How publishers are tackling the mid-funnel attribution problem

Publishers are in a tough spot with marketers when it comes to attribution, particularly when it comes to multi-touch attribution campaigns. So they have focused lately on broadening out to the middle of the funnel, while serving the top and the bottom at the same time.  

At Condé Nast, the top priority is melding second-party partners with the first-party data housed in its data platform, Spire. Elsewhere, at publishers ranging from Fortune to BuzzFeed, there have been attempts to refocus sales strategy, training sales staff in selling brands on multidimensional partnerships instead of one offs, focusing on delivering business outcomes rather than impression goals. Hearst is looking to into attribution research by hiring within their data science departments. There is also a focus on creating standalone data studios that are aimed at better understanding first-party audience data.

“The middle has so much fragmentation that it becomes a bandwidth challenge,” said Condé Nast’s chief business officer Craig Kostelic. “How do you evaluate the players in the middle and understand what their capabilities are for what you’re actually buying?”

“I have conversations with clients that will spend 45-50% [of their budgets] on TV for awareness and another 45% on lower funnel activity with Google and Facebook and programmatic,” Kostelic added. “And then you occupy this space in the middle with 5-10%, where we’re trying to push more money, but it’s scrutinized more than the other 95%.”

Attribution has become more and more important to marketers, as they face increasing pressure to justify their investments. However, with Nielsen supplying television companies with standardized audience data, TV essentially has a monopoly on attribution via top of the funnel awareness. Similarly, Facebook and Google have a tight hold on last-click attribution, thanks to their own analytic tools. So for publishers trying to complete on these levels, Kostelic said, they are at a disadvantage because the data to track what makes a product move up in the consideration stage is nearly impossible to understand. 

And in a time when marketers are pressured to do more with less, platforms like TV or Google and Facebook make it exponentially easier to feel confident that your investments will reach your KPI goals based on the data they can provide, so marketers focus their budgets at the top and bottom of the funnel, leaving the middle relatively untouched. 

Catherine Warburton, chief investment officer at Assembly, said that the reason agencies are slower to adapt to multi-touch attribution is because it takes significantly more time to figure out how to collect the data from those campaigns than it does with last touch attribution. 

“Marketers aren’t necessarily staying away from that, but it’s not imminently clear that they’re working on multi-touch campaigns,” she said, noting that her agency has been focusing more on this area now that there is more available data to support these middle of the funnel touch points. 

Kostelic said he believes content-based companies are the answer to clearing up the murkiness at the consideration stage. This is because having a portfolio of brands that have developed organic relationships with consumers across many platforms gives publishing companies the assets they need to provide partners with the tools they need to solve their business challenges. However, it’s on his team to create an easy-to-follow strategy that connects the dots for marketers. 

Currently, Kostelic said that Condé has a group of 20 to 25 advertisers that it also considers strategic partners who have business challenges that the company feels it can best serve with its assets. And while it wants to expand that list, right now it holds standing meetings with each partner to discuss holistic strategies for omni-channel advertising.

“We have to make it easy and turnkey for them to be able to evaluate and articulate what our impact is,” he said. “The less we’re able to provide the ease of problem solving to partners, the more money is going to go to TV and direct-to-platform.”

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