The Attribution Challenge in Social

Ultimately, the burden will fall on social to measurably demonstrate, in factual detail, just how well the advertising works.

Earlier this year, Procter & Gamble announced that it would invest less money in narrowly targeted Facebook ads, questioning if that was the best model for it to use to reach consumers.

Predictably, the comments were met with diverse and competing perspectives from thought leaders and practitioners in an industry that continues to present marketers with a dizzying array of solutions.

On its face, this public expression of doubt appears to directly undermine a foundational brick of Facebook’s value proposition to marketers and further fuels the ongoing debate about how to maximize the return on ad spend in social channels.

In reality, the comment was not an indictment of the specific audience platform or of social overall, but rather an acknowledgement by P&G that after reviewing its performance data, it had identified shortcomings in its current paid social strategy.

The news here is that P&G is not alone. The challenges of funnel stage weighting, audience targeting and attribution in social are daunting to even the most sophisticated marketers, and P&G’s announcement shines a light on the fact that even advertisers that find success through social still have unanswered questions.

For the social channel to maintain its extraordinary growth trajectory, it needs to provide better answers by providing marketers a clearer view into how advertiser spend drives results in the increasingly complex customer journey. These insights are critical to optimizing marketers’ ability to deliver messages at the right time and in the right context to both known and look-alike individuals at scale.

Doing so starts with an acknowledgement that native tools are generally biased toward assigning credit for conversions to themselves.

Today’s consumer is viewing many messages, across multiple devices and audience platforms, all of which are playing some role in moving them toward a conversion. As a result, marketers need to know how their target audience progressed through the funnel, and they need that analysis for both branding and direct-response campaigns, across platforms and campaigns.

A multitouch attribution model, linked to a consistent personal ID, is critical for ensuring an understanding of the role of each touch point in achieving defined goals. Most consumers aren’t going to buy a tube of toothpaste online after seeing a consumer-packaged-goods ad, but the brand manager still needs to know if they are reaching the right audience, if that audience spent money on the brand, how that audience segment compares to others who saw the ad and if the brand should have substituted another creative in its place.

The inherent challenge for the modern marketer is that consumers interact with them online, offline, in store, on mobile devices and, in many cases, through other platforms, including TV. As such, relying solely on a native tool omits critical visibility into omnichannel interactions and hampers the development of a fully realized attribution measurement model.

To get there, marketers need to challenge the social audience platforms to increase their level of transparency, potentially by upping their level of collaboration with third-party attribution tools. Finding a consolidated view of the customer across all touch points is the only way a marketer can evaluate the effectiveness of their ad spend and establish a foundation of measurement that leads to meaningful, ongoing optimization.

We’ve moved past the point where anyone should be asking if social advertising works. Scale and time spent confirm that marketers need to continue expanding their commitments to these audience platforms. But ultimately, the burden will fall on social to measurably demonstrate, in factual detail, just how well the advertising works.

The ad industry is full of pundits discussing how TV’s power is in decline, but social will only occupy a higher space in marketers’ plans if it can tackle larger questions about attribution, measurement and analytics. Social needs to demonstrate what marketers are getting with their investment and how those campaign metrics ultimately drive growth to their bottom line. Doing so means moving beyond the walled garden when developing attribution tools.

Matt Gilbert is CEO of social marketing services solution provider Kinetic Social.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.