Don’t Squash the Second Pie: Rethinking Traditional Marketing Attribution Models

If you’ve known me long enough, and have had to suffer through enough of my nerdy soliloquies on marketing ops, you’ve probably heard about my “two pie theory”. The gist is that, in traditional marketing attribution, we think about our revenue – or sometimes pipeline – as a metaphorical pie that gets divided up between the different campaigns that influenced each dollar. This setup inevitably leads to squabbling over who gets what portion of the pie, a huge headache in and of itself, but I’m actually more interested in a different problem: we’re often so focused on this one “pie” – the campaign types – that we forget about the other equally important pie – the sources that drive engagement with our campaigns. Let’s unpack why this is such a costly oversight.


The First Pie: Campaign Types


Campaign types are – forgive the extended baking metaphor – the bread and butter of marketing. They’re the webinars, events, direct mail campaigns, and content pieces (like ebooks, whitepapers, and blogs) that we create to attract and engage our audience. They play a crucial role in driving revenue or pipeline, and it’s only natural that we focus on their performance.


But here’s the thing: focusing solely on this pie can lead to an incomplete understanding of our marketing efforts. We might be patting ourselves on the back for a successful webinar, but do we really know how our audience found out about it in the first place?


The Second Pie: Sources


This brings us to the second pie – sources. These are the channels through which our audience discovers and engages with our campaign types. Think email, ads, paid search, organic search, and social media. Understanding the sources that drive engagement is crucial because it helps us optimize our marketing mix and allocate resources more effectively.


For example, if we find that most of our webinar registrants come from targeted email campaigns, it would make sense to invest more time and effort in refining our email strategy. On the other hand, if paid search drives a significant portion of ebook downloads, we’d want to ensure we’re putting our ad dollars to good use.


Challenges with Traditional Marketing Attribution Models


Now, you might be thinking, “Great, two pies, I get it. But why is this such a big deal?” The problem with traditional marketing attribution models is that they often ignore or undervalue the second pie. They might pretend all sources are irrelevant, give equal weight to campaigns and sources, or squash the two together as if they were the same thing.


This approach can lead to an inaccurate representation of our marketing efforts’ effectiveness, which in turn can result in misguided decisions when it comes to allocating resources and optimizing our strategies.


Overcoming Challenges and Improving Attribution Models


So, what can we do to give both pies the attention they deserve? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Conduct regular marketing channel audits: Periodically evaluate the performance of each marketing channel to identify areas of improvement and reallocate resources accordingly. Regular audits will help you stay on top of your marketing mix and ensure that both campaign types and sources are considered in your decision-making process.
  2. Differentiate between the two pies: Make sure your attribution model accounts for both campaign types and sources separately. This will help you gain a clearer understanding of the specific roles they play in driving revenue and engagement.
  3. Integrate source data: Include source data in your attribution models to see which channels are driving engagement with your campaigns. Use this insight to make informed decisions about where to allocate resources and focus your marketing efforts.
  4. Experiment with new marketing tactics: Don’t be afraid to test new strategies and tactics that may bring in new sources of engagement. By continually exploring new avenues, you can identify untapped opportunities and gather more data to improve your attribution models. Just make sure to track the performance of these new tactics and sources to ensure they are effectively contributing to your overall marketing goals.

To truly understand the impact of our marketing efforts, we need to give both the campaign types pie and the sources pie the attention they deserve. By doing so, we’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions and optimize our strategies for success.