Game over: The death of the sales funnel and leveling up attribution
It’s game over for the traditional customer journey.
Today’s consumer has fragmented the ancestral sales funnel by wandering freely across channels and devices in search of the best product or deal. The average consumer owns more than seven devices, using more than three each day, of which marketers typically only see one, according to the Data & Marketing Association’s 2017 Statistical Fact Book.
To put it a different way: The path to purchase has evolved from a two-dimensional side-scroller like Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.,” charging ahead on a set path with a clear objective, to an open-world environment more akin to the immersive worlds of “Skyrim,” “World of Warcraft” or “Grand Theft Auto,” where the player can hopscotch around an open field of narratives in whichever order they like.
The emerging science of multitouch attribution still can’t holistically track this non-linear customer journey. However, advancements in attribution have clarified and cemented this new reality and will continue to do so. Location data analysis, cross-device tracking and persistent identity solutions serve up evidence that the customer journey is now non-linear and increasingly complex.
But as our understanding of consumer behavior evolves, so, too, must our perspective on what constitutes marketing success, and how we view the role of attribution in general. Attribution can no longer serve only as a rubber stamp to substantiate campaign success; it must emerge as a critical analysis and input to inform strategic shifts in approach.
The next level: Location
Mobile is a shining example of how global adoption of a single device convoluted the traditional funnel view. In an increasingly mobile environment, marketers are using location data to track behavior.
This drive to connect online engagements to offline purchases is evidenced, in part, by the number of players in the mobile marketplace, including Foursquare, NinthDecimal, Ubermedia, GroundTruth and others. Social platforms like Snapchat are even amassing their own measurement tech stacks to help marketers track impact, as illustrated by the acquisition of Placed earlier this year.
But in an ecosystem where a consumer uses up to seven devices, the ability to attribute a purchase to one device (or brand/consumer experience) falls short. While embracing new data sets to measure a consumer’s self-directed journey across channels is a critical first step, marketers must prepare for a future where attribution is as nuanced as the increasingly complex customer journey — offering, perhaps, less certainty than they would like, but still a wealth of information to interpret and act upon.
New game, new rules
Marketers must accept a new truth that metrics pulled from each consumer touch point no longer reflect obvious influence. Each signal does not by itself describe a marketer’s success in moving consumers along a straight path from awareness to acquisition.
Imagine the way awareness builds toward conversion for a single product. A consumer sees an ad promoting a product, which leads him to download an online redeemable coupon, which prompts him to price-check Amazon, which leads him to check out his favorite bloggers’ product reviews, which pushes him to the manufacturer’s website, which leads him to post to his social platforms for inputs from friends and family, which pushes him back to the manufacturer’s website, which finally pushes him to visit a brick-and-mortar store to purchase the product.
In this environment, each engagement is a single point of interest with more autonomy than correlation to a marketer’s true ability to move consumers toward purchase or away from it.
Entering the open world
While brand dollars still must tie to conversions, the crux is that marketers have to spend on channels, like social, where engagement is currency.
Consumers operate in a three-dimensional game field, where touch points and engagements are laterally related across a broad landscape, rather than laid out in a predictable sequence or hierarchy.
As marketers account for these touch points, and as new ones inevitably emerge, attribution will begin to render in clear terms the ways in which campaigns not only succeed, but also where they fall short.
As attribution becomes more holistic, representing a more unified customer view, it will naturally influence more strategic improvements. As campaigns reach across channels and devices, following the new order of the connected consumer, attribution must be used as a tool to nurture more critical thinking within the entire organization and as an input to strategic marketing decisions.
Moving forward, attribution can no longer serve as the bow on a campaign that offers it up as a job well done. The days of rubber-stamping are over.