On Friday, Forrester released their most recent Wave Report on cross-channel attribution technology providers. The companies evaluated fell into 4 buckets: Leaders, Strong Performers, Contenders, and Risky Bets. The companies assessed were bucketed as follows:
Leaders: Visual IQ, AOL Convertro, and Google Adometry
Strong Performers: EBay Enterprises (Clear Saleing), MarketShare, Marketing Evolution
Contenders: Rakuten DC Storm, Abakus
Risky Bets: None*
*While no companies fell in the Risky Bets category, there were some that were knocked out of the running beforehand including C3 Metrics, Encore Media Metrics, and Ignition One/Knotice. Forrester acknowledges that each is a “digital-savvy attribution vendor” but didn’t meet Forrester’s criteria for the report. As someone who once contemplated having the company I worked for participate in a Forrester Wave, I personally believe it is preferable to be knocked out early on rather than risk being classified as a “Risky Bet.” Getting into the Wave is expensive and time consuming, and it sometimes appears that newcomers have to pay their dues which means potentially accepting a lower classification before working their way up in the next report. Since most of Forrester’s Wave reports come out every two years, companies who decide to make a go of it are in it for the long run. The payoff to the Leaders is huge. I have had friends at companies in the Leader position tell me that they basically become order takers once the Wave comes out. And I have also been in the unfortunate position of losing a marquee client because the company I worked for was not represented in the Wave at all.
In terms of the Attribution Wave, I have spent a good deal of time in the past year evaluating most of the providers in the study. As a direct marketer for most of my career, understanding cross-channel attribution became increasingly important as programmatic display increased in popularity. Programmatic display drives more efficient ROI than premium display or ad networks but still performs worse than paid search in terms of generating last-click ROI. Because many marketers rely on display as a top-of-funnel driver to paid search, it would be detrimental to throw the baby out with the bath water in terms of turning off display and ultimately harming the paid search channel, so I researched possible attribution solutions. There is always a general understanding of the halo effect display provides to paid search, but proving it can be a challenge. Attribution technology exists in order to sort this out.
While the technology does exactly what it is supposed to, there are more cases than not in which marketers just starting out with display can’t afford to use it. It is a chicken and egg situation: in order to prove the success of display, the technology is necessary, but the providers Forrester names in the “Leaders” category require monthly display spends in the $250k+ range in order to offset the technology fees and length-of-term contracts. If marketers want to pair a display test with attribution technology, they would have to plunk down way more than one typically spends on a media provider test. As often happens, the attribution technologies are great solutions for large-scale brands but not always so for direct marketers in which every dollar must achieve a pre-established ROI goal.
Another difficulty of executing attribution technology is that there needs to be a major domo at the company assessing the results and subsequently writing the going-forward roadmap and business rules. Often there isn’t, and agencies can definitely help with that. In lieu of having agency or in-house support, brands often run and read the attribution reports but don’t know how to act on the data.
When AOL purchased Convertro and Google bought Adometry, I worried that a level of objectivity would be lost among these two key media powerhouses. Forrester references this in the report as the “Chinese Wall” and states that it has been mentioned as a concern. (I would guess that Visual IQ – the independent – is leveraging this with their sales.) On the AOL side, providing attribution technology is a real benefit for what they sell (display) in order to empirically calculate the value of it. With Google buying Adometry, though, I am not entirely sure how this will play out. The halo effect of display most frequently ties directly to paid search, with credit ultimately moving away from search and into display. This doesn’t seem to be in Google’s best interest. Since the new Google Adometry product hasn’t launched yet and/or been incorporated into Google Analytics or DCM, we’ll have to watch to see how this plays out.