By Jeff Keenan, SVP Media Attribution, co-founder at LeadsRx, helping customers improve revenue by implementing attribution and a customer-centric attitude.
Being the owner of an aggregator, directory, franchise or other marketplace site providing marketing assistance to an entire ecosystem requires diligence and, now more than ever, unbiased measurement of marketing performance. Network partners on the selling end of the partnership will demand it, if they are not already.
First, let’s go over some definitions so we are on the same page.
• Networks are businesses that market by promoting and advertising the products and services of partners within the network (Zillow, for example)
• Partners are members of a network. All partners perform marketing, but only some partners do the actual selling of the product or service (a real estate agent, for example)
• Ecosystems are a collection of networks and partners working together — or sometimes competitively — to sell within a particular industry (real estate, for example)
Seems simple enough. But, as an entrepreneur, I often seek out interesting niches with problems to see if a solution can be provided — and this notion of ecosystem marketing caught my eye.
How can you, the owner of a network working so diligently to promote and advertise on behalf of the partners in your network, prove that all your effort is indeed paying off with sales conversions? Because each partner uses analytic systems that are not shared with you, they likely aren’t including all the valuable touch points you create. Ultimately, the service value you provide could seem lackluster and understated.
It sure would be nice if you received credit for the value you are delivering across the entire network.
The Problem With Attribution Across Networks
For years, savvy entrepreneurs have used marketing attribution to determine which marketing channels and combinations thereof provide the best return on ad spend (ROAS). But with these unique ecosystems — with network owners on one end and selling partners on the other — customer journey and attribution analysis can get sticky if collaboration and cooperation are not happening.
Partners are not sharing marketing data across the ecosystem. Without this, networks within the ecosystem can’t accurately attribute the value their various marketing campaigns are delivering.
To a marketer who manages a network and advertises on behalf of its partners, that’s incredibly concerning because shared insights and visibility prove the efficacy of their campaigns. It also gives them the data they need to actually improve those campaigns, because they know what is and is not working.
A Typical Ecosystem Customer Journey In Need Of Attribution
Let’s look at an example. Pick any auto network — say cars.com, cargurus.com, autotrader.com. Those marketplaces represent likely thousands of dealers, from Hank’s Country Dodge to Volkwagen Autohaus of Missoula to Sherry’s Southeastern Kia — all local or regional dealers who advertise with the car-shopping marketplace sites in hopes of garnering interest in the inventory of vehicles they have on their lots.
Each network buys offline ads (radio, TV) and online ads (paid search, social media) to promote their brands and push visitors of their sites to their partners (dealerships) in their network. Here’s a possible customer journey:
• A radio listener hears an ad while commuting to work.
• After settling in at their desk and knocking out essential emails, they visit the site of the car-shopping marketplace heard advertised minutes earlier.
• Motivated to get out of their current repair-riddled ride, the consumer sees a listing for a two-door sport coupe in their price range.
• They click the ad, visit the Volkswagen Autohaus site and fill out a form to see if they qualify for the 0% financing deal.
• They qualify, so they call the dealership and ask if they can see the car in person and then drive to the lot.
• After a test drive, the consumer determines the car and price point are perfect. They sign on the dotted line and leave the lot in their new ride.
Sounds complicated, right? Actually, for a car purchase, that’s a pretty typical route to a conversion.
Again, the problem is the journey is disconnected, and no one partner gets to see the whole picture.
The Hope For Attribution
A key technology that could step in here to solve the ecosystem challenge is marketing attribution. At its core, attribution captures buyer journeys across all touch points to see which common paths lead to conversion. Once attribution is capable of working in the collaborative-marketing environment of networks and ecosystems, we’ll have a solution the industry will be clamoring for.
When deployed properly across networks and partners, attribution across the ecosystem would allow the transparent sharing of data across all constituents — upstream and downstream — so true attribution credit is given, and the exact buyer journey is revealed. Networks can prove they are not only delivering top-of-funnel leads, but they are contributing to bottom-of-funnel conversions.
The trick for ecosystems, particularly networks and their partners, will be to collaborate and share attribution data so the benefit is mutual and results transparent. That is when marketing performance would flourish across the entire ecosystem. But without proper attribution, networks can expect that their ad revenue will dry up. Advertisers will move away from those channels that lack the impartial attribution they demand.