A brand may spend $500-$1,000 to measure social interaction, but they’re not likely to spend more on the tool than they do on their social media marketing efforts.  You also don’t want to be a one-trick pony in the digital landscape.  Things move too quickly and one player (e.g. Google) can make render your product obsolete overnight.  So we see it as a differentiator and a conversation starter more than a standalone offering.

What is Encore’s target market?

We serve brands and agencies who are seeking to create demand and/or drive sales through paid, owned and earned digital media.  While we can accommodate budgets as low as $50k per month, our sweet spot is campaigns with budgets of $100,000 to $2 million per month.

In general, Attribution tends to be more appropriate for considered purchases, e.g. financial, auto, travel, health care, luxury goods and anything B-to-B.  The longer the sales cycle and the bigger the ticket, the more you need Attribution.

We work with brands, agencies and trading desks of all sizes, even those with internal ad ops teams.  Even if they have a bench, they still need better tools to produce the insights their planners and customers demand.

How does pricing work? Do you charge on according to media spend or is it a per seat?

We price our solution as a technology (vs. a flat % of media spend) that is tiered based on the scope and scale of the campaign.  In general, we charge a fixed fee that covers the planning, production and client services, along with a cpm-based fee that covers the cost of data capture, storage and analysis.  The fee as a percentage of the media budget will vary significantly.  If you’re buying premium placement media at $10cpm, our fees are tiny.  If on the other hand you’re going for scale (e.g. $2cpm), the fee will be slightly higher as a percentage of spend.  But in either scenario, we’re very affordable and the ROI is hard to beat.

What sort of milestones would you like the company to have accomplished?

My primary goal for 2011 is for Encore to become widely known as a leading provider of measurement, attribution and reporting services.  If there is a discussion about Attribution, I want us to be one of the solutions that are always mentioned.  Our value proposition (better reports, deeper insights, affordable and adaptable) is hard to beat, and we look forward to proving it to leading brands and agencies.

Follow Steve Latham (@stevelatham), Encore Media Metrics (@EncoreMetrics) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


Attribution 101: Full Funnel Media Measurement

March 17th, 2011

The What, Why and How of Online Media Attribution
[if you like presentations, view “Attribution 101” on slideshare]

Anyone who has ever bought (or sold) display ads is painfully aware of the need for new metrics for online media.  While “last-click wins” may work for paid search, it fails miserably in measuring the impact of display and other media at the top of the funnel.  Hence, the need for full-funnel Attribution, which allocates credit for “assists” in the customer engagement cycle.

By attributing credit to contributing impressions and clicks that precede subsequent visits and conversions, marketers can have a much more accurate and holistic view into the performance of each channel and vendor.  While most interactive marketers are familiar with Attribution, many are still trying to understand what it is and how it works.

The Need for New Metrics

While digital is the most measurable medium, the “one-size fits all” approach to online media measurement needs to be re-evaluated.  While click-through rates (CTRs), cost per click (CPC), direct conversion rates and cost per action (CPA) may be applicable for search and other “bottom-of-the-funnel” media, these metrics are not appropriate or insightful for measuring performance at the top of the funnel, where demand is created.

Display ads can be very effective in achieving their objectives (driving awareness) without any clicks or direct conversions.  A recent Media Math study showed that 80% of post-impression conversions are the result of viewing display ads without clicking and only 20% of conversions are the result of a click.  In other words, for every conversion that follows a click on a display ad, there are four (4) post-impression conversions without clicks.  The upshot: we need better tools and methodologies for measuring the performance of media at the top of the funnel.  This is where attribution comes into the picture.

Defining Attribution

Attribution is the art and science of allocating credit to all interactions that play a supporting role in the customer engagement process.  In other words, it’s the act of giving credit for assists.  Rather than viewing results from each digital channel in its own silo (a la traditional web analytics platforms), Attribution requires you to take a holistic approach to analyzing how each touch-point contributes to the overall goal (visits, conversions, etc.).

With the resurgence of display advertising, Attribution is becoming increasingly important for optimizing media budgets.  As shown in the Google trends chart below show, searches for “online attribution” have increased 150% over the past 36 months.

Approaches to Attribution

Generally speaking, there are two types of Attribution: Operational and Algorithmic / Media Mix Modeling.

  • Operational attribution consists of creating detailed records of every impression, click, visit and action for each visitor to your site, regardless of the source or channel (e.g. display, paid search, natural search, direct navigation, email, social, affiliate, etc.).  Data is then organized and reported in such a way that visitor paths and media placements can be effectively (and efficiently) analyzed.  By understanding which paid, owned and earned media placements are driving the most effective engagement, you can optimize spend and marketing efforts to boost ROI.
  • Media-Mix / Algorithmic Modeling consists of analyzing impression data, search data, email data and web log files to statistically correlate patterns and trends to fine tune campaigns.  This “black box” approach is useful but it depends entirely on the hard-coded assumptions and calculations in the model.

We believe operational attribution is the foundation for advanced measurement and analysis of media.  The operational approach of giving credit for assists is intuitive, logical and easy to understand.  Once the operational attribution model is defined, algorithmic modeling can be used to further optimize the media mix.

Channel Level Attribution

Channel level attribution addresses the relative roles of each media channel in driving traffic and conversions.  Attribution requires an algorithm that attributes partial credit to display impressions and clicks that precede visits and conversions.  The weighting of impressions relative to clicks will vary based on the type of ad, format, placement and other issues.  For example, highly-targeted rich media placements should have higher weighting than Run-of-network animated .gifs.  Weightings should be customizable for each vendor and placement.

The channel attribution report below shows the relative impact (last click vs. attributed) of each channel: direct navigation, natural search, referring sites, email, paid search, display advertising and 3rd party email.  As shown, attributable credit for display ads may be 50-400% higher than a last-click report would show. It should also be noted that paid search generally sees a net increase in attributable actions as short-tail keywords often play contributing roles in the customer engagement process.

After attributing credit for actions for each channel, spend data can be imported to show the adjusted cost per action for each channel, as shown below. As illustrated, we typically see a 30-80% decrease in attributable cost per action (CPA) for Display, and a slight drop in CPA for paid search (resulting from keyword assists)

Attribution chart

Vendor Level Attribution

Looking beyond channel level, we use the same approach to assess the performance of each media buy.  Shown below is a sample report showing the cost per action for each media vendor, both last-click and attributable.  As shown, some media buys can appear to be very poor performers on a last-click basis, but are in fact very effective for creating demand that is subsequently satisfied through other channels.


Keyword Attribution

Short-tail keywords (category terms, product terms, etc.) often play “assist” roles in the customer engagement process.  Just as it’s important to know which display ads precede visits and conversions, assist keywords should also be identified.  In many cases, assist keywords may perform poorly on a last-click basis, but perform very well in an attribution report.

The Business Case for Attribution

Attribution is more than just a buzzword – it is an essential part of campaign measurement and a requirement for optimizing media spend.  As illustrated below, moving “loser” budgets to the “winning” vendors can produce a dramatic improvement in revenue and return on spend.

Beyond the improvement in media efficiency and ROS, the economic benefits also accrue to:

  • Media planners: save wasted time and energy trying to replace ostensibly “bad” buys that are actually quite effective
  • Ad Ops and analytics teams who are tasked with aggregating silos of data into massive .xls workbooks (attribution vendors will do this for you)
  • Media vendors whose ads are actually engaging customers and creating demand that is satisfied through other channels.

As an industry, we have to do better.  We can’t use yesterday’s tools to measure tomorrow’s media. Attribution should no longer be an aspirational goal, but rather a key part of your 2011 digital marketing strategy.  The economic returns are compelling and there are numerous vendors (including us!) who would be happy to assist you in taking a more holistic approach to digital media measurement and optimization.

As always, comments are encouraged.  And please feel free to share!


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ROI Measurement for Online Marketers

January 10th, 2011

Throughout 2010, I had the pleasure of speaking to audiences in Washington DC, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose (California and Costa Rica!) and Houston on one of my favorite topics: measuring results from online marketing.  While I’ve been speaking about measuring impact and quantifying ROI for years, it was clear that marketers are increasingly shifting their focus to measurement and accountability.

When I asked attendees what they were hoping to gain from the session, one DC marketer said only half-jokingly “to justify my existence”.  I remembered it because it was funny, but also because it’s true.  Marketing budgets are still very tight, and every dollar that is spent has to be justified.  Consequently, there is an increasing focus on measuring results and demonstrating an acceptable ROI.  This not only requires  knowledge and tools, but also the ability to translate online metrics into business results that are understood by the c-level.

My presentation Closing the Gap on ROI Measurement addresses these issues in today’s context, where results matter.  The contents include:

  • How “above the line” and “below the line” are merging – digital goes through the line
  • Challenges faced by marketers today
  • How to translate online metrics into business results
  • Roadmap for Measurement Success
  • Online Surveys
  • Attribution Analysis
  • ROI Methodology
  • Case Studies to demonstrate each concept

As always, comments are welcome.  And feel free to share!

Steve Latham


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November 30th, 2010

social mediaSuccess begins with a plan. Yet when it comes to social media, most dive in without a thorough understanding of objectives, platforms, tactics, requirements, responsibilities and metrics for measuring performance.

Most marketers also fail to understand the pitfalls and shortcomings that can prevent them from achieving their social media marketing goals, including:

  • content that is overly promotional
  • content that is not engaging or relevant to target audiences
  • a one-way outbound approach to communicating (it’s all about me!)
  • failing to build a network (without reach, there is no ROI)
  • one-off isolated efforts vs. an integrated approach

What most lack is a comprehensive social media strategy.  To address this growing need, I developed a new presentation to help marketers understand the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls of social media marketing while providing an operational framework for developing a social media strategy.

My presentation “Social Media Strategy” addresses the following:

  • 5 point business case for social media
  • 7 common pitfalls of social media (and steps to avoid them)
  • 10 point outline for a social media strategy

This presentation provides the information you need to craft a social media strategy.  If you find it valuable, please feel free to comment below and share with others.  Enjoy and good luck with your social media strategy!

Steve Latham
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Related posts and presentations
Business Case for Social Media
New Media Toolkit
Social Media: Shiny Object or Killer App?

Silos Belong on Farms (not in Marketing Departments)

August 11th, 2010

In most companies, silos exist throughout the organization.  Unless you’re a 5-person shop, you likely have departments that perform specific functions that allow the company to operate.  While this may be an organizational requirement, departments don’t have to become silos where there is very little collaboration, interaction and integrated planning, execution and management.  Even if you’re in the same department, silos often exist among and between different disciplines.  When it comes to marketing, there are often noticeable disconnects between planning, communications, PR, creative, media, direct marketing, digital and other specialties.  As the title to this blog suggests, I believe Silos belong are farms, not in marketing departments.

Brands must take an integrated approach that starts with a deep understanding of their audiences and objectives, and incorporates each medium that may be effectively utilized to reach and engage customers. In the digital realm we’re talking about display advertising, demand generation, paid search, natural search, email marketing,  social media and mobile marketing.  As there is no silver bullet in marketing, you have to take an integrated approach. Allocating budget and assigning responsibility is a good start, but without integrated planning, management and reporting, you might as well be living on a farm.

Earlier this year I moderated a panel discussion at the Online Marketing Summit on “Integrating Your Marketing Mix”. While it may not be the sexiest topic (the Twitter session next door had many more attendees), it is a very important topic and is a common challenge faced by marketing executives today.  I’ll address it by tackling the two big questions: what to integrate and how to do it.

What To Integrate?
I think you have to look at integration at two different levels.  Before you try to integrate your broadcast, print, direct mail, digital and other channels, you should integrate those activities that take place within each discipline.  Many consider “digital” or “interactive” as a stand-alone marketing discipline, when in fact is a collection of sub-specialties are that are quite different, yet inter-related.  Because they each require unique skills and experience, there are often internal and external chasms between web design, development, paid search, natural search, display media, email, social media and mobile, not to mention analytics and measurement.  Because each discipline requires specialized knowledge, it’s common that a brand will have one agency for paid search, another for natural search, another for display media, and others for email marketing, social media and mobile marketing.  Before you start trying to get traditional and digital to work together, you need to make sure your interactive specialists are all on the same page.  Once you have integrated digital planning, execution and measurement, you have a much better chance of winning the battle to integrate traditional and digital marketing efforts.

How to Integrate?
While there is no silver bullet for integrating business activities and operations, I can share a few thoughts that may be of help.  First, I am not an advocate of selecting one group or agency that can handle every one of your needs.  There are simply too many disciplines and all of them require deep knowledge and experience to make them work effectively.  No one agency can be great at everything. If you want the best in the disciplines that matter, you are often forced to cobble together a network of partners to achieve it.  In these situations, you can realize significant benefits by doing the following:

1. Integrate reporting and measurement – even if you use different resources (people, agencies, etc.) you can still standardize how results are tracked, reported and analyzed across channels.  Rather than receiving one report from your paid search firm, another from your display media agency, and yet more from your SEO, Social and Email partners, take some time up front to define the key performance indicators for each channel. Then require each partner to provide the information you need in a common format.  As it relates to digital marketing, you should standardize on one reporting platform that will be used to measure impact of your search, display, email and social media.  When it comes to reporting, less is more!

2. Integrate planning – once your strategic objectives are defined, ask each of your partners to create a plan that will help you achieve those objectives.  Give them a common framework (planning template) so each partner’s deliverables are consistent.  Then host a planning meeting in which all partners are invited to present their plan to the group.  Once the plans are presented, discuss them as a group with the goal of identifying where coordination, collaboration and knowledge sharing between and among your partners are required.

  • Case study: one of our clients hosted such an event and we found it to be very worthwhile.  Not only did we learn what the other groups were working on, but we also identified common challenges and solutions that could be leveraged across disciplines.  Most importantly, we realized there were many inter-dependencies between our groups, and that we all stood to benefit if we worked together and coordinated our efforts.  It was very eye-opening for us but no one benefited more than the client.

3. Integrate Execution – while integrated planning is a great start, the true value is realized through integrated execution. If you are a brand marketer, you need to do more than suggest that your team and/or agencies work together; you need to facilitate it to ensure follow through.  If you need an example of how to do this, look no further than the funny guy with the big head: Jack.

  • Case study: At the OMS panel mentioned above, Maria Brusaschetti, Media Manager for Jack In The Box, discussed how JITB not only encourages its agencies to work together – they require it.  They host all-hands planning meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.  To ensure collaboration and cooperation, they tie agency compensation to feedback from peer surveys (yes, they survey their partners to find out how well their peers are cooperating).  If the agencies want to earn their bonus, they have to play nice with others.  I think this is a brilliant approach that can be also be implemented inside your organization.  If you want your departments to work together, offer the department heads monetary (and non-monetary) incentives to ensure interdepartmental cooperation.  Then make sure you follow through with execution.

In closing, integration is not a one-time fix.  As our organizations evolve, the ways in which we work together will evolve as well.  While mastering integration is far from easy, it can yield invaluable insights, efficiencies and synergy.  Or you can put on your overalls and fire up your John Deere.  The choice is yours!

Steve Latham

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Twitter Best Practices for Social Media Marketers (Updated 2010)

August 7th, 2010

twitter birdFor 2+ years I’ve been advising clients on how to use Twitter as a marketing platform.  Surprisingly, it seems that most brand marketers still don’t get it.  With the goal of doing my part to help the industry master this channel, I’m sharing my best practices for Twitter Marketing.  While these may not be comprehensive, they will provide you with 90% of what you need to be proficient at building your brand via Twitter.  In order of priority – here is my list. Enjoy!

Twitter Best Practices for Social Media Marketing (according to @stevelatham)

1. Brand Your Profile
Before you start tweeting, make sure your profile is appropriately branded.  Update your profile, including a tight summary of who you are and how you distinguish yourself.  Include your URL and use a pic that can be identified when viewing a stream on a mobile device.  You can now find personalized Twitter backgrounds for cheap so there’s no excuse not to have one (see ours here).

2.  Provide Interesting and Engaging Content
While Tweeting is easy, it’s important that you do it right, starting with a solid content strategy.  Content recommendations include:

  • Based on approved content guidelines, create Tweets that are engaging and relevant to target audiences.  It should be easy for potential followers to see that your tweets are valuable and worth reading.
  • Introduce your content.  People often provide links to articles without any explanation as to why it might be relevant to the reader.  I always try to provide my take on whatever it is I’m linking to.  I’d recommend you do the same.
  • Write tweets that will be shared.  Rather than simply posting links, introduce links with compelling copy that encourage clicks.
  • Allow time to pass between each tweet (at least 15 minutes) for several reasons: 1) no one likes to have their dashboard of tweets dominated by one account, 2) if someone is not watching they are likely to miss them, 3) spreading them out demonstrates consistency that yields brand benefits.
  • Limit Tweets to 120 characters so they can be easily re-tweeted without exceeding the 140-character limit. See “120 is the new 140” from @BrianSolis for more tips.
  • Leverage real-time search by prominently including buzzwords that will picked up by Google, Bing and other search engines.
  • For more on Content Marketing check out @juntajoe and his blog.

3. Remember! Engagement = Listening + Responding
Social media is about interacting, and you can’t do that if you’re not listening.  In addition to listening for your brand mentions, you need to keep an eyes on what your network is tweeting about and participate in the discussion.  Here are some tips:

  • Use tools to track when your profile or brand is being mentioned on Twitter.  Tools include as well as the SM monitoring tools mentioned previously.
  • Use the native search feature in your Twitter management tool to follow topics that are of importance to you.  For example, I have a search column in Hootsuite for “Social Media Strategy“.  This is how I keep up to date on the latest tweets on this subject.
  • When your brand is being mentioned in a positive way, RT the message, follow and recognize the person who tweeted about you.
  • Acknowledge mentions.  Monitor when your Twitter account name is mentioned and RT to thank, and/or acknowledge those who are mentioning you.
  • Build credibility and goodwill with your followers by re-tweeting (RT) posts that will be of interest to your audiences.  If you RT a follower’s post, they may acknowledge the RT to their followers, thereby promoting you in the process.

When your brand is being mentioned in a negative way, you can either 1) respond, or 2) ignore it.  If you choose to reply, consider the risks, given the nature of their tweet, their motives and their objectives. A confrontational response is rarely successful.  If you want to address a customer complaint, ask them follow you so you can then send a DM and take the conversation offline.  As mentioned above, ignoring the mention is often best.  You can inadvertently cause much greater damage if you engage in a public scuffle with a crazy person.

4. Building a network of followers
Without a network there is no reach, and without reach there is no ROI.  Contrary to most hopes and beliefs, networks do not build themselves; if you want followers, you have to work on it.  The good news is that with Twitter, the process is relatively easy.  When you follow someone, they will receive an email notification.  Currently, the normal etiquette is to respond by following the person who followed you.  Judicious tweeters will read your latest tweets to determine if your content is worth following.  If the content is good, most will follow you back – at least for a while.

  • Start with your own employees, partners, vendors and community.  Announce your new Twitter account and ask employees to follow and share with others.
  • Identify the top 50 influencers in your category on Twitter as these people can provide visibility and credibility for your brand among their networks of followers. Use, and to find users with shared interests.  Look for those who have large numbers followers and are active in sharing their opinions with the masses (aka influencers).
  • Follow people who follow your Influencers.
  • Include a link to your twitter account in email, on your site, on all social networking sites and in all correspondence.
  • Remember to maintain a favorable ratio of Following / Followers of +/- 1:1. While building your network, take time to check out who you are following that is not following you back at  For each person who is not following you, you can either: 1) stop following for good, or 2) unfollow and then re-follow.  If they do not respond on your 2nd attempt to reach out, you may consider unfollowing them for good.
  • Be careful with TwitterBots (AutoFollow) tools.  As you’ll quickly learn, building a network takes time.  If you are interested in using an network-building service, make sure  you use a credible tool or service that follows Twitter best practices. Failure to do so will result in suspension of your account.  While there are a lot of cheap bots that to avoid, there are some services that work (full disclosure: we offer one that works well).  Before you buy, do your homework and ask for references.

5. Managing Multiple Accounts
Many marketers maintain at least two types of Twitter accounts – one for their company and one for their personal tweets.   Twitter management tools (my favorite is HootSuite) allow you to manage multiple profiles.  Since many may follow your personal and work accounts, make sure you don’t tweet the same content at the same time.  Another common practice is to RT your company tweets from your personal account.  Remember that many will follow your brand and personal profiles, so make sure you space them out (no simultaneous tweeting!).

Common Twitter Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some common content mistakes many marketers make when Tweeting:

  • It’s all about me!!!  Too many still use social media a megaphone vs. a telephone.  Success requires that you listen, engage and interact with others in the community.
  • Using social media as a press release distribution platform.  While there are sites that are great for press releases, this should be the exception, not the norm.  As noted, conversations require an exchange of information.  If all you do it tell the world about your firm, audiences will grow tired of listening.
  • Boring content.  You should always seek to include and introduce links to video, articles, audio and other media that will be interesting to audiences.
  • Vague content. Doesn’t it bug you when someone posts a link with a cryptic introduction?  Make it easy for followers to see what you are presenting to them.  Introduce your links.
  • Sharing information that is confidential, sensitive or not appropriate.  This is especially important if you work for a public company or in a regulated, hyper-competitive or litigious industry.
  • Drawing unnecessary attention or being overly defensive when addressing negative comments.  Sometimes it’s best to ignore the haters.  If you respond, you may make something big out of a small issue, which may be exactly what they want you to do.

In Closing…
Again, this may not be all-encompassing, and I’m sure I’ve omitted a few important lessons.  That said, I hope these are helpful and that you find value in them.  If so, please COMMENT, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE to our blog.  Thank you for your feedback!

Steve Latham (follow me on Twitter)

Social Media: Shiny Object or Killer App?

July 28th, 2009

shiny objectWhile preparing for an interview I was reviewing questions I received from the journalist. One question was “how does your firm leverage social media?” It seems that social media is the latest shiny object that is on the wish list of most brand marketers.  Yet if you ask them why they need it, you’re likely to get a pithy, high level response such as “because we want to engage and interact with our customers.”  Ask how they plan to do that and you’ll often get blank stares.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of social media and I believe it is a killer app for many companies. This is especially true for professional services firms like mine.  At the same time, I frequently see a lack of planning, coordination and understanding of how to best use social media to achieve marketing objectives.  So now let’s go back to the opening question…

How do we use social media? We work in an industry where the cobblers kids (sans shoes) run rampant.  And for the most part this is fine; we can be great media planners and campaign managers, even if we don’t do a lot of advertising ourselves. However, when it comes to social media, I believe we have to lead by example.

If you are reading this, you may know that I blog, twitter, slideshare, facebook, link in, stumble, digg and tag things that are delicious.  Yes, it takes time, but I enjoy it. But above all, I do it because it creates value for my personal and agency brands. Through my investment in social media, I’ve expanded our network of partners, booked speaking opportunities, built awareness for our brand and generated several new client opportunities.

Social media can be a great platform for most businesses.  But as a professional services firm, social media offers some additional benefits that one could argue make it a killer app for marketing purposes.  In my world, the #1 benefit of social media is that it provides a platform for demonstrating thought leadership.

It’s important to remember that social media is a platform, not a message.  While awareness and visibility are great benefits of social media, they don’t build your brand.  You can get great visibility with a flurry of self-promoting posts and annoying solicitations for your services, but you aren’t building credibility.  You can use social media to connect with business acquaintances, recruit employees and show the world that you are a forward-thinking firm, but it probably won’t matter to clients. In my opinion, the true value of social media for professional service firms is the ability to demonstrate thought leadership on a large scale that gets even bigger if you have something unique and valuable to say.

Here’s another way to look at it: any firm can hire a web site copy writer to create a compelling message that says who you are, what you do, how you differentiate and why clients choose you.  While this used to be a key factor in engaging visitors, clients do not make decisions based on your home page. Case studies are great but we all know they present an air-brushed image of the results you produced for a client. On the other hand, a blog or tweet stream provides a relatively unfiltered view into how you think and how you act.  If you routinely produce strategic insights, unique perspectives and practical knowledge that are perceived to be of value to your clients, you can establish credibility and thought leadership in their eyes.  Clients hire consultants, agencies, bankers and lawyers because of their people.  Social media enables you to build your brand by showing off your greatest assets in a way that is much more transparent and authentic than it used to be.

In the past we relied on the static html, flash intros, polished copy and powerpoints to educate clients on who we are and how we can help them.  Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, LinkedIn and others now offer us a much more effective and efficient means for demonstrating thought leadership, regardless of your size, budget or location.  It’s not often that those of us in client services can point to a competitive advantage that we enjoy over other types of businesses.  But in a world where clients are seeking knowledge, insight and trusted advice, the social web gives us a unique opportunity to show them what we have to offer.

I’d love to hear from other service providers on this topic.  Comments are welcome!

Steve Latham
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