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Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing Attribution in 2019

As we get further into 2019, Marketing Executives are trying to better understand their buyers' journey and which marketing channels are contributing sales. They are trying to determine where and how to spend their marketing dollars in a way that drives the highest possible ROI, the most well defined cross channel transactions, and where their new customer acquisitions are really coming from.

In an effort to provide more clarity around what attribution strategies Marketing Executives should be looking at, I spoke with attribution expert, Anthony Clements, about what attribution really is, and how companies should be thinking about investing in it this year.


What is the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel attribution? 

It’s worth saying from the outset that these two phrases are used quite interchangeably in many aspects of digital marketing, which often creates a bit of confusion for marketers. The real difference between multi-channel and omni-channel from an attribution perspective is in the outcomes.

Multi-channel attribution seeks to measure how effective an individual marketing channel is at driving a conversion. By definition it’s conversion orientated, and helps marketers understand how important each channel is at getting customers to buy their products or services. It does this either by algorithmic or ‘place-in-the-chain’ models. Multi-channel attribution thinks more in terms of marketing channels like Display, Search, Affiliate etc than it does about the customer.

Omni-channel attribution seeks to measure how customer’s engage with a business, including different types of marketing, platforms like desktop or mobile, and will also generally look at offline engagements. For businesses that embrace the theory of omni-channel marketing – creating a single, unified commerce experience across all points of customer engagement, omni-channel attribution will help to properly understand customer journeys and also help to understand how the best / most profitable customers like to engage with a business.    


Example of a Click-to-Consume Path Analysis using attribution. Source: Impact


Why do you feel companies need to invest in attribution today?

Attribution feels like one of the slowest-burns in digital marketing. The technology and principles have been around a while, but adoption has been gradual. Adoption of digital attribution has accelerated over the last two years primarily because database technology has facilitated the advent of algorithm-driven attribution which uses data modelling to ‘score’ the effectiveness of channel engagement rather than the original ‘place-in-the-chain’ concepts which were ultimately quite biased. If a marketer favoured upper-funnel traffic then a first-click model would give them the results they wanted to see. Attribution is now more scientific and less open to individual bias.

Marketers are now being asked to invest their budgets in a range of large media platforms that all operate their own, siloed tracking ecosystems. Facebook Ads runs its own event and conversion tracking, as does Google Ads, as does LinkedIN Ads. It’s vitally important that marketers have the ability to scrutinise the results from these platforms using independent technology that helps them understand their relative importance to driving conversions, rather than simply analyse the results in isolation. Throw in a host of other marketing channels like other Display platforms, Affiliate, Email and then a variety of ways for customers to transact be it desktop, mobile web, mobile app or in-store…then the need to measure fractional contribution in ever-more complex customer journeys becomes obvious.

The industry also has a much greater handle on using attribution analysis to deliver meaningful results. Attribution doesn’t generate new traffic, and that often meant it was difficult for advertisers to justify the budget. Now, it isn’t uncommon for advertisers to redistribute up to 30% of their total spend based on new insight from an attribution model, so the outputs are powerful and actionable in a way they were not a few years ago.


Example of an affiliate attribution analysis, looking at "Initiator" (Top of Funnel), "Contributor" (Mid Funnel) and "Converter" (Bottom of Funnel) affiliate contributions. Source: Partnerize
Example of an affiliate attribution analysis, looking at "Initiator" (Top of Funnel), "Contributor" (Mid Funnel) and "Converter" (Bottom of Funnel) affiliate contributions. Source: Partnerize


What recommended next steps do you think companies should take in order to get true attribution set up correctly?

Like many digital marketing initiatives, setting up a data-driven attribution model is an iterative process. A company’s online marketing needs to be of a certain size and scope to really benefit from multi-touch attribution. This is primarily because a company needs to be ready to implement the spend and tactical marketing changes that should result from attribution analysis. We normally ensure a company is running at least three online advertising channels concurrently and is already using an online analytics solution like Google Analytics to collect and analyse customer journey data before we’d advise them to invest in attribution.

It’s also important to go into attribution work free of bias as to what channels or platforms are most valuable. This can be difficult for marketers with many years experience, but an open-mind is vital to ensuring attribution analysis is actionable.

With these things all in place the next step is to find a provider. Google and Adobe operate well-known enterprise level cross-channel attribution solutions, and VIsualIQ are highly regarded at the top end of the independent market. But these solutions are cost-prohibitive to many businesses. The market for independent attribution providers is growing fast with Fopsha, AttributionApp, Conversion Logic and in the affiliate space Impact and SingleView by ROEye all doing good things.

For businesses new to the space it can be resource intensive to find the right provider and then implement the right attribution model. Consultancy services like ours help companies navigate the ever-expanding vertical of digital analytics and attribution.


If you wish to contact Anthony for a full review of your multi-channel and omni-channel attribution options, you can contact him here, or contact All Inclusive Marketing for a full list of affiliate specific attribution solutions for your program this year.

Making Sense of Multi-Channel Madness

This is a live blog post from the Online Marketing Summit. Interview with Keynote John Boris, CMO of Shutterfly.


 John's Comments:

"Real time intelligence. It's a lot more complicated and time consuming but so much more rewarding than it's ever been before."

"I try to install a sense of personal ownership about our money. I encourage the team to think about new ideas and make decisions about how to spend budget as if it was their own money. That accountability allows them to be more creative and more efficient than not."

"Innovation is not just the newest thing out there and whatever is trending, it could be a new approach to something old"

"We spend the vast majority of our budgets online. Then we optimize the hell out of each of them. We have KPIs and metrics for everything, understand everything. Every month is different, every customer is different, and we measure all of that."

"Always understand the worst performing thing you are doing. Then remove that and put that effort or budget into something else that's performing better."

"They are starting to invest more offline because it's differentiating them from their online competitors. They won't know what the ROI is going to be, but they know it's going to work."

"Did we bend the curve on our brand exposure on Google because of our offline efforts? Absolutely it did. And we were acquiring better customers because they had a stronger brand loyalty to our brand."

"The Average person looks at their phone on average 150 times per day." - Wow, I'm guilty of this...

"If 30% of your traffic is coming from mobile you should be spending 30% of your R&D budget on mobile"

"There is no good way to show that discovery happens on a lean back device when you're at home watching TV then going back to purchase on your laptop the next day."

"We have set aside some money to play and learn more about what we can do with mobile."

"We look at things right brain, left brain as much as we can. I love looking at brand and analytics. I am realistic enough to know that there are things we are going to be doing that can't be quantifiable but that I know adds value and is important to our overall marketing mix."

"True lift - people struggle with it all the time. We struggle with it too! Some of it is just intuitive gut and just test and measure absolutely everything we can and optimize the heck out of each one over and over again."

"Data is critical to any business and especially online businesses. If I could trade off budget for more analytics I would. It's essential. We look at importer, CPA, Cost Per New, Return on Ad Spend, LTV, ROI. We are in the process of creating a multi-touch attribution model. Display plus paid search plus affiliate becomes a sale. But how and what does that mean. If you could understand which customers shop once a year or once a month, how do you treat those customers differently from each other."

"Pictures are a motive. People want to communicate through images. There are about 350 images a day posted on our Facebook. We don't want people to take more photos. We want people to do more with their photos and share them in meaningful ways."

"We've made great stides in social over the last two years. We have over 2MM fans across our channels. I'm a believer in social media. It's an incredibly compelling way to engage with your customers with a relevant and meaningful way. You can 't just pump out offer after offer after offer. It has to be relevant, timely and thoughtful. When we do that it's successful. I approach engagement as the first measurement tool with this first and ROI second. Engagement is always first."

"Social gives you opportunity that is amazing, but you have to treat it with respect or you're going to loose your friends and followers."

"We have millions of customers in our database. Not all are active. We've been around for over 10 years. We are a very Q4 centric business. So try to sell photo gifts, photo books around babies, birthdays, etc. Offline you are put into a separate bucket because you don't know if the person is going to see the TV ad or not. We have a very robust CRM team to send a relevant piece to the right person in the right mindset at the right time which sends meaningful messages based on what we know about our costumers whether through direct mail, email or retargeting."

"We took people's photos and sent them personal messages with their picture in a new format or in a Christmas card and did the work for them, and it's becoming an extremely successful strategy for us."

"Visual merchandising is what we invest a lot of time, energy and investment on. We ask, what is the best way to display this? We test different things. We continually experiment with that. That's not just for the website either, it's on banners, display, e-mail, etc. Visual is as responsive as you can get and a picture really does say 1000 words, so this is something we continue to put forth and try to perfect as much as possible. You don't have to perfect it, you just have to always try to continue to improve."

"Long tail can mean different things for different folks. Long tail search for us is huge. People are getting smarter and they are using very specific terms to find exactly what they are looking for. But there is the long tail customer as well. In our system they look dormant but they may be travelling and are taking a season off. You have to consider they are still around and a brand advocate even if they are not currently active."

"Always feed the top of your funnel. But also nurture your existing CRM. From a channel standpoint, it's more expensive to acquire new customers than to keep the ones we have."

"I love DM! What if you extended your product catalogue and mailed it to your customer? We are experimenting with all these things and continuing to improve them as we go."

Other great brands like Shutterfly are Blurb and Picaboo. If you are an affiliate you can check out their affiliate programs on AIM's Affiliate Program page here.



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