Episode 11: Attribution
When Robbie Fitzwater and Tim Lowry dive into the confusing world of Attribution on the Content Community Commerce podcast, they explore the irony of how striving for perfect clarity can lead to bad marketing and how to find a balance between short-term performance and long-term strategy.
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Quote of the Episode
“When you have platforms competing against each other, you really have a situation where everybody wants to grade their own homework.”Robbie Fitzwater
So Tim, I’m looking at my, my marketing analytics dashboards right now, and it’s telling me that between my Google ads and my email, those both account for 250% of my total revenue. Where does SEO fit into that picture?
I’m seeing like 180% of revenue is coming from organic, so.
So we know that 430% of our revenue is coming from paid organic and seo.
Totally. We’re crushing it.
That totally makes sense. That, that, that that checks out. Absolutely.
That matches everything I learned in math and school. . The math maths. This is great.
Hello everyone. This is Tim and Robbie with the Content Community Commerce podcast. We talk about topics on the, the intersection of content, community, and commerce. Today we’re gonna be diving into a topic that is near and dear to everyone’s heart that every digital marketer knows to some extent, or every marketer kind of knows to some extent and feels absolutely confident in every decision and in every conversation they have about it. . What is that topic?
And the struggle is real .
Like attribution is just like, it’s like trying to make sense of a Salvador dolly painting. Like you’re trying to like look at it and get it, but you don’t always get it. You don’t always fully embrace it and like, I’m not gonna lie, I don’t always get art. So it’s, it’s one of those things. But here we’re going through a time where attribution should be, it has been in some ways easier in the past.
It’s easier than it has been way back when, but like why is attribution such a, such a hot topic right now?
Oh my gosh. It’s like every day I feel like I’m shouting from my desk over to you with some complaint with regards to what I’m seeing in Google Analytics, just not matching up with some other dashboard or tool or something that I use. So it’s, it’s a hot mess.
Yeah. So we’re, we’re living in a time where we, as marketers, we really strive for understanding, basically like we wanna unpack what’s happening and understanding what, what marketing investment and.
And clients and stakeholders too. Like they, they want to be able to be like, I’m spending this much, how does that attribute to that single channel? And the single channel attribution is, is where the struggle is becoming very real.
Yeah. And, and there’s so many layers to this too because even within those given channels, there’s different attribution models.
They can be running like a last click attribution versus a, like, again, a time-based attribution versus a basically diminishing attribution or, I, I can’t even remember last first click. There’s, there’s, there’s many different models that they could be running and all of those are gonna be giving different results from the model base, but also from the platform and channel base. Like, those are all gonna be really different depending on what tool you’re using to measure that.
Yeah. And if we back up a little bit, like when we’re talking about attribution, if you’re, you’re newer to marketing, like it’s, it’s gonna look a little bit different depending on like if you’re a B2B site or if you’re an e-commerce or what that looks like. Because B2B attribution can get even more difficult because all of a sudden you are throwing a longer life cycle in, you’re throwing in potentially phone calls with sales team in the middle of it and it’s like, we’re, where the heck did this lead originate?
And then by the time it gets to the end, like a year later, it can be really and salesy to figure that out.
Sales, sales has rode in like a white knight and taken that, taken that, and, and, and, and liberated, liberated your, your lead from from that.
This person magically appeared on my cell phone.
The, the shackles. The shackles of your CRM . But yeah, it’s, it’s a weird space to be in because again, it’s not as straightforward as we’d like it to be. And as marketers, we really want that definitive knowledge because in some cases, like we’ve had that in the past in a lot of ways because we have had a little bit more transparency and the level of privacy on devices has been a little bit less intense than it is now.
Yeah. It’s, it’s, I think of like the office where like Andy clicks that button, like, you know, allow all cookies and basically like collapses his computer. It’s like the days of like just raining down cookies on somebody as they like come into your site is not the same anymore. Like you don’t have that same ability to track down to a very granular level. It’s like privacy is starting to squelch all of that out.
Yeah. And like basically the privacy war that’s going on between devices, so like Apple, like one of their core value propositions right now is privacy and with them putting privacy at the front and center of all of their.
Pri privacy, except they know everything .
Privacy, the privacy within our walled garden. Yeah. Basically like, and as.
As Google brings privacy in it’s privacy except for Google knows everything that’s going on still.
Yeah. We know what’s in your inbox in your Gmail. We know it’s every, but again, for those different systems, they don’t like necessarily like to play nice together the way they they had in the past potentially.
And that’s where, again, attribution has become a lot more difficult, a lot more challenging because with new privacy restrictions on devices, we marketers can’t tie con tie conversions back the way they could in the past. Like even Facebook ads are not converting the same way and aren’t performing the same way because you can’t tie that back to a direct conversion the same way that you were able to in the past because that cookie just doesn’t track. And when you, again, when the large portion of US based consumers in the states that are affluent and can afford to purchase on e-commerce, like when they’re using iPhones, like iPhone’s a really tough place to reach people on right now or to be able to track people through.
Yeah. And the platform doesn’t wanna give all that data. And I think of like, you know, again, helping to have like a, a tangible example, and you may have experienced this too, but like recently, like we’ll go into a client and we’ll look at the Shopify and we’ll see what the revenue numbers at Shopify and then you can go into your Google analytics and whenever you add together like the different channels and the attribution, you’re gonna have a totally different revenue number that’s in there.
And then maybe using a tool like you have Klaviyo Okay, the Klaviyo, like, I’ll give you a number and then your Google paid dashboard is going to give you a number. And honestly, it’s like we said kind of jokingly at the start, like whenever you add all these things together, it’s like, all right, 400% of our revenue has come across like all these different things. It’s like you have numbers that just reflect something entirely different than what actually landed in the register. And that’s, that’s where this gets tricky.
Yeah. Yeah. The math doesn’t always math and like when you have those platforms.
The math doesn’t math .
Yeah. When you’re competing against, when you’re, when you have platforms competing against each other, you really have a situation where everybody wants to grade their own homework. Yeah. And where again, that platform has incentives to again, show performance on their end, which makes things fuzzy and difficult and challenging to understand.
And also even how they measure that. Is this, are they tracking based on a pixel? Are they tracking based on an api? And that’s where there’s a lot of gray area between those platforms, between those services and how they measure the performance of the, of their system.
I just, I had a thought it’s all gonna be okay, GA four starts this and everything will, everything will all of a sudden magically be better.
And and it’s like, it’s like GA four comes out, we’re walking on sunshine, walking on sunshine. Hey,
Everything will be so much clearer.
It’s gonna, the world’s gonna feel like a freaking pharmaceutical ad. It’s gonna be snowcones and puppies and great. It’s gonna be awesome. That’s absolutely false. . Yeah.
GA four, seems like a little bit of a train wreck right now. Like even a lot of Google owned properties aren’t using it at the moment. So it’s a challenge to kind of understand Yeah. How this is gonna work. I haven’t loved it.
It’ll hopefully get better. I’m, I’m trying to wrangle that beast into something that actually gives me information that I want. But all that aside, like what do we actually do now as like marketers, like we’re, where should we be thinking how do we talk around this with internal teams, stakeholders, clients, whoever it might be that we ultimately have to report to? Like how do we, how do we paint a picture of like what our, our data’s telling us and how to interpret that into something?
So, so with this like attribution, like we again want it to be simple. We want it to be easy. It’s not gonna be as simple and straightforward as we want it to be. And it’s gonna require marketers to do some level of, in like have some level of like taking a pulse of how your marketing is doing, but also not being so reliant on those individual platforms.
So we, if we can go one layer above where we were at in terms of like what those, like again, attribution or whatever revenue you see coming from a platform, if we can go one layer above that, like how well are we driving new customers? How well are we drive creating repeat customers? How well are we optimizing for other areas of our marketing? So we know that our North star isn’t necessarily gonna be revenue from ga, revenue from Klaviyo or revenue from, from those areas. Like those are great directional indicators that we know that hey, if we’re moving this, this needle in the right direction, we’re gonna be growing the pie. Yes. But we’re not gonna be able to say definitively we’re the only one growing the pie. We need to look at things at a higher level, kind of go upstream from what we’re gonna be seeing at the platform level to understand what we can see at, at a higher level.
So like if we have a larger organizational goal of like, where do we want to grow our marketing? That’s where we want to be focusing. Are we creating more new high lifetime value customers? Are we increasing the lifetime value of our existing customer base? And that’s where we’re gonna have to think about a little bit more marketing math and understand, hey, how well can we understand our, our cost per acquisition? How well can we understand our average order value? And how well can we understand our lifetime value? Because all of those are gonna be better north star metrics to look at as opposed to simple attribution from one platform to the other.
Yeah. And I’m just, I’m hearing that and I was just, I was thinking the whole time it’s like just invest more in organic is probably like your best job.
Yeah. That, that’s naturally that’s, that’s that’s naturally.
That’s the distilled don answer for what you’re looking for.
No, but at the same time, like all of that makes sense, but you and I know the reality, it’s like there’s somebody somewhere in an organization and they’re looking and they have a report where Google Ads is telling them like, you know, spend a little bit more and you’ll reach this many more people or see this many more conversions. And I think we’ve fallen into this like performance marketing sinkhole where people are in there and they keep digging deeper into it because again, they’re getting the insights from what you’re saying, it’s at the platform level and they’re gonna tell you one thing. But on the other side of that, their conversation is their stakeholders of how they’re going to grow ad revenue or how they’re going to grow internal advertising or LinkedIn ads or whatever it might be based on that. And again, it’s, it’s how do you, how do you navigate around those conversations of like, maybe we don’t throw that extra whatever dollar figure it is into Google ads.
Maybe we invest that in a different way because we know that you’re now saying like, our north star is, you know, we want to increase users, repeat customers, new customers. So how do, how do you address those conversations?
You, you have to really kind of, again, it’s not necessarily an easy conversation to have, but you have to really understand how to get out of that performance-based mindset. Because like, we see this happen all the time with e-commerce stores. Like I see it with clients, I’ve, I know I’ve fall and pre to it myself. Like you become really interested, like you become really obsessed with Roaz. Mm-Hmm. , Roaz becomes this like north star that every e-commerce store wants to look at. It’s like their, their bastion of like what it looks like north that’s roaz is not a north star. Ro roaz is a, is a indicator and kind of a, a directional indicator, but it’s not the only thing you need to be focusing on for your marketing because it’s an input that’s one of many inputs that you’re gonna be looking at consistently.
It’s easy to get really wrapped up in that performance based mindset because you can measure it all the time. Mm-Hmm. , and when we think about it and everything in a short term mindset from month to month as opposed to year to year, we’re not thinking and doing our actual service to our marketing in terms of how we’re getting better as a whole. And we’re getting really focused on like the, the nuts and bolts and fiddly little bits of, hey, this campaign’s performing in x, y, z this campaign’s performing in X, Y, Z and to its credit, like ads is a really powerful platform, a really powerful channel to grow in. But once you hit a certain point in ads, the marginal benefit of rev of increasing the number of ads you’re gonna serve up decreases really fast. Because like at first you find like your target audience pretty quickly.
Because those systems are really efficient at finding who’s gonna purchase. After that it may be like, it’s basically like, okay, I’m gonna find people who are interested in cycling, who I know cycle on a fairly frequent basis and who I know live in an area where they’re gonna need this. The later like one layer above that is like people who are fairly interested in cycling and a but layer above that is like people who are fairly interested in being outdoors and like we get more and more diluted as we get more and more as we invest more and more there. So it’s not a like always an input that we’re gonna have consistent output from mm-hmm. . We need to understand how to measure that and monitor that, but also we need to be thinking in a long-term mindset of how are we gonna continually grow Yeah.
As opposed to just focusing on all performance. We need to have some ki type of, again, brand marketing, which is a little bit more warm and fuzzy for some marketers, but it’s something where we need to be building a brand because a brand is an excuse to charge more for the same products mm-hmm. and it gives us a defensible position. And when we have a defensible position, we’re not gonna be have to worry about new competitors coming in and we’re gonna have a lot more sturdy marketing ecosystem because we have all three, we have three legs to our stool as opposed to just one or two.
Yeah. And I find that the space that I play in, in like the SEO space that is that longer term mindset of where we’re like looking quarter over quarter, year over year trying to like justify it that way.
And whenever I work with companies that have been very much performance-based marketing, the first number nof months are rough because their expectation is that like, even though they’ve been told and the conversation has been had, it’s like they wanna see that performance like Google ads and it’s like, that’s not how, like SEO doesn’t work that way. You have to have a longer term mindset. But the reality is like the reason so much of this is muddy now is that like the typical user does not just take a single path journey to completing something anymore. There’s so many touchpoints that they have along the way. And you need to be, you kinda need to be playing in the mall. You can’t just be doing one one thing if you do one thing. Yeah. You might have clearer data, but you’re missing out on so much opportunity.
Yeah. When we were talking about this, I was like, I’m gonna be like controversial and like, again, like a little bit rough around the edges. Like I think if you have a really clear attribution, I think you have bad marketing. I think that’s a knock on your marketing if everything is really clear because you’re likely not investing in ways that you need to be through longer term channels. And honestly, if you’re invest, if you have a really clear attribution, you’re not in a defensible position because you don’t have a clear path, you have a very clear path to purchase and you make it really easy for people, but also you’re not gonna have a high enough average order value that’s gonna command a, a, a strong profitability for your business either. So like anything over a hundred dollars people are gonna do a lot more research on, and that customer journey’s gonna be longer.
So when you have this really easy attributable revenue pipeline, like that’s not necessarily a good thing. And I, I’d almost like, I’m gonna say like, I think that’s a, a knock on your marketing not being creative and not being str strategic enough. It’s short-term mindset that’s tactical and not strategic.
Yeah. And it’s even thinking around like the buying and everything else, it’s like people will buy in platforms now. So you might be, you know, using Instagram as part of your strategy, but now they’re gonna buy through something in Instagram, like they can complete checkout processes through those platforms or in TikTok and all of them want to try and keep the user in there longer. So again, that’s where like that that journey just gets so different. It’s no longer person came on Google, they clicked an ad, then their next thing, they searched and found something organically and then they came back direct.
And that’s their, their journey over it is like, they read your content, they then jumped over to your social, they clicked through some posts, they hung out for a while, then they, you know, discovered something later, six weeks later they came back, found something.
They may, they may have joined an email list at some point. Like we’ve been able to bring them back in once or twice and yeah, it’s gonna have, it’s gonna have multiple touchpoints.
Yeah. There’s all these multiple touchpoints and they’re all fragmented through different systems and platforms where TikTok is not gonna tell you the amount of detail you want. It’ll give you the, the detail in its platform as to like engagement metrics or whatever it might be. But it’s not gonna put all of that into your GA. And the same thing with LinkedIn. It’s gonna give you, you know, if you had, we’ve talked about this like an external link, it’s only gonna give you, it’s like, oh, we’ll just throw them, you know, we’ll throw them a bone just to keep them quiet.
We’ll put something in their ga it’s probably not gonna be accurate compared to if you keep it natively, then all of a sudden you have all of this rich insight as to how your poach you know, your post performed and how many people you reached and the engagement and click and everything else. So again, it’s like, yeah, it’s gonna, it’s gonna be messy and that’s okay. You need a clear, a clear plan on where you’re going, but knowing that like what you’re gonna get in the other amp might not be clear, but if revenue’s going up, customers are growing and everything else.
That’s, that needs to be your north star.
Then and, and it’s working and we gotta keep working this plan and just massage different things as we go along.
Because things will change if things can change. And if you don’t have a defensible position, you’re gonna be in a tough place.
And I know like back in the day, this was like the famous John Wannamaker quote with like, 50% of my marketing is wasted. I just dunno if 50%, we don’t want that to be the case. We don’t wanna waste money, but this is a place where we know that we can’t have perfect clarity into everything. And there is just gonna be some gray area right now because like we just don’t have the tools like tool platforms.
But, but I use HubSpot and everything. Everything, everything is perfect. Everything is perfect. Everything shows in my dashboard. And it is true. It is true.
It is like it is the, it is the gospel. Yeah. It it is I believe . .
Yeah. Again, platforms, they all want you to think that they, they have it figured out.
And even the window like of Facebook may be like measuring on a 30 day attribution window.
Yeah. Which is like, like, yeah, they saw Facebook ad they clicked on it like 30 days ago. That does, and they convert. Like that’s, that’s really tough to connect the dots from. I don’t necessarily trust fully trust that or fully like believe that, but if that’s part of it, paid ads, paid social is a really great top of the funnel strategy. Yeah. Like that’s definitely necessary. But again, that 30 day window is probably a little bit long. So again, understanding there’s probably some wiggle room and I always think about 20% to 30% of variation between channels and what you’re seeing, like understanding there is some, there is some fluidity there where those channels are complimenting and supplementing each other. And when you’re understanding that at a holistic level, you get a better sense for what’s working, what’s not, and how your marketing is performing.
Yeah. And there’s, there’s more channels than ever. Like that’s the other part. It’s like when it was five different channels that you have to look at and that’s what everything falls in under, it’s very clear. But I’ve gotten in some Google analytics and it’s like, frick, there’s, there’s things here that I haven’t even, like you’re going into it, it’s people that have, well here’s our channel for streaming through Hulu as you know, ads in those type of devices. And then here’s our over the top an influencer and like, oh, everything is all in ones. There’s so many. And it gets to the stage where there’s so many different channels and if you added everything up and what they’re all claiming, like your numbers are gonna be a hot mess. So the only true thing you have is like, are we moving up and are we going in the right direction?
Or are we doing things and we’re not seeing improvement in results? And if so, then maybe starting to do some testing and like, well what if we, reduce spend here? What if we increased this effort? And if you see then a result that moves you up, then that was right. If you do that and it moves you down slightly, then maybe that wasn’t the right formula of, of things. And I’ve read recently like some, some major players that had like big ad spends, like they’ve, they’ve cut their budgets way back, but they’re still seeing the same level of results and it’s like, okay, well how does, how does that work? Because I was told if I spend an extra a hundred million, I’m gonna see this bigger outcome.
Wait, not investing in my branded keywords is not gonna result in like more, more revenue. Like, like, like paying for every branded keyword’s gonna not help me the way i I want it to.
I know, it’s, it’s wild. I’m sorry to burst that bubble.
This marketing is a travesty. Yeah. So, and sorry, like I, that’s really like in the weeds, like just making fun of Google branded keywords, Google branded campaigns are always like, they’re, they’re a little bit of a flex. They, they seem like they have very high robots, very high performance, but like if people are already searching for your brand and searching for your.
They, they’ve, they’ve made that, that decision and I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it cannibalize in different ways. So like for a brand term that we were performing well on and getting, you know, good organic revenue attribution, now all of a sudden the number of clicks have dropped drastically for the brand term.
So now you’re just paying for something that somebody had already made their decision on. And it’s like, you may not be paying much, but that’s where all of a sudden, like, you know, ads is the hero doesn’t need to be the hero in this story. Probably not, unless like, I think the only time it makes sense is whenever like if you’re a SaaS company and people are looking to like an alternative to X platform and you want to then like start doing like brand protection or something like that, where like you need an ad in there because all of a sudden, you know, monday and whatever other, you know, project management software tools are all bidding ads against you. So you wanna be up there as like, no, there’s nothing alternative.
We’re you don’t, you don’t wanna get outbid by a competitor. And that makes that those situations make sense. Yeah. So it’s like, it’s a weird dynamic where we really have to start to come to terms with like, it’s not all gonna be perfect mm-hmm. and as marketers, we really have to really embrace that. But as we kind of like, again, address that messiness that’s happening, like we can do a lot of things that are really innovative and, and organic. No, just kidding. Yeah. And, and and when you put it all into organic, like this is, this is the gift that keeps on giving. This is like.
It’s like Christmas, Christmas day every day.
You’re, you’re Warren Buffet. Like, like nothing’s more powerful than compound interest. This is organic. Exactly. Yeah. . But it’s a really, yeah, we’re, we’re in a really interesting time and being a one trick pony can be really detrimental to your marketing. So if we were to think about this in terms of like how we can like land the plane in terms of this, this, this attribution ramp we’ve been on, if we were to land the plane, what are three things that people can take away that they can really clearly use and leverage in their marketing, like in the way they think about attribution or the way they communicate with their leadership or, because this is really a fuzzy area where if you can, and that’s one a reason I say like, having your north star metrics that are outside of these platforms, because when you’re communicating these to upper level executives, c level, they, none of this may make sense, like com communicating attribution to them.
You might as well, like trying to be like, again, communicating like describing Salvador Dolly, like it’s gonna be really difficult and really challenging, but if you can connect the dots between this and a north star metric, like that’s gonna make a lot more sense to them. And that’s gonna be a lot more powerful communication than just like, Hey, I think this is working, we think this is working, this is this, this is this. Like, you’re just gonna end up confusing them.
Yeah. So what’s that? What is, what’s our first takeaway, Robbie?
Don’t obsess over perfection. Like, don’t make it perfect, perfect is not gonna happen. And in our world right now, perfect. We’re getting farther and farther away from perfect with between cross-platform omnichannel and between platforms wanting to be their own walled garden and privacy concern in addressing privacy concerns. There’s not gonna be any perfectly clear path to a perfect attribution.
There’s, there’s a little bit of trusting, trusting your gut and knowing like, I’ve done this and I saw improvement, or we tried this and this seemed to work. And some of it’s gonna be trusting your gut because the attribution might not give you exactly what you’d hoped to see, but you’re seeing the data in the right places, which is either that growth of revenue, increase of users or you know, new customers, whatever that might look like for your, for your goal.
So it, again, it gives us that high level view of like, hey, we’re not gonna be perfect, don’t have perfect in the way I’ve done what the next one assume some variation. So assume 20 to 30% of variation in your, in your members, because again, there’s not gonna be a perfect level of attribution here. You’re not gonna be able to track everything perfectly.
And if they’re, and because that customer journey is messy and fuzzy, there need, there’s likely going to be some, some overlap in those because again, conversion windows may be different, like platforms may be measuring on a different conversion metric. Again, api, which is like, again, connecting directly to the platform or pixel, which is connecting, tracking somebody via pixel. All of this is going to lead to this like blend that there’s gonna be some variation.
And then, and the last one is kinda what you hit on, but if it’s perfect, you’re probably not doing it right.
Yes. It’s like, this is where like I’m gonna, I will, like, as a director of marketing in the past, like I led a large e-commerce organization, we ne it’s never gonna be perfect. Yeah. And you’re gonna always be like working to kind of like iron things out. But if you have your metrics lined up or you have your team in alignment where they know exactly what they’re doing. If I know that I’m increasing visibility through organic and I’m increasing the number of opens and clicks and basically value added revenue through email, like if I’m increasing my organic revenue, my email revenue and my ads are revenue, I know all of those may not be perfect, but if I’m increasing my top line revenue for the business, then my marketing is working. Yeah. And if I knew that one of those would drop off or fall off or get a, a penalty in, in Google or, or an organic, our email suddenly starts to hit hit spam folder or our ads to start pooping, pooping the bed. We know that we have a defensible position in other platforms that can help us kind of cushion that blow.
But if it’s not, if it’s perfect and it’s seamless, like, hey, all my, all my revenue and attribution comes back from Amazon ads. My only revenue comes from Amazon, it’s all from Amazon ads. I know exactly who my roaz is and I know exactly what I’m doing all the time. Like I, you don’t have a business, you have a product .
Yeah. And you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity along the way. And I think like we can all strive for perfect, but we always have to just be comfortable in like, it’s not, it’s not gonna be, but you always, you can strive for that at least.
You can strive for your Instagram life, but it’s not gonna be your real life. So like yeah. Hope, look for the best. Hope for the best. But yeah, don’t get, don’t get wrapped up in trying to be Instagram.
Yeah. When you get to the end of the month and you’re trying to break down all these things and figure out how to report this, clearly there’s, there’s gonna be a little bit of fuzziness in some places and that’s, that is okay as long as those big overarching goals that you’re striving for, that you’re heading towards that. Yeah.
So Tim, this was a lot. If anybody else has questions on this, like, like hit us up. We want to know was my opinion really bad with my perspective? Really bad? Probably, but I want to know why. So yeah, give us feedback.
If your, if your GA four dashboard has everything perfect and we have missed the mark, let us know.
Yeah. Or if you’re in GA four and still technically not running GA four like let us know. Give, give us some, let us know why and or like call, call me out on it. So I’m not the guy with the cool Irish accent, so you can, you can say it whatever you want.
Not nevermind. That’s, going viral.
Okay. . And, and with that you guys, this is Tim and Robbie with the Content Community Commerce podcast. We’ll see you guys next time and have a wonderful day.