Pure Play Wins the Day as Forrester Ranks Attribution Vendors

Pure-play firms reign supreme in a new Forrester evaluation of attribution vendors, released this morning.

After ranking eight vendors – a blend of specialized firms and large analytics companies with attribution on the menu – the researcher placed the one-note singers at the front of the choir. All five specialists – Visual iQ, Adometry, ClearSaleing, C3 Metrics, and Convertro – were rated “Leaders” or “Strong Performers” in today’s Wave report. According to analyst Ari Osur, each of these firms stood out for “strong data management, reliable account services, and user friendly interfaces.”

Meanwhile the big analytics companies – IBM, Adobe, and Google – are called “less comprehensive and typically rules-based.” Yet despite those limitations, says Forrester, “Due to their inherent data collection and measurement capabilities, they are worth a serious look by marketers with existing relationships.” (Download the report from Visual IQ – pay with some PII.)

A common gripe leveled at attribution solutions is that they are too often used intuitively, thereby turning campaign analytics reports into self-fulfilling prophecies.  For example, if a client happens to believe strongly in in-stream video placements on portal sites, then the agency may assign more influence to those impressions. The result is an artificially closed feedback loop.

The most common version of this is “last click” thinking, which was a big concern for Forrester the last time it evaluated attribution vendors in 2009. Things have changed somewhat, according to Osur. He writes, “’Last click’ still survives but we see accelerating momentum to cast it aside and implement interactive attribution to help guide planning and spending decisions.”

According to the report, the best vendors slough off last click attribution with an algorithmic approach to assigning value to contacts and channels. Whereas three years ago only one vendor reviewed by Forrester offered algorithmic models, now fully half do. Additionally, it says the ability to accurately plug in performance data from a range of channels “is now table stakes” in the attribution space.

The natural next step in their evolution will be to let customers import offline channel data, including point-of-sale, radio, print and TV. Forrester notes a few vendors are already dipping toes in these waters (though it doesn’t say which ones).


Visual iQ, the highest ranked vendor, wins points especially for its algorithmic modeling, as well as for “superlative reporting, impressive optimization and scenario planning tools, and tie-ins with media buying execution.”

Adometry won similar praise and is called out for clean integration with demand side platforms. Another “Leader,” ClearSaleing, trailed slightly for having less robust optimization and planning tools.

Among the analytics giants, IBM and Adobe may be best positioned to challenge the pure plays, while Google is playing catch-up. Osur writes, “The Web analytics providers are worth a serious look for marketers with current relationships and data collection in place.”

As for Google, Forrester recommends marketers integrating data from multiple sources look elsewhere. “We would recommend [Google’s] attribution tool only for marketers who use Google Analytics to track conversions and who also employ Google’s display advertising and search marketing tools,” Osur advises.

A recurring complaint against Forrester’s Wave Reports is that it’s not always clear how the researcher chooses the consideration set. Analyst Osur tells AdExchanger:

We screened more than 60 companies for inclusions. They completed an initial screening questionnaire with 16 questions on it.  The main criteria that we used to determine the group to include in the Wave were:  1) company size based on revenue associated with its attribution offering and number of clients using the attribution offering,  2) the availability of a self-serve interface to view and modify the attribution model and access reporting,  and 3) the overall interest and fit that we gleaned from our discussions with marketers (the context and frequency of how vendors came up in our discussions with marketers about attribution). We also looked at criteria like the percent of clients using data from each major digital channel in their attribution models.

Forrester believes the field has tightened considerably, easing the process of choosing companies to rate. Whereas in 2009 a range of ad servers, interactive marketing decisioning hubs, and other companies offered such solutions, now most products come from a closely competing knot of companies.

Despite the evolution of the products, isn’t it true that success depends as much or more on the marketer’s data and framework than on the tools? We posed that to Osur as well. His response:

I would agree that marketers have to invest the time and attention into attribution to get the most out of it… Attribution should not be considered an out-of-the-box solution that can work in isolation or without attention.  This is especially true in three areas:  1) helping the vendor make sure that data used to build attribution models is comprehensive and accurate, and set up for logical and deep reporting on the back-end;  2) developing insights and analysis to make sense of the large amount of information and inform decision-making;  and 3) close the loop with channel execution partners like search bid management platforms and digital media buying systems to make the insights actionable.

Overall, attribution isn’t a magic easy button that immediately solves measurement issues and optimizes all digital marketing planning and buying.  Attribution needs to baked into a marketer’s processes so its insights can inform tactical campaign-level decisions (e.g. search term bidding, campaign version evaluation, media plan optimization, etc.) as well as channel investment allocation decisions.

Meanwhile many agencies are conducting their own evaluations of attribution vendors. Several months ago, Boston-based Hill Holiday conducted a survey of available products.  “We completely believe in making media decisions based on an attribution view,” said Adam Cahill, EVP, co-media director.

The winner of that shootout was Visual iQ. “Forrester got it right,” quipped Cahill.

By Zach Rodgers

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