Growth Marketing Mini-degree Week 10

Jon Davis
4 min readFeb 15, 2021

This week I went over the attribution course by Russell McAthy in ConversionXL Institute’s growth marketing mini-degree. This was a fun course to go over because it has been a subject deeply ignored in many digital teams that I’ve been a part of. It’s been a buzzword in the marketing industry and can mean something as simple as providing an attribution for a piece of content, but in the digital marketing space, it generally means understanding the context behind the data and understanding the behavior of the consumer. What does that mean exactly? It means understanding the performance of our activities in relation to consumer behavior. By understanding attribution strategically, it will help with better decision making in the organization. To skip back, this is more than just understanding people who have purchased or become leads within our organization. It is about understanding everyone. A customer is someone who has already bought and we need to understand the full journey and full value of the way that the consumer engages with our brand.

Another item of importance is understanding the context of a “conversion.” In e-commerce, it’s simple. It’s a purchase. In lead generation, it’s someone filling out a lead-form. In other businesses though, it could be that they’ve read one or two articles. All of these actions are “conversions” which have some monetary value to their respective businesses. Attribution through a customer journey has to have an end point and so the “conversion” that is discussed in this course is that end point. Because of that, attribution will be very different for B2B vs. B2C. Attribution can be easier for B2C, because it is generally based on a single relationship with an individual in the household, whereas attribution for B2B can get much messier because it could be six, nine, or twenty different individuals within an organization that are engaging with your brand to ultimate conversion. Also, those individuals could be changing faster than your typical sales-cycle time. This course is primarily focused on B2C, which is great because the majority of my experience and focus has been in B2C brands. I have chosen to focus there as a marketer because there is tangible value in the interactions with customers (cash exchange) vs. the inflated value of companies that I see in B2B that don’t have significant revenue compared to the significant revenue of B2C companies.

The biggest player in the space for attribution is Google. There is “Google Attribution,” which is a current product of Google Analytics, and is probably the most well-known product. There is also Visual IQ which has been growing for the past 10 years, and these companies have been offering attribution solutions as a software entity along the way the other different platforms are using it. Google Adwords integrates with their own attribution solutions, and this mirrors what we tend to see in a lot of affiliate platforms as well where they have a form of attribution within the systems that they use. This has also been mirrored in the display marketing activities.

Activities like GDPR in Europe have thrown a wrench in attribution because it has limited the amount of personal data that we can store about individuals. This has also caused additional difficulties in analytics as a whole.

Econsultancy said in 2018, that “less than a third of businesses” are using a defined type of attribution model, which I find agreement with. I rarely have encountered a B2C business that is using an attribution model beyond last-click attribution, if they are using an attribution model. They’ve just largely relied on how the ad platforms report performance which can get so messy so fast. Facebook and Google have different conversion windows and this could be a view-through conversion or a click-through conversion. A view-through conversion is where a customer views an ad, whether it is a banner ad, a video ad, a facebook ad, etc. and then completes a conversion within a window of time. Generally, a 30-day window or even greater will be assigned to this. That can get messy really quickly, especially considering the sheer amount of ads that we are exposed to. To give attribution to a source of an ad that you viewed 28 days ago is not quite far.

On the flip side of the coin, it’s not fair to give attribution to the last click. If you were a car company serving display ads, native ads, and video ads to someone that has given the person 12 contacts over the last 30 days, but then they search for “Lincoln Towncar” on Google and click the adwords search ad there, the entire credit could go to adwords search, which isn’t being intellectually honest. The same thing with SEO. Especially if they are searching for the brand name and then clicking on that internal page and then completing the form, or purchasing. It was necessary for that marketing effort to be there, but you have to be aware of the entire journey of that person and giving value to steps in that journey instead of giving value to the very last step.

If you were to give attribution this way of “last click” in a relationship, you would say “what was the last action that happened before they asked that person to be their boyfriend or girlfriend?” and then base all future dating decisions on that one small snapshot in time. That discounts all the steps of what attracted that person to the other person in the first place including assigning value to how they met and key steps along the way that helped that person to be comfortable to take each subsequent step to then ask that person to be a couple with them. When I’ve seen companies focus solely on last click activities, I’ve seen them reduce ad spend significantly and then seen their SEO, affiliate, brand search, and other lower funnel activities decrease overall, and then they really freak out and start to understand the value of marketing to the entire journey, which does take significant time to fill up their funnel again.