gtmPRO

Attribution. Should we even bother?

March 15, 2024 Gary, Andy & Tiana Season 1 Episode 15
gtmPRO
Attribution. Should we even bother?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Happy Friday!

Is this the death of attribution for LMM companies?
If so, what should we do in it's place?

As boards, in many ways, we want to see a set of metrics around the performance of marketing, but what if by aiming for the perfect number, we are generating nothing but false positives?

Join us in this episode to find out!

Gary:

Welcome to the GTM Pro Podcast, your essential audio resource for mastering go-to-market discussions in the boardroom. Here we share insights for revenue leaders at B2B Software and Services companies, especially those with less than 50 million in revenue. Why? Because the challenges faced by companies of this size are unique. They are too big to be small and too small to be big. This dynamic pushes revenue leaders into executive leadership without a lot of help or support. We are here to provide that support.

Gary:

Your journey to boardroom excellence starts now, okay, so let's dive in. Should we even bother with attribution? That's the question of the day. We're going to tackle this In true form. We're going to go, hopefully, dig all the way down to the root of the issue here. I think everybody has felt the lack of increasing complexity of actually getting to attribution. There's a whole bunch of reasons for this. We have the channels, the platforms themselves, google Meta what have you? You skating a lot of things under the guise of privacy, making it much more difficult to be able to direct those connections. We have devices like the Apple ecosystem stripping out UTMs and other tracking capabilities. We have a very complex B2B buying journey where a lot of the education happens off of platforms that we can track, at least directly, and so just pure attribution at its core has gotten really hard. Then the other thing we have to wonder is, given the amount of time and effort and, frankly, lack of reliable information that you can get from it, should we even bother to do it anymore?

Andy:

Let's start by defining attribution. In that context, you're talking about more or less one-to-one attribution. You're talking about is what drove someone to do something. So typically that's a hand razor, typically that's a form fill and yes, there are multiple models for attribution. But what media, what touches, drove someone to do something? But on more or less a one-to-one basis, because I would argue, looking at that more on a macro basis, there's merit to but on a one-to-one basis.

Gary:

That's where we're questioning right, right, well, take back it. That's a great point, andy. Back it up even a step further and say the whole point of attribution is to answer the question in many cases is marketing working? Or, more specifically, is what we're doing in marketing working, and is that even the right question, right? I think we talked about this just before we hit the go button is that we as boards, in many ways, have created this monster, because when we walk into a diligent situation or a board meeting, we want to see a set of metrics around the performance of marketing, and it's largely the amount of spend on programs more on programs, but also on people's time, especially as it relates to the production of quote unquote brand-related assets and the outcomes that that spend drove.

Tiana:

Right.

Gary:

We want to be able to measure. That is what we're doing, working so that we can make some shifts on that, and I think that desire is understandable. But in a lot of ways it's created perverse behaviors because it in a way incentivizes marketing teams to pursue the things that are the most measurable and pushes them to make sure that those are quote working. And then you end up with an attribution model that is going to favor those channels that make it easy to track and to monitor that.

Tiana:

They are the most measurable but at the same time, they could be the least quality that you get from any of them. So, like from what I got through researching attribution a little bit on LinkedIn, is that it became popular because you could measure it and you could show it to the board and people are addicted to numbers and even if those numbers you can't directly represent them in your company success.

Gary:

The attribution question is I think this is very, very important for companies in the lower middle market, which is we tend to blend these things all together and have a blanket answer. But the reality is and, andy, I'd love your perspective on this is that companies with $20 million in revenue, who do not have an arsenal of cash sitting on their balance sheet, who are driving to profitability, who are really looking at, ideally, a 20% growth would be a fantastic outcome for them as they continue to progress towards, you know, additional, whether it's acquisitions or feature launches or the next capital raise. They only have so much capital to deploy across for programs, whether that's events or digital spend or whatever it may be, and there's a minimum price of admission to be in a channel and do it well, and so, almost by definition, there's only so many channels you can be in, and if it's pass, fail, like go, no go, then this attribution even matter.

Andy:

Not initially To your point. We used to call it a Google tax. So back when we were managing this was in the performance marketing space but managing a bunch of brands If we get a new brand to market, just going out there to start to generate critical mass and start to get like Google to acknowledge you, there's a tax. So just to be on channels, in a lot of cases there's like an on-ramp of spend. Then to your point is are you good at it? Like, do you understand the dynamics? Like, can you make sense of what makes consumers or B2B customers tick in that space? Like, do you speak to them effectively through that channel? And everything has a nuance. So that's probably the bigger piece of it, by the way, is learning just how to speak to people. And this is to your point. You can only do that so many times and certainly you can only do that so many times and not be able to show something for it, especially when the board's breathing down your neck and questioning what is this driving for you?

Gary:

Right, yeah, we talked about this earlier, which is probably maybe a little Well. Certainly, platform knowledge on Google is important, but I think the place that it can hit home from almost everybody is a channel like LinkedIn where, even from an organic perspective, just trying to determine what the algorithm rewards and how, you should be thinking about packaging and presenting your content. Granted, the content needs to be good for your subject matter audience, it needs to be good. But even within that, how we package it, there is a knowledge of the channel that needs to be there, and that same knowledge applies on the paid side, probably even more so. Right, and so there's a degree of expertise that is required to do that well and really measure that. But at the same time, it comes back to well, okay, we're doing all this work. We believe that LinkedIn is where our audience is. As an example, we're doing both organic, our own self-publishing We've got a strategy for that, as well as some paid.

Gary:

And then we come down to the obvious question from the board. It's like, okay, we spent $6,000 on this program, is it working? And when we understand that that channel's purpose isn't, click here to get a demo as an example. So we spend a lot of time and effort trying to measure that, but in so many ways it's futile and we're spinning our wheels. So if that's true, if we think that's the case, especially at this size company A and I think this ties to what activity should we be doing? But, more importantly, if we're not doing last click, first click W, whatever the attribution model is, if we're not doing that, how are or how should we be thinking about measuring marketing or, more accurately, the revenue engine?

Andy:

Yeah, well, I would say you start well. There's two things there If we look at it through the money ball lens. One thing you must do is assess, and honestly assess, what you're good at, what your competencies are in marketing. Sometimes that's really good at picking an agency for whatever particular endeavor. This is that. That is a thing.

Gary:

So we're talking about measurement what should we be measuring? And then, related to that is what we should be doing. So let's start there and maybe we'll come back to measurement right. In terms of, we have gotten addicted over the last 10 years with these platforms of we and by we I mean, frankly, investors and boards of. I put in a dollar and I get $3 back in leads, and I can measure that pretty easily, or what we thought was pretty easily. But that has changed a lot, and so we have whole teams that are working through the activities that they're doing that we tend to immediately go to paid channels for that. There's other stuff in marketing that we need, but we tend to go to paid channels when, in reality, today, now more than ever, because of the opacity of in the expense of those paid channels, you really start to have to question would we be better off actually investing those same dollars that we would otherwise apply to digital channels, to activities that actually engage our buyers? And the challenge with that is those then become even more hard to measure.

Gary:

I guess we're going to have a full court press on LinkedIn and we're going to feed that engine with training and consistency and coordination amongst our entire team and we've got a content theme and we've got assets that we're producing and we're really feeding, quote unquote, thought leadership, content and taking advantage of all that. That's not free, that's time, that's people, that's expertise, that's people who understand the channel, who are in it all day. Every day they're activating the entire organization. And now go try to measure that. How do you measure that? Or pick another alternative, like, let's say, we have a particular community, or if you're selling to developers who are notoriously difficult to reach, you have to go to those places and be considered a provider of value information. They are not going to click on ads, so how do you measure that?

Andy:

So, Well, the simplest term for that is engagement, but I and it's it's that's open-ended, I realize, but one thing you can tell and it's the opposite of that is where that's not happening, right, and so that is definitely the thing I would also recommend people assess is where are you not, where are you not seeing engagement? Because if you take the step back and look at the bigger picture with with respect to what you're doing out in the world, with marketing, you know that most of the time, people that end up becoming a customer of yours they've been around you a while. That's just logical, right. So if you're doing things out there and you're not getting people to become part of your orbit and become around you, especially in, you know, pretty highly considered purchases in B2B, right, if they're not engaging with with things they should, as, as part of that, as you know, meeting ICP type prospects and being the right audience, then stop doing that.

Gary:

Yeah.

Andy:

Well, it's that simple in one respect. That's the assessment you need to make as a starting point.

Gary:

The. It actually, with that in mind, brings us to a good point, that the engagement aspect is a is a leading indicator, if you will. And back to the core of. Well, what should we be doing? This is why we've become fond of the, the buyer zones right, which is well at the earliest of extremes. Let's go. Let's go through the, the buying process In in our space, in the lower middle market, in software and services industries, there is invariably an enormous number of options available and and to the point where it's very blurry and I can't distinguish, they all say the same thing and I can't distinguish between them.

Gary:

So when it comes time, when I actually enter a buying cycle which, by the way, a very small percentage of a company, anyone time, is in a buying cycle they start to start to make this a priority and they want to go find a solution for it. They are starting with three, four, maybe five different alternatives. So if you aren't on that quote day one list, then the chances of you having any success when they go into the process are exponentially lower, right? So if we're going to back up and talk about how are we going to build something sustainable over time, how do we get on the day one list, especially when we are not the 800 pound gorilla in the space, we are not the category leader.

Gary:

There are hundreds of other options out there, and that that is why we have in that first zone. The goal in that zone is to start the relationship, and so we need then to understand what do our buyers value, agnostic of purchasing a solution? What information do they need? How can we help them so that we can start that relationship and maintain it? And it's probably not get a demo of our product because they're not in the market to buy anything. So how do we start?

Andy:

So like, if you go out with that ask, first of all it's kind of a turn off right to a prospect, but also it's, it's you're, you're guessing and gambling that they're going to be even close to a point where they're going to want to take that action and that's going to be a tiny minority of the people you talk to. So are you alienating the rest by doing that Right, like that's something you want to?

Gary:

avoid and then. So then we have starting and then we want to deepen that relationship. So and I think this is where your engagement model comes in right Well, what does that deepening of the relationship look like? Well, maybe they're. They've started by simply subscribing to your newsletter. Do you even have a newsletter that's worth anything? Would you, as a reader in that space, read it? Do you go to your? Are you seen as a reader, as a go to resource? Are you one of the handful of newsletters, as an example, that people act in your space and your target market actually want to subscribe to? And then do we give them ways to go deeper with you? How do we do that? That aren't buying your product, by the way, that are just deepening the relationship? Then we go to, then we start to get into this.

Gary:

Okay, and we, how, through that process, if we believe that our, our product solves these problems for you, how do we make you aware that you have these problems? How do we elevate those inside the organization so that not only are we here when you go into a buying cycle, but in many ways we we actually are the catalyst for that buying cycle. We have created enough of a understanding of the problem and the benefits that come from solving it, that we actually push you into a buying cycle. Would that be fantastic. Now we're probably under day one list and we can go through the rest of the chain, but so, when you think about it from that perspective, most of the measurement that we have had in the past has been around you're already in a buying cycle and we picked you off somewhere along the way, and now more than ever, that is less and less. First of all, very difficult to measure and, secondly, that's not how decisions are made, so they're not coming in that way. They suddenly show up as handraisers and we have no idea why. So now we go back and measure.

Gary:

Okay, well, if we need to do those things and coincidentally, actually in my own digging around on this, I found a study that now granted, linkedin commissioned this study, but I appreciate the rigor with which it was done, because it was done by a couple of traditional B2C consumer packaged goods researchers and about marketing, and they came up with they believe to be the five principles of growth and B2B marketing, and the first one is invest and share voice. The second one is balance, brand and activation. The third is expand your customer base. The fourth is maximize mental availability. And the fifth is harness the power of emotion and, not surprisingly, this idea of we go back to balancing brand and activation.

Gary:

We go back to this idea of brand. What does that mean? Those are all. Activation is one thing, activation is yes, okay, I'm ready to raise my hand and you know, let's come into the process there. But getting you to that point where we're on your day one list, we're in your consideration set, we're actually helping you connect the symptoms that you're feeling to the problem that we believe that you have, and there are the various ways to solve that. Those are all extremely important activities that are very difficult to measure, if not impossible. Yep.

Andy:

I mean, it's really, you know, when I mentioned attribution on mass, like the macro version of that being something we want to still consider really around starting the relationship. So we, you know, we definitely gotten on board with the notion of Rutter Stack and having the ability to identify upstream touch points at some point when somebody's engaged with us, but ideally you are able to do that whenever you're starting a. You know, a new, a new outreach, a new touch point, a new campaign that you're in with the with the goal of starting a relationship, as opposed to I'm just going to try and capture demand, which you can't do unless there's demand to capture, obviously. But starting a relationship, you really have to understand are you, are you getting eyeballs in the first place? Are people looking at what you're sharing? Is the channel effective in that manner?

Andy:

When you start a relationship, it's, it's, it's as simple as saying if I go and I distribute content like this, are people looking at it? And then the people that you you you formed a relationship with there, you started that relationship are more matriculating and you know, deepening the relationship, Are they looking at additional content around things they might be interested, as you know, a good target customer. Now that's not saying we're talking about what we do for them right off the bat with our product. We're talking about the problem. We're talking about things that we know a lot about because we're in this space, that they care about because their jobs have have an aspect of that to them. But very simply put, you know, on a macro basis, we need to be able to say, like, when we do, when we make a piece of content and we distribute it, are people looking at it Right?

Gary:

Well, the. So we talked a little bit in the past about things like media mix, modeling, slash, econometrics, media efficiency ratio, and I think there there's definitely some merit there. Share voice is one of those. That's, you know, again, less of a precise measure and more of a directionally correct measure, and I really believe we're getting back to some of those fundamental marketing measurements. But I also wonder again, for companies of our size, even in those situations, do we have enough data to to be able to do that well, at that kind of portfolio level? And so I think where we have run a stray in the past and continues to, you know, trap us is we want to be able to measure down to the unit level versus measuring at the portfolio level.

Gary:

And so your point, if we, if we take it back to, what is it we are trying to accomplish when we start the relationship? Well, we want, we want to grow that to your point, the number of people that are in our orbit. Well, how would we measure? How would we know that that was successful? Whatever that is, well, we have subscribers, and not just subscribers, but we have high open rates and we have growing click through rates, and then that would matriculate into visits to the website and time on pages and consuming our content. Like you know what those are great measurements Over time trended. We will actually see. No, was it do we will be able to tell it was this post or it was this message or it was this email? Probably not, but the body of work that we have around that we would be able to see that over time.

Andy:

Some of the best minds in this space that well, maybe we're biased, but Chris Walker, right, just listened to his podcast. Both of us, yes, people, we talk about this, this open line, or maybe it's even a verbal ask where the sales team asks where you heard about us. I mean it's to that level where we, you know where digital has failed us. Digital in its purest attribution form is, you know, is not useful. We have to resort to other means to say is what we're doing effective? And I think on a macro basis, we can do exactly that.

Andy:

There's the asking. There's obviously the measuring are there, you know? Are people clicking, are people, you know, on the site for a period of time, based on what we can measure versus what we distributed Right. There's the delta, which is pure, and I think this is the maybe we can't on the unit or even the campaign level, but when we have a sequence of things that we've done and we can see that, look, the engagement around the body of content that we know resonates with our ICP, because that's who we wrote it for and we've gotten enough feedback, directly or indirectly. That suggests that is the right kind of content for our ICP, if we see that traffic and that engagement growing because of a body of things we did over here, a series of campaigns, then we know we know that our customers are going to eventually come from that.

Gary:

Yeah, and here's one thing that and this is the challenge, right is, I mean, google has done a phenomenal job of making, especially Google, of making search paid search crack cocaine, Because it is so easy to measure. It gets all of the benefit. And even in the example that you provided, how did you hear about us? You're probably not going to hear in that situation oh, I saw a Google paper click ad and I clicked on it. Right, there's some other thing that brought you there.

Gary:

I honestly think that, for paper click, that is the same thing as how did you hear about us. The reason people even click on the ad in the first place is all the other stuff you've done upstream to make your brand and your product relevant, that they feel confident to do that, to click on that ad. And my hypothesis is that the more successful you are in the activities associated with hard to measure, if not a possible measure activities around starting the relationship, deepening the relationship, seeing, as you know, enabling the buyer to buy, all of those things where you're consuming content on demand which, by the way, done well, is all first party data that you can track that you will actually see your paper click spend go up because you're going to have more people to whom you're exposing this ad, who are more inclined to click on it because of all the work that you've done, and that's why I come back to is attribution actually driving us to invest in the wrong places and therefore induce bad behaviors?

Andy:

I think what you just described is a very real potential scenario, certainly if you're primarily using paid search as a demand capture mechanism, but if you're using it for branded paid search. So I'm only really doing campaigns around my brand, that's guaranteed. What's happening why? Because people don't conjure your brand. They don't just suddenly decide to search for your brand one day. That has to be because of something they were exposed to before. It has to be. Even the generic, non-branded side probably is influenced by that. I don't have studies or data to prove that.

Andy:

I have some anecdotal evidence from my experience that you're raising the lake. You're part of a consideration set. There's still a prospective buyer still out searching the world for possible solutions and you keep coming up. You've come up before. Now you're coming up again.

Andy:

It happens to be against a generic search term or maybe even a competitor, but because you've established yourself as somebody that they know, maybe not trust, but they definitely know and have been exposed to before. You're somebody that they're willing to consider and that prompts somebody to click and engage and possibly raise their hand. But there are already anything around that behavior, branded, unbranded or otherwise. They're already well down the funnel, certainly from what we're talking about, but there is a good place to spend that. You don't get that immediate satisfaction of oh, I got somebody to raise my hand, which is creating that and developing that relationship with them. So, yeah, it is perverse incentive. It does make you feel good to get those clicks that result in conversions, but I would say, above all, that that is simply a bellwether to your point. You're getting more, more of those versus a different time period, and you're like why are more people engaging with me in paid searches? Probably because of something you did upstream.

Gary:

Right, so boiling it all down.

Tiana:

One question like how do you get grades at actually building that relationship, like what? Well, in my personal opinion, I think it's just about finding what you are good at and distributing content and actually hammering over it. But how do you think we can get that done? Like, what are you, how? What type of media form should you be distributing? And I guess it all depends on the industry, but, to my belief, is just what you're amazing at. If it's a tweet, it's a tweet. If it's a short form video, it's a short form video. But whatever resonates the most, you should hammer all over it and don't try to diversify yourself on everything, because, yeah, people get bored of the same type of content but at the same time, they can they grow to recognize you by it. So what do you think?

Tiana:

is the best way to actually start there.

Gary:

It's a good question and it's actually where I was going to go with this. To boil it all down for accompanying the lower middle market, who likely only has budget to be in one, maybe two channels to begin with, and we recognize that there's all this other stuff upstream that influences the downstream. The amount of time and effort and energy it would take to get a really good attribution machine and model in place to me just doesn't feel like the juice is worth the squeeze, like you have an allocation that you're going to spend there and you know you're going to spend there, and the way you get good at that is you under. First of all, you have a maniacally tight definition of your ideal customer profile. You have to be really, really, really tight. Again, lower middle market companies Then we have to understand everything that they are dealing with, how they're defining those problems, and it takes that deep understanding of the customer which you actually have to talk to them and extract all those insights from your company so that you can proactively think about what information do they need or are they seeking in order to do their job better, in order to feel more informed, or what have you?

Gary:

That's step number one. Step number two is now how do we get this in front of them? That's a distribution challenge. That is where it gets harder and harder because let's use LinkedIn as an example you can publish the most thoughtful, informative stuff, but if you don't package it in such a way that makes sense, native to the platform, and find a way to get it picked up by the algorithm in order to do that, I mean, it's this kickstart you've got to get there, to get it in front of your audience and get it there, and it's their engagement with it that's going to start to provide those feedback signals and asking them what's helpful, what's working. It might be the same thing with a newsletter. It might be the same thing with a community.

Andy:

There's no silver bullet, that's hard work.

Gary:

There's no silver bullet. That's where I think the net of all of this is that it's like back to the future. We are going back to a time when marketing was not as measurable, was a lot about experimentation, really, a deep understanding of the customer and taking more of a portfolio approach. That's and we'll link to this this idea of balancing brand and activation, the need to be investing in both at the same time. I think that's where this has gotten.

Gary:

Really challenging is that for lower middle market companies, it's easy for CEOs and even boards to look right and left and say, oh, this company's on TikTok. We should be on TikTok. They do this fantastic community led growth or they are doing partner growth or they're doing LinkedIn campaign. We should be doing that. We pursue the tactic and not the whoa time out. First of all, we have to understand that if we're going to do this and we're going to do this well and have it build and sustain over time, that we're literally thinking of that as we need to think of it as a paid spend program, how we're going to invest in it.

Andy:

It is I mean, I keep thinking of Don Trapper it is that all over again. I used to poo poo that all the time. This is nonsense. I'm a performance marker. We put meat on the table. It really is that. The trick to that is what? If you're not particularly good at that, I would argue, if you exist as a company and you've gotten to some number revenue I don't know what the threshold is, but you exist, you've done some of that. You have done some of that. You are capable of getting your name out there against some kind of principle of what you stand for as a company, what you provide the world. You've done that. You may not think of it that way, you may not categorize it that way, you certainly may not budget spend according to that, but you've done that. That's definitely something you need to genuinely assess for yourself as like where have I actually done this? Why am I getting branded search traffic on Google Pay? Why are people searching on my brand? That means you've done that Right.

Andy:

What has that happened? Where has that transpired? Has it been my sales team? Has it been word of mouth? Assess that and figure out how you can do more of that. Back to your point, gary. As opposed to spread yourself super thin with stuff that you have no competency to do you don't have the budget to get ramped up on, you don't have the team to put together collateral for whatever all those channels are that somebody looks left and right and says try all these things because this competitor over here is doing that. Assess what you're good at, anything brand principle-wise, anything that speaks to your prospective customer to say you know what these people know what they're talking about, these people care about my problem and do that you can't spend your way to product market fit.

Tiana:

If you have something there, then, as you said, you've already done something.

Gary:

Yeah, I think that. If so, closing thought, I think that obviously, as a CEO, we want to make sure that every nickel is deployed appropriately. I think we over fixate on the program spend and don't think about or capture the time, commitments and the resources that we have to develop that and have a presence at every stage of the journey. And how important more than ever, having a real set of programs around starting and deepening the relationship and enabling the buyer to buy all of which are hard to measure are critically important, not to mention the stuff that happens actually in the pipeline and even in activation and expansion. Marketing touches every piece of that, and simply measuring their efficacy on the basis of some attribution model is a huge mistake. This is real time. I mean, we're looking at a lot of different ways to be thinking about this. The next step, then, of course, is what is that appropriate measurement? Really? Looking at what is the buyer need, where and how do we deliver it and what will success look like? What do we believe?

Gary:

If this were to be true, where would we see evidence that this is successful? That's how you start to build your measurement model around this. Then that gives you an ability to then experiment, say okay, what happens if we add this or turn this off? What do we expect to see? Where would we see that happen? It really moves to more of a medium mix modeling model. You're still going to have attribution. You're still tracking Google clicks and things like that To think that, oh, google clicks are working, let's do more of that, let's spend more on Google. The reason you're getting those clicks is because of all of the other programs you did upstream. You just have to recognize that it's part of a system and beware of false positives. We're not going to solve this in one podcast episode, but looking forward to continue this conversation with a special guest next week.

Gary:

We'll leave it at that and let you come back next week to figure out who it is. Until then, have a great weekend and we'll see you next week. Bye, thank you for tuning in to GTM Pro, where you become the pro. We're here to foster your growth as revenue leader, offering the insights you need to thrive. For further guidance, visit gtmproco and continue your path to becoming board ready with us. Share this journey, subscribe, engage and elevate your go-to-market skills. Until next time, go be a pro.

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Building Relationships and Measuring Effectiveness
Balancing Brand and Activation Investments