Advanced Attribution: How IHG Became An Early Adopter

IHG attributionMarketers are seizing upon advanced attribution models as a way to rationalize their data and divvy up credit.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the world’s largest hoteliers, is an ideal example of where and how advanced attribution methods are taking hold. David Schmitt, director of interactive marketing operations and analytics for IHG, recently partnered with Visual IQ to realign the way they prioritize online marketing.

“We used last-click attribution—it’s clear, it’s evident—but we knew we weren’t giving the right credit to higher-funnel activities,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt discovered that advanced attribution is a fundamental shift in business practices and organization. His team had to come to terms with ideas that undermined their previous assumptions. “The data and learning curve was a bigger challenge than we expected … even for us, it was a learning experience,” he said. “We realized we didn’t even have a full understanding of what last click meant.”

Manu Mathew, co-founder and CEO of Visual IQ, brought this up as a trend in adoption across the industry: “In the near term, how we think about attributed revenue, and real ROI, that’s going to change how people get measured and how business is organized.”

For Schmitt, who was early to commit a major brand to a shift in attribution metrics, getting past his team’s discomfort with the technology was a hurdle almost on par with the technology itself. “Culture has to come before adoption,” he said. “There are operational challenges, because you can have this great model, but if your team doesn’t embrace and internalize it, it’s no good.”

Besides internal teams dragging their feet about having to learn a new, complicated methodology (“And a lot of that is holding hands, telling people, ‘This isn’t about cutting your budget,’” said Schmitt), brands are finding that, like a sword that’s too heavy to pick up, their greatest strength is also their greatest obstacle.

Forrester analyst Tina Moffett said that based on her research, internal organization is an oft-cited problem, but not the most pressing. “The biggest challenge in embracing measurement analytics is a few things: sourcing the right data, managing different data sources, and then organization,” she said.

Marketers rely on partners for more common challenges, Moffett added. “But once they go down the path of doing advanced attribution, they realize, ‘Wow, we have a lot of different data sources … and we don’t know how they’re different or what the anomalies in the data mean.’”

Mathew compounds that, pointing out that 35% of the brands who work with Visual IQ aren’t just on the online or addressable side, but they have to process data from “things like direct mail and call centers [which] can be used like digital, with identifiers.”

For IHG, a global company with multiple agency and technology partners, regional vendors and information coming in through disparate channels around the world, it’s like trying to put a new nozzle on a streaming fire hose. “Data is rarely clean, rarely centralized. Part of the challenge is to … reorganize that flow of information.”

The heavy lifting can pay off big, though, as Schmitt is quick to note that many of the internal issues crumble when people familiarize with the technology and, most importantly, as results come in.

“We discovered that 20% of our conversions came from users who had gone through nine or more touchpoints,” he said. This is a little more than half of the number that came from a single touchpoint (such as a direct email or click-through), but “All of a sudden, we have these two distinct consumer segments that we hadn’t even been thinking about and may require completely different approaches.”

As always, it comes down to efficiency and effects. “This was a test program,” said Schmitt, “but we saw a 5.5% increase in the efficiency of our advertising.” While the test applied to only one channel, that’s still a significant boost.

“And if we can build this out across channels, and we’re getting 5.5% better efficiency….wow, that’s a home run,” he added.

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