Multi Touch attribution complaints


Multi-touch Attribution: The ThighMaster of Marketing

March 12, 2019

Bowflex, Shake Weight, ThighMaster, Ab Roller, Ab Belt… you have seen or heard of some of these “As Seen on TV” fitness products. What they all have in common is The Promise: Buy this product and you’ll look great in just 30 days without any hard work or dieting, and all for just “3 easy payments”. But how many buyers have ever achieved thighs even remotely like Suzanne Somers’? Few.  Which is about the same proportion of marketers who have realized great marketing effectiveness gains from Multi-touch Attribution (MTA).


We all know that resistance exercise works to improve strength, tone muscle, and improve overall fitness. In theory, Bowflex or Ab Roller should have worked for millions of out-of-shape consumers. So it wasn’t the product that was flawed, it was The Promise. In real life, resculpting your physique takes work. It is not fast, easy, nor fun, especially when you’re just beginning. Most people end up frustrated and the gadget ends up gathering dust and the user likely will swear off all exercise programs entirely --  a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. This is especially true if it’s not your belly, but your marketing budget that’s out of shape.


Marketers who bought into MTA platforms promising fast results with minimal data gathering effort in a plug-and-play form are feeling like promise hasn’t lived up to the hype.  Industry groups have held panel discussions, conducted surveys, designed meta-studies, and issued reports to find out why MTA is developing a reputation for failure. According to the MMA, marketers who have attempted MTA have given attribution a negative Net Promoter Score (NPS) of -31. The promise has not lived up to the reality.


I want to be clear: MTA can absolutely identify the online activities that result in conversions with greater probability. However, marketers looking for the better/faster/easier/cheaper silver bullet, have allowed themselves to believe that it could do much more.  Unfortunately, it turns out that to get accurate and actionable results marketing, like exercise, requires effort, commitment, and hard work.


Is it possible to get the analytical equivalent of 6-pack abs with MTA alone? Athletes, Hollywood stars, and models who get the best results from exercise, hire personal trainers to assess their lifestyle to develop transformation goals, customize routines to their particular needs, coach them holistically on diet and keep them on track to achieving results. The same goes for marketers who are trying to achieve accurate and actionable attribution.  While any one or few of the tools and techniques might seem familiar or “easy”, the combination and methodological rigor necessary to adapt the solution to your “marketing metabolism” most often make the difference between success and failure.


And the fact is, one tool can’t meet every need. Just like you wouldn’t use a ThighMaster to tone your triceps, MTA works really well in specific use cases where excellent data exists and the walled gardens of Facebook, Google and others don’t limit the full 360° customer view. Used too broadly, MTA produces unreliable results and introduces risks to your credibility as an analyst. Properly applied, MTA is most often combined with a holistic view using econometric techniques or Marketing Mix Modeling and randomized tests.  Three example use cases from our own experience demonstrate the point:

  • Retail business looking to drive topline sales
    This client has robust store selling data, but limited customer and e-Commerce data and wants to drive daily & seasonal sales particularly in season. By leveraging Marketing Mix for holistic business view along with MTA for digital deep dive (given data limitations focused on website store locator visits) and validating results with store tests, the company is able to see 34% ROI improvement on $83 million in marketing spend.
  • Financial services seeking to improve customer acquisition and retention
    With robust customer level data, integrated online/offline activity and sales data, the client was focused on ways to increase new customer acquisition and improve churn rate. Through Integrated Marketing Mix and MTA for new acquisitions and an Independent Churn Model, validated by a market test, the business saw +12% in new customers, 5% reduction in churn rate.
  • Hotel brand with the goal to drive more bookings through their own website
    While the brand has detailed customer data for bookings through their own site, this level of data is limited for OTAs and other sales channels. A unified measurement approach was used to capture the drivers of bookings holistically across all channels and business drivers as well as tactically at the user level for direct website bookings.  Through more optimal allocation of spend, the business saw a 15% increase in own website bookings and a 28% improvement in ROI; validated through PSA tests.

While all cases leverage econometric and probabilistic models as well as all-important randomized test design for in-market validation and optimization algorithms, the choice and mixture of these techniques are adapted to best meet the business goals.


Every business is different, and every industry has its own challenges. What works for one business will not necessarily work for others. The rapidly changing and complex multi-touch world of marketing, the data challenges within the ecosystem, and the outside competitive, economic and market forces necessitate a more robust and adaptive methodology – to address both the challenges of today’s marketplace and the unknowns of tomorrow.


Multi-touch attribution is just one piece of that future-state and one of the many tools that you must leverage correctly to address your specific business needs.  But the fact is, there is not a viable “plug and play” stand-alone MTA solution in the marketplace. The current complex data landscape, multiplication of walled gardens and the increasing data limitations with new media technologies make it a promise that doesn’t deliver. You can’t expect to spend $39.95 and see results in 30 days without working up a sweat.


-- Nancy Smith, CEO and President, founded Analytic Partners in 2000 and is proud to lead the world's largest independent, global marketing analytics consultancy.