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Attribution: What’s All the Fuss?

I recently attended the Hero All-PPC (pay per click) Conference in Los Angeles, and as one might expect to find at “The World’s Largest PPC Event,” the conference venue was abuzz with AdWords updates, CPCs, A/B tests, CPA, CVR, DSA, AWQL, WXY&Z, etc. But amid the inside jokes, acronyms, keynotes and breakout sessions, I sensed a fundamental anxiety — yet great respect — for the concept of attribution.

Many people consider attribution a way to assign a lead to a tactic, but the advertising industry is desperately trying to look at it another way — more like, which tactic didn’t get us that lead.

Let’s start with the fundamentals.

What is attribution?

Let’s say a 65-year-old man unknowingly jumps into a senior living community’s sales funnel and spends the next 1 1/2 years catching the occasional branded ad in the newspaper. At one point, he overhears a human interest story about this senior living community on the local news and looks up the community on Facebook. A little later, he clicks on a paid ad that takes him to the website. After that, he’s served a remarketing ad while reading the local news online. A few weeks later, he receives a piece of direct mail from the community. He types the name of the business in the Google search bar, skips the paid ads and scrolls to the organic listing, which leads him to the website, where he ultimately fills out the form! One lead credited to … organic?

But how should we attribute that lead? Let’s count the touchpoints:

  1. Newspaper ad
  2. PR story
  3. Paid Facebook ad
  4. Website visit
  5. Remarketing ad
  6. Direct mail
  7. Paid search ad
  8. Organic website visit

That’s eight, but eight what? It’s not eight leads. It’s eight different touchpoints that can be attributed to that one lead. So we could attribute equal credit to each tactic. But maybe the guy didn’t even glance at the remarketing ad, yet was deeply affected by the news story. Then equal credit across the eight touchpoints isn’t completely accurate, is it?

According to Merriam-Webster, attribution is “the ascribing of a work … to a particular author or artist.”

According to Google AdWords, “Attribution … can give you a better understanding of how your ads perform and can help you optimize across the user’s conversion path.”

At their core, all definitions are the same, but are translated differently based on their use. This can also be said for different attribution models. One model that may work for industry A just doesn’t make sense for industry B.  For instance, sometimes our senior living industry is lumped into the health care industry, but if we compared marketing Tylenol to marketing a retirement community, I would imagine those attribution models would be like comparing a map of the roads of rural Montana to the freeways of Los Angeles.

When we talk about attribution at GlynnDevins, we must consider every step of the senior living customer journey (which can be a long one), as well as the numerous paths each prospect can take. This all-inclusive view allows our experts to understand where and when a prospect may benefit the most from a particular tactic and/or message.

Are you starting to see how complex attribution can be?

What does this have to do with my community?

Money. Success. Occupancy. Job well done.

Attribution, in its many translations and models, can give you insight into how your marketing dollars are performing and help you decide where to allocate additional dollars for a better return on investment. A more holistic view of the customer journey allows your marketing team to prioritize tactics based on which of your prospects you’re trying to reach, and in what part of the sales process you find them.

So what do I do?

There’s never going to be an across-the-board right answer. We can’t always dictate when and where our prospects are going to hop into the funnel. Which tactic drives the most leads is inarguably important for budget allocation, but that’s not to say every single touchpoint or tactic isn’t important.  In most cases, it’s likely every touchpoint was vital to a sale, and I’d bet my retirement that it’s never one tactic that drove a move-in. Especially in a funnel that is three months to two years deep.

GlynnDevins uses a balanced view of attribution to prioritize content and investment across channels —paid and earned. We then use these insights and data over time to create the marketing plan that works just for your community’s needs and goals. Our understanding of the different personas of senior living (ACIs, seniors, professional influencers), mixed with a progressive view of attribution, will only further allow us to focus on deploying the right message to the right person at the right time.

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  1. This is actually a FANTASTIC article for anyone doing any marketing and advertising. I love this message “insight into how your marketing dollars are performing and help you decide where to allocate additional dollars for a better return on investment”.

    One of my core beliefs regarding marketing is that true marketing must be measured. Without knowing exactly how every dollar you spend is forming to the T you are flying BLIND.

    It’s one of the reasons why I’m a big AdWords Fanatic.

    Great article Genesee!

    1. Thanks for reading, Wiener! I completely agree with you. I’m a data nerd, so I love going down that attribution wormhole!