min read

Decoding Attribution in Advertising

March 5, 2024
March 15, 2024
Listen on Apple Podcasts

The Guest

Jeff Greenfield is co-founder and CEO of Provalytics, a platform that helps marketers with attribution and planning. He’s worked with clients like JP Morgan, Carhartt, Nestle, and Fender, he’s been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Times the Post, he has three decades of strategic marketing experience and he’s here today to talk about attribution in advertising.

The Evolution of Attribution

"Attribution is almost a religion in organizations," begins Jeff, “A lot of people think that change, no matter what it is or if it’s good or bad, is the new way; no, you have to go through change management to adapt to new attribution methods, kinda like converting to a new religion, so it’s gonna take time.”

He recounts the digital era's dawn when attribution aimed to track every click and impression, providing a detailed path to purchase. However, the landscape shifted as platforms like Facebook and YouTube restricted tagging, and iOS updates further complicated tracking, pushing towards a probabilistic model of understanding consumer behavior.

The Crux of Modern Attribution

The shift from a click-based attribution model to recognizing the significance of impressions and awareness marks the current attribution challenge. Jeff highlights, "What advertising is really about [is] buying impressions, creating awareness," pointing out that true advertising success bubbles into conversions from this awareness, not just clicks.

“This digs into a very important philosophical view of what a lot of people think the job of marketing and advertising is,” says Jeff. “A lot of people today think the job of marketing is you invest money, you buy clicks, you sell stuff. The reality is, that’s not the case; you invest money, you buy impressions, which builds awareness, which drives people to your store, or the web. So really, a marketer’s job is buying impressions, mindshare, you’re buying thoughts. If you optimize for clicks, you’re buying the bottom of the funnel and what ends up happening is you have a reduced audience, and you reach fewer people and your costs go up, and that’s where click-based attribution has got us to.”

Barriers to Effective Attribution

Identifying the major hurdles in attribution, Jeff points out the overreliance on clicks and the lack of a holistic approach to campaign strategy. "The biggest barrier is the philosophical belief that everything is based on clicks," he remarks. Moreover, he criticizes the industry's hyper-focus on the user-level journey, cautioning against the pitfalls of circumvention tactics and the narrow vision of last-click attribution.

“What’s happening right now is, anyone using GA4 or any click-based attribution and then trying to tie that back to actual conversions or KPIs, they are going to only be able to attach 20-30% directly, the other 70-80% of attribution is going to be “navigational,” meaning, your attribution methodology is going to show +70% of sales coming from Direct or Brand Search. Finding out what is driving awareness is what’s missing from attribution today.

The Future Without Cookies

As the digital advertising world braces for the end of third-party cookies, Jeff sees a divided future. While many might resist change, he believes smart marketers will recognize and seize the opportunity this shift presents. "It’s rare that something happens in the tech space where the C-Level is aware of it," Jeff notes, highlighting the unique visibility and urgency the cookie deprecation has achieved among top executives and Wall Street alike.

Real-world Attribution Tales

When asked for stories from the field, Jeff characterizes the reality of attribution as a "horror story," where the competitive struggle for budget among agencies often impedes collaborative success. This scenario underscores the complex dynamics and challenges inherent in attribution.

In conclusion, Jeff Greenfield's insights offer a compelling look into attribution's past, present, and future in advertising. Emphasizing awareness over clicks and advocating for a broadened perspective on campaign strategy, Jeff's narrative serves as a guide for navigating the shifting sands of digital marketing attribution.

The Links

Attribution Certification

Jeff on LinkedIn 

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