Peter Koeppel’s 6-Part Series on Trend Spotting: Part 6, Media Attribution

by Peter Koeppel on Nov 17, 2016 4:30:00 PM Digital Marketing, Trends

At the recent D2C convention, I presented a session entitled Trend Spotting: Benchmarking the Present and Predicting the Future of Marketing. My intention was a simple one: to synthesize the latest statistics, forecasts, and best practices in marketing from over 100 different sources to save my audience time and to provide insight that will help you today and in the future. In the sixth and final of my multi-part series I take a look at media attribution and the vital role it has in direct marketing. Given the presentation was confined to an hour, this is bonus material we did not have an opportunity to cover during the live event.

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Here, There, and Everywhere

One of the advantages of traditional direct response has been the ability to measure consumer response in terms of both lead generation and real dollar sales against specific media. Twenty years ago, the task was far easier because there was no significant e-commerce. Consumers called to order via dedicated toll free numbers that were assigned by media type, enabling marketers and their agencies to easily track media efficiency. In today’s complex omni-channel landscape, the consumer is in complete control of how they shop and where they decide to purchase. With online reviews and word-of-mouth via social media playing such an important role in prospect’s purchase decision process, more often than not multiple touchpoints occur before a product is bought or a service is engaged. This multifaceted customer journey makes attributing media efficiency a daunting and complicated task.

Tools of the Trade

Media planners live in a paradoxical world. There has never been more consumer information available in the form of big data, yet determining what is meaningful has never been more complex. In order to establish the effectiveness of media with existing brands and products, our agency analyzes lead and sales activity. Then, in an ideal world, we test one media variable at a time to determine its impact. When we don’t have that luxury, we examine historical data to determine the likely impact of different combinations of media by using various modeling techniques. This is the 35,000-foot, big picture view, so to speak. In addition, we may use ratings data to determine reach and frequency and gross rating points (GRPs) against the target audience to establish the cause and effect between these metrics and any uptick in consumer behavior. We also use data to determine the likely impact different media formulations will have on a campaign.

In our agency’s case we discovered that nothing off the shelf could track individual consumer behavior as effectively as our own attribution model, so we invested in developing our own software. It provides customers with the capability to track consumer activity and results. In the old days, it was sufficient to come in on Monday morning and crunch the numbers, but that is no longer the case because both offline (broadcast) and online media are running all of the time and incoming results are fluid. In order to make the media as effective as possible, it has to be analyzed and measured constantly to ensure the best outcome.

Obviously telephone leads can still be tracked the old-fashioned way by means of dedicated toll-free numbers. But in the case of direct sale campaigns where products are offered via the telephone or online, most campaigns will see between 80 and 90 percent of their activity occur online through mobile, tablet, and desktop computer. (The exception may be some senior-targeted products where the prevalence of telephony is greater.) These digital entry points allow us to identify customers at the point of initial contact and their response then gets attributed back to the original media source. Depending upon individual behavior and to what degree a consumer is logged into their devices using a common Internet Service Provider (ISP), we can then use that information to track a consumer all the way through the sales funnel.  With smart TV and set-top box data, advertisers can also identify individual consumers, know what other devices they have, and deliver additional marketing messages through those platforms. One of the challenges with so-called addressable TV, however, is that the cost-per-thousand (CPM) has been too expensive for many traditional direct response advertisers who are focused on advertising that is either self-liquidating or profitable.

In the case of bricks and mortar retail sales, consumer sales data from market research companies that track retail sales can then be cross-referenced against the original consumer lead data, with corresponding sales then linked back to the media that originated the lead. The increasing practice of webrooming – where consumers research products on the web and then buy at traditional retail, as well as showrooming  where they check out products in the retail aisle and then purchase online, are examples of other touchpoints that are theoretically trackable via technology such as Attribution Powered by Foursquare which uses geotracking to locate consumers at retail.

Truth In Advertising

At a recent industry summit that I attended, the ubiquity of online fraud was a major topic. The Association of National Advertisers estimated earlier this year that some $7 billion is being wasted on online advertising fraud where bots pretending to be humans generate phony website traffic and leads. In a somewhat ironic twist, some digital advertises were actually advocating a return to television advertising to generate broader awareness that will feed the top of the sales funnel with living, breathing prospects – prospects that can then be tracked through the sales process rather than phantoms that never existed to begin with.

Clearly attribution is a combination of both science and art that is rapidly evolving with new tools and technologies. It may be that the chip embedded in individual consumers that some advertisers might have fantasized about has taken the form of the smartphone. As such devices increasingly dominate consumer behavior, it is only more likely that the ability to track consumer behavior will be at our fingertips because the gadget is at their fingertips as well. The key is for marketers to acknowledge that this is an ongoing discipline of refinement with no finish line. Marketers and their agencies have to be committed to amalgamating data on a continuous basis, divine meaningful insight from their target audience’s behavior, and then make adjustments in response to those shifting behaviors. Attribution isn’t a race to be won, but rather a journey advertisers must undertake, with cycles not unlike the very journeys their own customers are on.

I hope that this blog series has been informative and helpful and I look forward to any comments or thoughts you care to share. Please feel free to contact me via the information below and thank you for lending me your time and attention. I very much appreciate it!

Peter Koeppel is Founder and President of Koeppel Direct, an influential direct response media firm focused on direct response television (DRTV), online, print and radio media buying, marketing and campaign management. He can be reached at 972-732-6110 or online at or


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