Posts Tagged ‘Digital Media’

The Problem With Attribution

July 17th, 2015

Repost of my Data Driven Thinking byline published by AdExchanger

In recent months we’ve heard some noise about the problems with using multi-touch attribution to measure and optimize ad spend (see articles in Adexchanger and Digiday).  Some claim attribution is flawed due to the presence of non-viewable ads in user conversion paths. Others say attribution does not prove causality and should therefore be disregarded.

My view is that these naysayers are either painting with too big of a brush or they’re missing the canvas altogether.

Put The Big Brush Away 

broad-brushThe universe of attribution vendors, tools and approaches is large and diverse. You can’t take a broad-brushed approach to describe what they do.

If the critics are referring to static attribution models offered by ad servers and site analytics platforms, such as last touch, first touch, U-shaped, time-based and even weighting, I would agree that these are flawed because of the presence of non-viewable ads. Including every impression and click and arbitrarily allocating credit will do more harm than good. But if they’re referring to legitimate, algorithmic attribution solutions, they clearly don’t understand how things work.

First, not all attribution tools include every impression when modeling conversion paths. Occasionally, non-viewable impressions can be excluded from the data set via outputs from the ad server or a third-party viewability vendor. For the majority of cases where impression-level viewability is not available, there are proven approaches to excluding and/or discounting the vast majority of non-viewable ads. Non-viewable ads and viewable, low-quality ads almost always have a very high frequency among converters, serving 50, 100 or more impressions to retargeted users. By excluding the frequency outliers from the data set, you eliminate a very high percentage of non-viewable ads. You also exclude most viewable ads of suspect quality.

Second, unlike static models, machine-learning models are designed to reward ads that contribute and discount ads that are in the path but are not influencing outcomes. As cookie bombing is not very efficient, with lots of wasted impressions of questionable value, they are typically devalued by good algorithmic attribution models.

By excluding frequency outliers and using machine-learning models to allocate fractional credit, attribution can separate much of the signal from the noise, even the noise you can’t see. And while algorithmic attribution does not necessarily prove causality, a causal inference can be achieved by adding a control group. While not perfect, it’s more than sufficient for helping advertisers optimize spend.

You Missed The Entire Canvas

paint-on-childrenComplaining that attribution models are not accurate enough is like chiding Monet for being less precise than Picasso, especially when many advertisers are still painting with their fingers.

It’s easy to split hairs and poke holes in attribution, viewability, brand safety, fraud prevention, device bridging, data unification and other essential ad-tech solutions. But the absence of a bulletproof solution is not a valid reason to continue relying on last century’s metrics, such as click-through rates and converting clicks.

As Voltaire, Confucius and Aristotle said in their own ways, “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
Ironically, so is click-based attribution.

While no one claims to have all the answers with 100% accuracy, fractional attribution modeling can improve media performance over last-click and static models. And while not every advertiser can be the next Van Gogh, they can use the tools and data that exist today to get a solid “A” in art class.

The Picture We Should Be Painting
I’m a big fan of viewability tools and causality studies, and I’m an advocate for incorporating both into attribution models. I am not a fan of throwing stones based on inaccurate or theoretical arguments.
Every campaign should use tools to identify fraud, non-viewable ads and suspect placements. The outputs from these tools should be inputs to attribution models, and every advertiser should carve out a small budget for testing. While this is an idealistic picture, it may not be too far away. As the industry matures, capabilities are integrated and advertisers, including agencies and brands, learn to use the tools, we will get closer to marketing Nirvana.

In the mean time, advertisers should continue to make gradual improvement in how they serve, measure and optimize media. Even if it’s not perfect, every step counts.

puzzle-paintingAd-tech companies should remember we’re all part of an interdependent ecosystem. We need to work together to help advertisers get more from their media budgets. And we all need to have realistic expectations. From a measurement perspective, the industry will always be in catch-up mode, trying to validate the shiny new objects being created by media companies.

All that said, we can do much more today than only one year ago. We’ll continue to make progress. Advertisers will be more successful. And that will be good for everyone.

Steve Latham

The Silver Lining for Interactive?

December 28th, 2008

This recession will shake things up for marketers.  Now is the time to make changes that are long overdue.

Times are Changing!
Since 1997 we’ve benefited from a lengthy bull market characterized by ongoing growth in sales, profit and budgets.  While most marketers are aware they have been under-investing in digital marketing, the impetus to change has been lacking. When things are good it’s easy to maintain the status quo and do what you’ve always done.  That time has officially ended.

Experts tell us we are now well into a recession and it may be a long one.  The impact on business has already been noticed.  While most follow a knee-jerk reaction to cut costs across the board, others are using this downturn as an opportunity to retrench, retool and position themselves to address a shrinking pie by taking a bigger piece.  These forward-thinking companies are taking a hard look at where they invest their marketing dollars and what they gain in return.

Results matter!
In this new era of marketing, there is only one true precept: results matter. Some sacred cows like print ads, TV commercials, yellow page promotions and radio spots no longer provider the ROI they used to.  And if they don’t provide a sufficient ROI, they need to be cut.

Even within digital there are investment decisions that need to be re-evaluated. Shiny new objects like viral videos, games, and mobile may be cool and trendy, but you can’t take accolades to the bank.

The case for increasing the allocation of budget digital media is compelling. Here are 3 reasons you should increase your investment in online media for 2009:

1. Media consumption and customer behavior. As a close second to TV, the Web now accounts for more than 30% of daily media consumption, with Print and Radio battling for 3rd place in the 10% range.  Customer behavior – there are very few product or service categories (B2C or B2B) where buying decisions are not influenced by the Web. As consumers we’ve come to rely on the Web to do product or vendor research, do comparison shopping, view ratings and reviews or otherwise become knowledgeable enough to make a good purchase decision.  The web plays a critical role in most customer purchase decisions. This is as close as we can come to the holy grail of delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time

2, Inherent advantages of digital media. These include but are not limited to:

  • Affordable: first, online media is much less costly than TV and it is available to companies of all sizes.  Where else can small businesses position themselves next to big brands?  This is an opportunity for the little guy, and a threat to the giants.
  • Actionable: after 10 years of being programmed to “click here” we are not too different than Pavlov’s dogs. If we see something of interest, we click to learn more.  This allows all online ads, even those intended to create brand awareness, to have a direct response component.
  • Targeted – we can target specific audiences based on demographics, geography, behavior, context or interests. Whether you are buying search, display or email ads you can target to your heart’s content.
  • Dynamic: we can change and test all types of creative elements including copy, images, CTAs and the post-click destination of the audience. We can quickly change and test creative in ways no other medium can offer.
  • Measurable: by measuring click-through rates, quality of traffic and post-click conversion rates, we can determine what is driving awareness, engagement and transactions.  The one element missing in most media overly abundant in digital media.  The trick is knowing what to measure.

3. Relative performance – the increasing use of the Web, combined with its inherent advantages discussed above, allow most marketers to see superior results from digital media vs. traditional outlets.  Every one of our clients find that the returns from online marketing significantly outperform other channels.  If ROI is important to your organization, you can’t afford not to invest in online marketing.

The bottom line is that status quo marketing is no longer acceptable.  If brands don’t evolve, they will not succeed.  There are too many choices and many smart competitors.  Smart marketers, both large and small, national and local, will use this opportunity to re-allocate budgets and position their companies to thrive, not just survive, in a down market.

I believe this recession will create great opportunities for companies that are able to respond accordingly.  For those who have been waiting to make the leap from 20th century marketing, this is the time to take action.  The difference from recent years is that ROI-based marketing is no longer a dream.  It’s a requirement.

If you have thoughts I’d love to hear them!

Digital Success in Troubling Times

November 20th, 2008

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at a luncheon hosted by AAF Houston and the Houston Interactive Marketing Association.  The theme was “what you need to know NOW”. These are challenging times for all businesses and now, more than ever, we need to focus our marketing efforts (and dollars) on those initiatives that produce the best results.

My presentation is below for your viewing pleasure.  The main takeaways are as follows:

1. Media consumption and media fragmentation are making digital channels more and more important for all companies.

2. As marketers we have to create content that consumers WANT to consume, and allow them to engage us when and how they choose.

3. There are numerous examples of savvy brands using digital media to reach and engage customers in a cost-effective way.

4. Despite a complex and overwhelming set of digital media options, there are some tried and true tactics that will provide the foundation for online marketing success.

5. Social media is becoming increasingly important, but you should have a plan before you dive in.

View my presentation on slideshare:

Digital Success in Troubling Times – Steve Latham – Spur Interactive

Thanks again to AAF and HiMA for allowing me to share my thoughts. If you have thoughts, comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you! Also feel free to Join me on facebook or Follow me on Twitter.

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