Data-driven marketers don’t like last-click attribution, which simply credits only the final impression that drove a conversion. And they aren’t buying multitouch attribution (MTA), an involved process where each touchpoint in a campaign is tracked and assigned specific credit.
So where does the media measurement pendulum settle between those options?
For some attribution experts, the answer to that question is incrementality testing.
“What we saw was that incrementality testing was landing as the best methodology to inform these questions considering the blind spots in MTA,” said Trevor Testwuide, co-founder and CEO of the media measurement startup Measured.
Testwuide knows a thing or two about MTA. He co-founded and was CEO of Conversion Logic, one of the few remaining independent attribution tech vendors, and before that was VP of sales at Visual IQ, an attribution vendor acquired by Nielsen in 2017.
MTA models aim to track each impression and individual in a path to conversion, then allocates credit to specific publishers, vendors or media channels. But major platforms like Google or Amazon have taken steps to disable user-level third-party measurement. And traditional marketing categories like direct mail and linear television, don’t sync well with digital attribution, Testwuide said.
As marketing dollars retreat to these attribution “blind spots,” he said advertisers are falling back on incrementality testing, which uses cohorts and control groups to evaluate specific media channels without tracking individual users or impressions.
Mapping every user and impression isn’t feasible, said Alex Faherty, CEO of the fashion startup Faherty Brand. He said the company focuses on channels as a whole instead of user-level tracking.
Faherty Brand worked with Measured last year, and found that during the holidays it’s most effective to over-index on prospecting and channels like Facebook or Google, because people are in the mood to shop and they don’t need heavy branding or retargeting to turn a browser into a purchaser, he said.
That may seem like a minor adjustment, but Faherty said right-sizing budgets by season makes a big difference considering 40% of the company’s marketing budget is spent in Q4.
MTA is expensive and “creates more questions than it answers,” said Alyssa Perry, senior director of marketing of FabFitFun, a beauty product subscription service that uses Measured for incrementality testing.
“This felt like a way to get actionable insights without the heavy price tag or burden on our resources,” she said.
FabFitFun tried incrementality testing to evaluate its retargeting budget. Over the course of 2018, Perry said the brand started cutting back retargeting campaigns for certain control groups. The team found that on average, someone who visits the site and converts will do so within three days. It then halted all retargeting after a week to easily eliminate waste.
Retargeting budgets are the low-hanging fruit for incrementality tests, since they typically get the last-click credit from a campaign.
Soft Surroundings, a women’s fashion brand and another Measured client, dramatically scaled back retargeting since it adopted incrementality tests late last year, said marketing director Gail Buffington.
“The numbers said we could cut a lot, but it still makes you nervous,” she said. Incremental tests were a good way to taper budgets month to month, she said, since cohorts being tested didn’t show a drop in demand without retargeting reminders.
Now Soft Surroundings is bringing incrementality tests to its print budget, because the brand produces its own magazine to send to prospects and known customers.
“I suspect our catalogue gives more bang for our buck than we can directly measure,” Buffington said. “So I want to dig in to that and understand the incremental lift when we send someone a magazine.”