Brands Lean On New Attribution Tech – Just Don’t Call It MTA – As Budgets Split To New Channels

A rose by any name will smell as sweet, sure. But attribution by any name doesn’t work the same.

Marketers are trying to figure out how their ad budgets are actually working for them. Just don’t call it multitouch attribution (MTA). Or perhaps don’t call it attribution at all.

Madan Bharadwaj, co-founder and CTO of Measured, a startup offering marketing measurement and incrementality testing, said he uses “attribution 2.0.” But that nomenclature is being shot down too. The company is moving more toward framing campaign measurement as “contribution reporting” rather than attribution, he said.

“Contribution reporting” helps marketers understand that the analytics chronicle an overall channel’s contribution to sales, rather than attribution reports that assign credit to individual impressions or close the loop on specific customer journeys.

Parachute, the bedding and home décor brand, began working with Measured in late 2020 largely because of the company’s jaded (or experienced, if you prefer) take on data-driven attribution, said VP of Growth Ian Yung.

“One reason why I actually went with Measured as opposed to some of the other players was that they were likewise explicit in their belief that MTA [multitouch attribution] is not the best approach,” Yung said.

Call it what you want, the problem of channel-based incremental testing is becoming more important. Measured raised $21 million last week, as it expands in the post-attribution attribution category, alongside other startups like Triple Whale, which raised $24 million a month ago, and Northbeam that both pitch commerce and ad analytics for performance marketing.

One plus one equals 15

Parachute hired Yung as VP of Growth in early 2020, when the company was on the fence between building or renting an advanced ad analytics toolkit.

“[Measured] had done a lot of the work that was on my road map for a homegrown solution, so we decided to bring them on board,” Yung said.

Parachute’s problem was that the marketing performance data showing up in campaign reporting “cannot be true,” he said. “With what Google’s saying, what Facebook is saying, etc., it’s like one plus one equal 15, because we see that there aren’t that many sales coming in.”

One social media platform stuck out as an early win for Measured, according to Yung. Parachute was spending in the low six figures per month on the platform. “And they were obviously giving us reporting that it was very profitable.”

Running an incrementality test with Measured, the brand saw that it could cut that spend to zero with next to no impact on sales. Ouch. (The name of the social platform in question was not disclosed, except that it’s a publicly traded company.)

Podcast advertising is another category that Parachute rethought once it had a measurement testing regime in place.

Podcast attribution often banks on listeners redeeming a particular code, which under-credits the channel. “Podcasting is one [rarer] example where we have to take the reporting and increase what it has on our end to capture the true value,” he said.

Another channel that underreports conversions is TikTok.

“We haven’t figured out exactly what the right playbook is with TikTok,” he said. “We’re maybe 50% to 60% of the way there in terms of how to best use that channel. We’re still trying to refine that last piece, which is the coefficient that we need to apply to truly capture the value of TikTok.”

Splitting the media pie

The clothing brand Faherty began working with Measured three years ago, starting with incrementality tests of Google, paid social advertising and direct mail. Since then, the company has brought in native display ads, newsletter and email advertising, its affiliate marketing program, streaming audio, traditional radio and TikTok, said founder and CEO Alex Faherty.

Before 2020, particularly prior to Apple’s iOS 14.5 rollout, many digital-native brands relied on Facebook and a Google search strategy to scale, he said, while other channels were relegated to the margins of the media plan.

“Now people are moving to a more diversified media mix,” Faherty said. Rather than Facebook and Instagram accounting for half or more of ad spend and most of the rest going to Google, and programmatic and other platforms contending for some 10-20% share, the new world of media buying probably has Google and Facebook chopping up half the pie, with more platforms or channels earning their own 10% or so slice, he predicted.

Incremental gains

Incrementality testing can reveal unexpected results, which occasionally can test the “art and science” approach by the brand marketer, Faherty said.

The Parachute brand saw a similar effect: one social channel with a multi-million-dollar annual budget was worth practically nothing and podcast ads, which look terrible in the analytics dashboard, actually pull more than their own weight.

For Faherty, one major question was the value of its print catalog – a glossy direct mail strategy the company invested heavily in early on.

“The science was telling us when we did incrementality measurements that the economics of the channel were not as good as we expected,” Faherty said.

The company shifted budget to digital channels rather than the catalog, which is expensive to print and ship. Rather than ditch the catalogue altogether, the company changed its approach to a brand marketing and retention play. Parachute repositioned direct mail from a performance-first channel driving new customers to a targeted offer for known customers – a shift in mindset and ROI expectations that put the channel more in line with its incremental contributions.

Podcasting, on the flip side, had poor attribution in the Google Analytics dashboard, but turned out to be a strong contributor when the company ran post-purchase surveys. There was no digital data point or trackable impression that credited podcasts with conversions, but it became clear that podcast ads read by the hosts resonated with potential customers and came up again and again in post-purchase surveys.

The host-read ads were quickly sinking in and helping shape shopper choices, he said. Just not in a way that was easily credited by attribution tech.

“That’s the art and science of showing what’s an ROI-positive channel,” he said.

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