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Attribution Management: The New Frontier In Search

Had you exchanged pleasantries at a 2001 cocktail party, describing yourself as a search marketer, you’d have undoubted been met with a moment of uncomfortable silence and a blank stare. A decade later, it’s hard to imagine a company of any size, in any industry, that isn’t using SEO or paid search advertising to market its products or services.

In fact, a company not pursuing these activities now is almost universally viewed to be at a disadvantage to its competitors who are so engaged.

Well, marketing history appears to be repeating itself in the form of attribution management. It’s clearly the “new search” in many ways.

The Wild, Wild West Of Attribution Management

Attribution management is the science of calculating the contribution that each marketing touch point experienced by a consumer has on generating a “conversion action” – such as a purchase. Once the true attribution of each touch point is calculated, more intelligent decisions can be made by marketers about investments in the specific channels, campaigns and advertisement attributes that produce the best return on investment.

Despite the amount of marketing industry ink devoted to it over the last couple years, attribution is still at its infancy in the same way search once was. A number of leading providers have arisen in this space, and yet each has a different approach to how attribution is performed. Lots of smaller players claim to “do it.”

Now, both interactive and full-service agencies alike are carefully eyeing attribution as a possible threat and as a possible new revenue stream at the same time. Some agencies are already considering the “do we build, outsource or acquire” decision. It’s the wild, wild West. Sound at all familiar?

Channel Early Adopters

Much like search marketing, there are early adopters of attribution – financial service and insurance companies, travel and hospitality providers, and major retail players. These are large B2C marketers that market themselves through many channels, have an abundance of data, many thousands of transactions, and lots to gain if they can move the needle even a few percentage points of efficiency across their entire market spend.

These companies also have the required amount of money, staff and risk tolerance to allow them to explore new channels and new disciplines with the possibility that they may fail. Smaller companies with much less to invest in “experimentation” remain cautious in wait-and-see mode while more progressive organizations prove or disprove attribution’s viability. Once again, we’ve tread this path before.

The Rise Of “New Marketers”

Job titles containing “search marketing,” – specialists, analysts, managers, directors, and VPs – were unheard of a decade ago, prior to the realization that specialists of this type were necessary to compete effectively within that new channel.

Today, a growing number of companies have recognized the need to sprinkle their marketing organizations with titles like marketing analyst, marketing engineer, or marketing analytics specialist – PhDs in statistics and other mathematical disciplines who apply “science” to the art of marketing. Professionals of this type are already helping guide their more qualitative marketing colleagues on the quantitative ramifications of their work as virtually every marketing channel becomes measurable.

These “new marketers,” validated by the results they produce working within isolated marketing channels such as search, online display, and database marketing, will help evangelize attribution management as they work with third party providers in this area to produce increases in performance across organization’s entire marketing ecosystem.

A New Way Of Thinking

The rise of the search channel forced marketers to think differently – “pulling” consumers to our websites who were already interested in our products and service – rather than “pushing” our marketing messages to consumers who may not yet be interested.

Perhaps most importantly, attribution management is also forcing marketers to think differently. Instead of defining the performance of marketing channels in silos, each producing its own ROI as calculated by the value of the conversions recorded through that specific channel, attribution is defining the performance of channels by their true contribution to organization’s overall marketing success.

Both the “points they score” and the “assists they provide” can now be considered when judging performance.

Editors Note: Manu Mathew is participating in a free Search Marketing Now Webinar, Marketing Attribution Demystified: Ask The Experts, at 1pm EDT on March 15, 2011 – Register Now!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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