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GSI & ClearSaleing - Does Anyone Care about Interactive Attribution?

  
  
  
  
  
  
GSI's acquisition of ClearSaleing provides a good time to revisit the field of Interactive Attribution.

Simple Background

The first time I formally heard of Interactive Attribution was a little over a year ago.  Now everyone in web analytics is familiar with the problem that Interactive Attribution is trying to solve; potential clients/customers have numerous touch points with a business before they commit their cash.  So which point should an analyst attribute the conversion?  

  • Google Analytics does it by "last touch", which is to say that the last way a unique visitor came to the website when they converted gets credit for the conversion.
  • Google Adwords creates confusion by attributing conversion to the "first touch."  If a visitor comes by Adwords and then 30 days later by direct navigation and makes a purchase, then the Adwords ad gets the conversion credit.

Right here - at first glance - separate bodies of Google data do not give an apples-to-apples comparison.  There are ways to reconcile this and even hack Google Analytics to adjust the data sets.  

You can imagine how complicated this becomes when you factor in email marketing, social media, display campaigns, retargeting and offline advertising.  

Who gets credit for the sale?  From our view, it seems like everyone should get a little bit of credit for each touch point.  But how much?  Have fun solving that.

Where Is Interactive Attribution Today?

Dax Hamman from Chango - the Search Retargeting Company - did a piece on his blog back in late November accurately stating that not much happened in the Attribution field in the previous twelve months.  A) He's right.  B) The lack of progress caught people off guard (at least the few people that were interested) because once Forrester publishes a report on something it is supposed to become the next big thing.  

In late 2009 the players Forrester named in Interactive Attribution were (you can download the report here):

  • Atlas
  • Coremetrics
  • Theorem
  • TruEffect
  • Visual IQ
  • [x+1]
  • ClearSaleing

ClearSaleing was placed in the prestigious upper right corner.  They are still the player today, not much has changed.  But the ground is starting to shift a little bit.

Josh Dreller pointed out on iMedia in December that Attribution "adoption is still growing, slowly but surely."  In addition, Dreller listed off challenges to Interactive Attribution adoption.  The one that strikes me as the most true was #3 - It is not a high enough priority.  We speak with Interactive Marketers all of the time.  And in passing, they agree Attribution Modeling is a problem.  But they don't seem to actually care.

My best guess as to why is a bit of a variant to Dreller's #3 point; it is not a high enough priority because there is too much to do that comes way before that.  Dreller mentions budget planning, managing employees, etc....  But I think it is more of a data problem.  

THERE IS TOO MUCH DATA ALREADY!!

Interactive Marketers have data coming out of their pores - Google Analytics, Coremetrics, Omniture, ad networks, email marketing and search campaigns.  How does a vendor expect to cut through all of that market noise and say, "Hey, look at our really cool data now!"  Marketers, in the aggregate, haven't come close to mastering their current data.  That's actually being generous.  Many marketers don't really have the first clue what their data actually says or what to do because of it.  

The current problem Interactive Marketing practitioners are trying to solve - whether they want to admit it or not - is still "more eyeballs."  Yep.  Super Bowl advertising stuff.  "How can we get more people to our website?"  It is the rare marketer we come across that really drills into converting the same number of "eyeballs" into more cash.  If you aren't focused on conversion, or better yet - Conversion Rate Optimization - how do you get to committing budget to getting the conversion the credit it deserves?

This brings us to the ClearSaleing acquisition.  

I don't take this event as a real positive for the Interactive Attribution "industry."  The concept of Attribution Modeling is ahead of its time and so is/was ClearSaleing.  GSI was likely their largest revenue channel for a year now.  This allows GSI to have a technology "add-on" for their 500 clients and gives ClearSaleing better access to that client pool.  I am sure that add-on will still cost GSI clients a premium.  But this has to hurt ClearSaleing's growth in the long run.  Not exactly the rocket ship the industry wanted to see from Interactive Attribution at this point.

Dax Hamman provided some follow up thoughts for this blog post that fit in with how I see Interactive Attribution following the Clear Saleing deal.  "ClearSaleing did well in terms of getting an offering into market and have benefited with the acquisition, but it will not be the last deal in this space. TagMan has recently announced additional funding too by iNovia, and further investment and consolidation will come.  It is likely that investment will come first to help such firms work out exactly what the offering needs to be, something that is still a grey area, and then in 2012 and 2013 the consolidation will follow."  

Hamman's point lines up well with events we have seen in the past in Interactive Advertising; namely, web analytics.  WebTrends was the first great web analytics company and they were acquired by NetIQ back in 2001.  First movers were into WebTrends, but it couldn't stand on its own at the time.  Several years later web analytics saw WebSideStory, Urchin, Visual Sciences, Omniture, Coremetrics and scores of other vendors taking the market by storm in 2006.  

I'd expect that we won't see Interactive Attribution gain real traction for years to come; there simply isn't demand for it.  But there is a lot of room to run.  The catalyst I would look for is when companies start to really fall into a pattern on Conversion Rate Optimization.  At that point simple conversion data won't be good enough, marketers will become passionate about more accurate attribution.  

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