Blog: Customer strategy, not attribution, is a marketer's route to the boardroom

Blog: Customer strategy, not attribution, is a marketer's route to the boardroom
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The climb from CMO to CEO means becoming more accountable and strategic. Relay42’s Tomas Salfischberger looks at why attribution models are less important than continually optimizing customer journeys.

The promise of attribution modeling has become the holy grail for marketers trying to enter the boardroom. This method of gathering, processing and interpreting customer data – looking at the sources, then deciding which channel gets credit for the conversion, and how much – has long been considered the cornerstone of quantifying and delivering real business impact.

But does it work? Another more cultural cornerstone of business thinking has been the relationship of senior marketers with ROI. Just like attribution modelling, the marketer is too often perceived as executional and reactive, not strategic, Marketing Week studies suggest. Creative, but without the tenacity or pragmatism to engineer the ‘production line’ – and be accountable.

My argument is that attribution modelling is based on a misconception, because there is no one customer journey. To move forwards like easyJet’s Carolyn McCall and become the CEO, not the CMO, marketers need to start seeing the bigger, strategic picture, using smart technology to help.

Issue 1: failing to adopt a truly customer-centric approach

How do we measure less tangible customer metrics than ‘last touchpoints’, to define all human triggers which contribute to the customer lifecycle? The right trigger could be a single email somewhere along the sales funnel, creating the seed of an idea which eventually causes a customer to click ‘buy now’.

Finding the right technology to measure data patterns created by consumers is crucial, but let’s start with humans. A marketer who only cares about allocating cash to ‘sales-generating’ channels is not adopting a customer-centric approach. Did you really become a marketer to focus on budget allocation? Paradoxically, the right technology allows marketers to make smart recommendations, which consider the complexity of interactions beyond a one-way customer track.

Solution: change direction, and let the customer lead

It’s difficult to map all online activities on an individual level, which means marketers need to revamp the approach to technology for predictive analytics. What if we didn’t put a price tag on conversions? We will never be able to attribute monetary value to catching a glimpse of an ad, or overheard conversations; so why bother trying?

New test-and-learn capabilities in technology mean that big data can be digested in terms of what is relevant. By determining individual behavior through a single customer view, marketers can use owned channels, like email, rather than paid, like PPC, to deliver the product and message the prospect is looking for, on their preferred channel. The customer journey doesn’t end with the single sale: it starts there. With the ability to digest first-party data, while acknowledging the consumer lead, marketers can influence. They can listen, rather than push out paid ads to dictate one, finite customer journey.

Issue 2: using so many consumer channels, and missing the ‘right’ touchpoint

Media agencies still look at the correlation between media spend and an upsurge in sales. The more touchpoints become available – from smart cars and connected planes to Nest thermostats – the more statistical limitations are presented in attempting to measure the yield of every one of them. Customers become less accessible to marketers, and big marketing cloud solutions struggle to keep up with the quickly expanding channel landscape.

Solution: plug-and-play technology 

The growth of consumer access points is unlikely to slow down soon, so businesses need to embrace technology which will digest it in the right way. Many big data management vendors are unable to sync with every business’s existing marketing ecosystem, while moving quickly enough to integrate with the newest consumer technology. Businesses need to invest in an ‘agnostic’ data management platform to keep up with the latest touchpoints, and to avoid disrupting their existing systems.

Issue 3: the difficulty in measuring an ‘always-on’ marketing approach

Increasingly, businesses are seeking to adopt an ‘always-on’ marketing strategy to serve their customers, on their terms. Instead of measuring quarterly campaigns, this means that attributing a number to an action becomes more difficult and far from perfect.

Solution: bringing an agile approach to marketing

Why not take an agile, iterative approach? By continuously adjusting the mythical ‘customer journey’, including channels and budget, you can consistently split test routes to create statistically proven results. This means you never have to use an attribution model, a model which is always interpretive and never concrete. High frequency adjustments are something that Booking.com excels at, for example, through continuous testing and improvements. This broader, more proactive view means you are now engineering the production line, no longer looking back arbitrarily interpreting your existing data.

Into the boardroom: seeing value beyond numbers and channels, in customer-centric strategy

Marketers with their sights set on the boardroom will need to switch direction, and move away from their pursuit of calculating ROI through the reactive practice of conversion attribution. After all, how can you attribute value if there is no such thing as ‘the customer journey’? With all channels unified using smart Data Management, and a broader strategic viewpoint, marketers are in a position to let customers lead the way. With this, they can follow with the right message, to the right person, in the right context to shape their individual path.

Where marketers are chasing the sale, a CEO in the making will go for a customer-centric approach, to cement an enduring relationship. How do these trailblazers prove this is a game-changing approach? Those really interested in ROI will know that retaining a customer costs less than winning a new one: the sale is not the end, but the start. For those ambitious marketers who really want a boardroom seat, it’s time to switch from self-centred attribution modelling, to customer-centric relevance – and prepare to shatter perceptions.

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