An Interview with Sparkroom’s VP of Innovation & Strategy About the Importance of Cross-Channel Attribution
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Akeel Haider, vice president of innovation and strategy at Sparkroom, to discuss the importance of cross-channel attribution and how Sparkroom is addressing the tracking challenge within higher education marketing. Akeel leads the development efforts for Sparkroom performance marketing technology and is an advocate for tracking systems that allow marketers to identify opening, assisting and closing channels.
Kathy Bryan: In your words, why is cross-channel attribution important?
Akeel Haider: There’s a universal question in marketing, “Which 50% of my dollars are resulting in sales.” Cross channel-channel attribution is the one of the only ways to correctly and accurately evaluate marketing performance and answer this question. It is virtually the only way to get a full picture of marketing efforts and how channels and campaigns are interacting with each other, in a non-linear way, to produce conversions [customer acquisitions] and sales. There’s simply no other comprehensive way to know how all of your marketing dollars are performing.
KB: Speaking of that universal question, do you believe that only 50% of most marketing budgets are resulting in conversions?
AK: No – that’s just an analogy. Every marketing effort, from content campaigns to paid search to display ads to any interaction point between the brand and the prospect, has an impact on marketing performance. They won’t all be the final touch point, but each touch has influence and should get some credit. Cross-channel attribution is the process that assigns and tracks that credit.
KB: What do you think will surprise marketers most with regards to their results once cross-channel attribution tracking is in place?
AK: Many marketers will be amazed by the number of interactions or touchpoints for each consumer. They’ll be surprised to see how deeply branding efforts are impacting down-the-funnel efforts. There’s a lot of cross-channel effect in terms of influencing consumers along the conversion path. It’s a much more complex web than most marketers believe it to be. Especially marketers who have been historically tracking with last-click methods, it [cross-channel attribution] will be an eye opening experience.
KB: Marketers have been known to say, “it all works together.” Cross-channel attribution supports this statement, doesn’t it?
AK: Yes – but, more importantly, it proves the statement. And then it provides tracking visualization and the actionable data that gives marketers the ability to optimize their cross-channel efforts.
KB: If it all works together, how can marketers comfortably cut out a marketing channel that’s doing a good job?
AK: There are standard attribution models that can be used by marketers. They [the standard attribution models] can be quickly reviewed to see if any of them identifies a solution to produce more conversions with less spend. Each standard model, like first click, time delay or linear, differently calculates and assigns credit to channels based on what has been pre-determined as most or least important.
Ultimately, each brand and media mix needs its own data-driven attribution model based on the method or various methods deployed to determine the optimal mix and spend.
KB: Cross-channel attribution modeling sounds complex. Do marketers need an analytics or statistics person on staff to measure cross-channel attribution correctly?
AK: There are parts of cross-channel attribution that can be complex, but there are many attribution tasks that can be tackled by marketers with no analytics experience. The idea is always to get closer to the goal of having accurate tracking and credit assignment in place. A first step is trying to track the lift of different channels. Free software, like Google Analytics can help with that.
Sure, there’s also a complicated side to cross-channel attribution. But before that, it’s important to have the correct tracking and tools in place. After all, without the right data, there’s nothing to calculate. So initially, marketers should identify their tracking mechanisms and tools. Then, they should figure out how the data is housed and processed and how it can be digested. Finally, they should determine how the data can be used for attribution modeling. In the long run, marketers will need data sciences in addition to the right tools ― or an agency with a platform that can provide that service.
KB: Is there more to Google Analytics than most marketers realize?
AK: Absolutely. In my opinion, most marketers don’t use GA [Google Analytics] to its fullest. GA enables multi-channel reporting insights, all right within the tool. Once the media is tagged and tracked correctly (with the URL parameter append, pixeling, tagging, conversion goals, filters, custom views, etc.), then marketers should be able to have multi-channel conversion reporting within GA. A digital multi-touch journey is available within the version which is currently available free of charge.
Most of what GA provides is data up to the web conversion point, triggered by a web page pixel fire combined with cookies. What GA doesn’t provide is the cleaned-up CRM [customer relationship management system] accepted data and downstream data post web conversion. That needs to be triggered and pushed back into GA from the CRM or LMS [lead management system] in use. For ecommerce sites where the sale or conversion happens on the website, GA can provide data through to the sale. But if the sale is not on the website, and especially if the lead lifecycle is longer (like for verticals including education, mortgage and home improvement), marketers likely need to connect an LMS or CRM to GA to see the pre-lead and post-lead data in one place.
KB: If marketers are only looking at Google Analytics data, should they use the data to optimize their campaigns?
AK: Yes, but on a limited basis. GA has a number of pre-built attribution models that provide insight that can be used for optimizations. But GA does not provide cross-device tracking or offline attribution ― at least not in the free version. All of these data points should influence optimization decisions.
KB: What does Sparkroom provide that Google Analytics does not?
AK: GA is a great place to start. It provides visibility into the pre-inquiry journey. But GA, by itself, won’t let you measure and visualize post-lead performance.
Sparkroom technology connects GA pre-lead data with the post-lead data from CRMs and similar systems acting as a central digital hub for performance data analytics. Because the data is connected at a user ID level, this allows marketers to view the full user journey, meaning the pre-inquiry, multi-touch journey down to the final conversion point.
Within one dashboard, users [of Sparkroom performance marketing technology] can see the touchpoints that result in contacts, enrollments and starts (for the education vertical). This solves a huge pain point for higher education marketers who believe in the value of their branding efforts, but are only being able to track the performance of their last-click inquiry drivers. Now, they can finally see and measure the impact of their top-of-the-funnel campaigns.
KB: When you tell people about the cross-channel, multi-touch attribution capabilities of Sparkroom performance marketing technology, how do they react?
AK: They love it. A lot of our higher education clients and prospective clients have been requesting cross-channel attribution. It’s a pain point that was not easily resolved. They’re impressed by what we offer and appreciate that the Sparkroom team has provided our knowhow to implement a solution into our platform. Plus, it requires minimal effort on their end because we take care of the integration points. The cross-channel attribution dashboard (version one) is only in beta now, and we have already received many requests to enable it for our technology subscribers.
KB: What is next in the attribution tracking journey for Sparkroom?
AK: We just launched the first version of our dashboard to beta. This version is all about integrating post-inquiry milestones with GA to provide a holistic, cross-channel, multi-touch view of the user journey from impression to the final conversion, like enrollment, across channels. Even while this dashboard is in beta, we’re adding more capabilities and functionalities to it, often in direct response to user feedback. More widgets are coming next, to allow for enhanced capabilities. For example, we will be adding a time-lag feature to measure the amount of time between touchpoints and help marketers see how long it takes prospective students to convert.
KB: Do you believe Sparkroom is leading the industry in terms of attribution tracking?
AK: Yes, I believe we are the leader in the industries we serve.
In addition to solving the tracking problem, we’ve also overcome the affordability issue. As I mentioned a moment ago, most effective attribution solutions are costly. Often prohibitively expensive. For Sparkroom users, our cross-channel, multi-touch attribution dashboard is at no additional cost. It’s built-in added value. That’s a game changer.
KB: Thanks for taking the time today to discuss the importance of cross-channel attribution and what Sparkroom is doing to solve the attribution challenges for higher education marketers. Do you have anything else you’d like to communicate before we wrap?
AK: Yes. Trust your instincts. If you believe your brand campaigns are making a difference in your overall results, you’re probably right. But also figure out how to validate your presumptions early on. Go to sparkroom.com to request a demo of our attribution solution. Attribution is just one component of what we offer. When you add in the efficiencies that come from all the built-in features and pre-built integrations, we believe, and we’ve had confirmed by our customers, that our technology more than pays for itself.
About the Author
Kathy Bryan is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), an industry leader in providing end-to-end customer acquisition solutions that help clients grow their businesses and realize their marketing goals. In this role, Kathy is responsible for all aspects of marketing and communications for DMS and its subsidiary brands. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into a full-service performance marketing company that services firms within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, automotive, jobs and careers. DMS has achieved incredible year-over-year growth, which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
More Content by Kathy Bryan