Digital Marketing Attribution – Basic Thoughts

(This post originally appeared in Digital Draw, a digital banking site sponsored by Intel)

With the proliferation of devices offering customers new online access, businesses are increasingly faced with even more measurement methodologies.  Deciding which channels lead to actual customers at stores can be as much a sport as choosing a NCAA bracket.

The study of marketing attribution  – the process of assigning sales contributions from one or more marketing channels – also provides what I think is an implied opportunity for small retailers managing multiple digital customer engagement.  Let’s look at it from the perspective of a digital signage display – all the rage and increasingly a part of urban business marketing, small or large.

Digital display signage can bridge offline and online marketing exposure.  The media served can guide customers who discover the offer online to valuable offers and online information sources prior to a purchase or sales discussion.

The most recent studies have revealed the value of offline influences on a digital marketing plan.  For example, eMarketer noted in a recent article on multi-channel marketing that despite fragmentation of customer attention, “Offline channels such as TV, radio, and print media were the ways consumers frequently discovered new brands.”  Media for a digital display signage can provide means to first catch the customers’ offline eye, showing online-purposed media that leads customers to view an online offer or information regarding services.

Furthermore, positioning digital signage among offline marketing sources can be a known variable in a confusing effort to attribute marketing channels, particularly when non-technical reasons are involved.   In fact many respondents to a Google and eConsultancy marketing attribution white paper Marketing Attribution: Valuing The Customer Journey stated that conflict among departments during attribution analysis can be a significant obstacle.

But by planning digital signage media that address department objectives in a campaign, retail banks have an opportunity to align departments around the customer sales experience.  The benefit is a effective application of knowledge that can better discern the customer path and choose the metrics that matters most.  Google/eConsultancy survey respondents believed that understanding the sales cycle is a key factor to interpreting analytic data and to revealing the marketing channel most likely to influence customers.

Marketing attribution analysis is still in its infancy among practitioners. Digital display signage with online-purposed media campaigns can mature that effort in a great way for many banks seeking offline and online success in reaching customers.


A Comparison List of Website Hosting for Small Businesses

With so many small businesses still struggling to establish a website, the choice of hosting has been numerous – and complicated.  To make the choices a bit simplier and to help small businesses evaluate hosting option, take a look at this excel list of hosting options (with a few other packages thrown in).  The comparison runs the gamut from Intuit (which also offers its web building services to Verizon) to dedicated hosting for Fatcow and, of course, Godaddy.  Click here for a downloadable pdf of hosting solutions.

Keep a few aspects in mind:

  • Some options can limit operational capability.  I have seen one business rely on the now-defunct Microsoft Officelive but because there was no MySQL, PHP, or other backend applications required at the site, the business was limited in creating features for visitors, some of which were revenue generating.
  • For frequent updates, Use a FTP Client to upload large number of files quickly into your website – Fetch Softworks offers an excellent client, as is Filezilla. Filezilla is free; Fetch is an Mac-only client but inexpensive $49.
  • For those using WordPress, include the Add from Server plug in (author Dion Hulse) with your file server. The plugin is especially useful for large image files – once uploaded media files need to be placed in the correct directory to be accessible for post, so essentially the plugin is an additional required tool if confronted with a large number of media files with some larger than the wordpress filesize limit.
  • Consider customer service and support as a factor – many hosting services are similar technological features and benefits across the board.  Good customer service is essential for the hang ups that can occur with a website or blog.



Free Google Analytics webinar – How to manage your business online through web analytics

This September 2011 webinar I created for Small Biz Technology shows how Google Analytics (and any web analytics, for that matter) should work in your business. You can make choices that help you manage the business effectively. Ramon Ray, editor of Small Biz Technology, made the introduction.

This video will show the importance of setting a goal, how to use paid search, and how referral traffic should be monitored.  This can aid your business’ effort to make timely decisions based on the data presented.

Note: Due to processing, the audio was somewhat damaged.


When Custom Variables Are Consistently Useful: Customer segmentation by membership

New York Times ad for subscriptions

Ah, the New York Times. A paper with global stature.  No paper made more significant headlines of its own in the online world when the New York Times announced its digital subscription program (details here). The skinny is that visitors who are not subscribers can view up to 20 post in a month, while subscribers of one of three digital news packages have unlimited access. When non-subscribers click on their 21st article, they can purchase a subscription. The plan was implement in March 2011, and the jury is still out on how well the paywall plan is working. New York Times is noted to be the largest newspaper publisher who has implementing a paywall.

Many online blogs operate like a newspaper, and while many still are not at the scope of New York Times, a financial model for making a profit can be a challenge. So what would a small business do to emulate a paywall, or even figure how to better serve its audience? One analytics feature that would be helpful is developing a custom variable to distinguish subscribers online.

A few words on custom variables. Custom variables are a javascript call out that measure page actions for specific activity, In the case of visitor, measurement can include such as the number of pageviews from members who log in on a members-only site. The variable is typically activated by modifying the analytics code, inserting the following Javascript call out with parameters.

Google Analytics requires that index, name, and value are identified. They are determined as followed method accepts four parameters:

  • index—This is a slot number, with a single value from 1 – 5, inclusive. This is meant as a key for one custom variable, so you can have index 1, and index 2, an index 3, and so on.
  • name— This is a string that identifies the custom variable.
  • value—This ia a value that is paired with a name. You can pair a number of values with a custom variable name, such as a custom variable name gender and supply male and female as two possible values.
  • opt_scope—The scope for the custom variable, usually for an additiona description

Most web analytics solutions have some variation of the callout. Piwik, for example, uses the Javascript callout setCustomVariable( index, name, value, scope ) where scope is named “visit” or “pages” depending on whether your variable is tracking based on visits or pages.

When you decide to implement custom variables, you need to consider your site needs carefully against your budget, since most paid solutions offer more flexibility with variables. Piwik and Google Analytics, both free solutions, limit the number of custom variables, while paid solutions Yahoo Web Analytics and Omniture Site Catalyst permit more variables and offering even more customization.

But custom variables can help track visitors to distinguish traffic patterns between members and non-members. Such an arrangement would help your blog develop what effort would convert non-subscribers to subscribers, as well as may other ideas to maintain traffic onsite and provide unique, nuanced treatment for two separate sets of visitors.

There are plenty of other ways a custom variable can be used. Justin Cutroni offers a unique way of using custom variables for coupons – you can read about his process here.

What other ways can custom variables be useful?

Ferrari shows small businesses how to introduce marketing buzz for a radical new product (sort of)

Ferrari FF

Have you seen it?  The new Ferrari FF. No? Well if not, then you have not been paying much attention in YouTube and auto magazines because it has garnered almost all the global automotive attention in 2011, save for the newly introduced Lamborghini Aventador.  Now a FF is out of my price range, as well many small businesses, but there are a lot of things I think a small business can learn from Ferrari’s effort to introduce this revolutionary car.

If it’s radical, give hints leading up to the introduction

Like many car manufacturers Ferrari tested their vehicle under spy photographer scrutiny.   A few spy shots revealed tidbits that were expected. The FF replaces the 612 Scaglietti, a 4 seat grand tourer with a V-12 engine, so speculators wrote about what they expected – 4 seats and a 12 cylinder engine.  They found both when the FF was officially introduced.  But the rear of the car was heavily masked during the development, distorting its shape enough to be a surprise when released.  Small businesses may not have an engineering team racing prototypes at the Nürburgring track, but they can think and learn how to tease out details rather make grand silly pitches about a million dollar idea that has not generated a lick of revenue.  This is where many wannabe small businesses fail.  Sometimes business owners, particular service providers, give too much pitch, instead providing simple ideas that set the right expectation for what someone will get from doing business with you.

Be new, but give a frame of reference

Many car magazines referenced the shape as a shoot brake, which if you’re not form Europe, is essentially a 2-door wagon. There’s hasn’t been any in the US — Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Pacer by technicality had 2 doors wagon but far from shooting brake.  But a BMW Z3 coupe has that similar shape. And there are blended cars on the market now, like the 4 door coupe Mercedes CLS.  These vehicles do not compare to  $300,000 sports car, but they do give buyers a frame of reference of what’s comparable.

For your product or service, a frame of reference should be emphasized with a light mention rather than a dramatic buzz that raises expectation but does not deliver. Many small business owners overstate how new something is to the point where customers do not know what the product or service is. A frame of reference removes used-car-salesman clutter in descriptions and lets people focus more on the benefits outlined in your message, be it by blog, video, or tweet.

Pay attention to competition but make a clear spin

2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S

Still on the reference theme, practicality has been seeping into other brands long well known for sports cars.  Porsche introduced Panamera, its first 4 door sports car, but this was previewed by the Cayenne, its first SUV.  This was risky because Porsche buyers can be resistant to product that aren’t “true” Porsche.  Today the Cayenne represents half of Porsche’s US sales volume, making it easy for it to decide to build the Panamera.   This clued Ferrari that a blend of traditional Ferrari features (powerful engine, sports car ride) and new-to-Ferrari features (all wheel drive, wagon-like body style) would create potentially negative response from a few, but also create an opportunity for overall positive buyer support and sales with a well-exexcuted effort to explain the FF.

For small businesses, the similar idea of paying attention to competition for clues and integrating those clues leads to creative videos, tweets, and blog posts.   There may be a vocal few who are negative, and they may be longtime customers, but a careful explanation to blend old and new will have to be used over and over again in advertising and in social media.  This is what it takes to let people know what is possible with a radically new product or service.


Stage your product so that images and video reflect the benefits

Ferrari built the FF with all wheel drive, a first for the company. The first official drives were in the snow, and I have seen a few rainy weather videos online.  All of these appear in car magazines and online blogs. These images reinforces the benefit of what the FF brings to new customers.

If possible, make your first images show what your product or service can do.  For ideas how to measure the response to a video, see this post on video tips.

Educate your followers on the details to continue engagement

Now it may seem funny that a brand as premium and well-known as Ferrari would have to justify anything.  But they did make points about why the FF was developed. Customers wanted a vehicle that had traction for inclement weather.  Moreover, Ferrari has made sales inroads into China, and the FF was meant to appeal to prosperous families there and in other parts of the world.

Sharing these kind of details with reporters gave more interest to the car.  Small businesses can learn to do the same with Twitter, Facebook, and other community sites. Doing so helps keep the story centered on what you want.  Apple is another brand that benefits from this, when it uses conferences  to make announcements, and further its reach with sites such as AppleInsider.  This tactic also helps galvanize followers who unconsciously need confirmation of why it was wonderful to follow your product or service.

Some brands inform with associated information about its product or service.  Toyota did a similar approach with its Lexus LF-A, the first limited production sports car meant to showcase its technological prowess (read about what Toyota did to position the Lexus LF-A among elite sports cars).

Keep these steps in mind and you’ll see how your brand will grow faster than …. well, a Ferrari.