Everything you think you know about digital attribution today is wrong. Your fifteen-year old desktop solution set has been invalidated almost overnight by the massive shift to mobile; as of 2016, 26.4% of time with all media (including TV and print) is spent on mobile devices. That's well over half of all time spent with digital. Because of this, advertisers must reboot their approach to how they measure and attribute conversions. Buyers and sellers of media need independent measurement partners to provide trustworthy, reliable data about the path-to-conversion in a mobile first world. But as an industry, we've become complacent and too accepting of legacy systems, conflicting ownership interests and walled gardens.
How did we get here? We started off on the wrong foot 15-plus years ago by counting clicks and relying on the cookie as a "Willy Wonka golden ticket." The challenges compounded massively in the last two years when agencies and marketers tried to migrate desktop measurement systems to mobile. Click-through rates are fractions of a percent, cookies don't work in mobile apps, and people don't consistently log in to every environment. And worst of all, many of the measurement systems are now owned by the biggest sellers of media -- making it impossible to independently validate performance.
Broadcast, cable, magazine publishing and radio all have independent third-party measurement and verification partners to hold them accountable. So why are we allowing the largest media owners to grade their own effectiveness in digital?
The idea behind independent attribution is simple: Digital media allows us to know exactly which impressions a person saw along the path to purchase. Marketers must be able to look across all of its buyers and see exactly which ads contributed to that purchase; when marketers and agencies have that data in aggregate, they can make better decisions about their media investments.
Attribution models need to be built on reliable data. Marketers dream of models that capture the contribution of all media, but that dream starts with accurate measurement of the discrete inputs.
This means the digital data must be reliable -- and in order for the digital data to be reliable, marketers need to:
1. Make sure they are appropriately identifying mobile devices.
2. Make sure they are appropriately linking mobile devices and desktop devices.
Why You're Measuring Mobile Wrong
Desktop solutions don't work in mobile. Cookies, the foundation of desktop measurement, only work in a fraction of mobile environments -- and most importantly, they don't work in mobile apps.
Often a consumer sees an ad in an app, like Pandora or Yelp, and then goes on to convert in a mobile web environment. Without cookies, desktop solutions cannot follow the user from the app to the mobile web -- and therefore won't count the conversion. Desktop solutions miss around 80% of attributable conversions on mobile due to this blindness between mobile web and mobile app.
There is also a misunderstanding that device IDs can be used in place of cookies. While device advertising IDs are accurate, they are not always passed back from app publishers to ad servers -- and they are never captured in mobile web where most conversions occur.
Why Login-Based Measurement is A Myth
Do you use your Google or Facebook authentication consistently to access every other app or browser environment across all of your devices?
Persistent logins sound great because they guarantee a one-to-one match. But they fall down when it comes to linking multiple environments on mobile. Every app on your phone is a walled garden, and those login services can only link environments to a single user where they're in use.
Changes in consumer behavior make login-based measurement less reliable for desktop, as well. For example, according to year-end 2015 results, over half of Facebook users only log-in on mobile -- creating significant measurement gaps around desktop activity. In the real world, people infrequently and inconsistently log in.
While these identification methods work for targeting ads, they miss the mark entirely when attempting to provide an objective evaluation of how impressions lead to an action. Those targeted ads may be only one piece of a person's complex path to purchase.
What Advertisers Can Do
Walled gardens and media owners want to grade their own homework. It benefits their businesses, regardless of whether their advertisers succeed.
There are a few steps advertisers can take to ensure they effectively gauge the performance of their mobile and cross-device campaigns.
Advertisers need independent, neutral, trustworthy third-parties to make sure they're getting what they pay for and to know that their mobile media is working. Independent measurement empowers agencies to make educated buys, keeps media owners honest, and lays the foundation for a sustainable ecosystem.
1. Separate your measurement from inventory and targeting. Find independent partners to evaluate the effectiveness of your media partners.
2. Choose measurement solutions that make sense in the context of human behavior. When 86% of time on mobile is spent in-app (according to Yahoo/Flurry analytics), your measurement partners need to be able to see across app environments.
3. Make sure you're getting mobile right before you move to cross-device measurement. Accurate identity and measurement on mobile must be the foundation for any reliable cross-device insight.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated bloggers.