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4 steps to ROI-positive marketing attribution in 90 days

So, you’ve just implemented a new marketing attribution solution. Now what? Columnist Alison Lohse explains how you should be spending those first three months to achieve positive ROI.

Your marketing attribution solution should have positive ROI and start paying for itself within 90 days of implementation.

This goal is both strategic and tactical. At a high level, you want to justify the cost of the system as soon as possible so that there is no question about value. From the marketing practitioner to the CMO, it needs to be clear early on what the platform is doing, and why it’s doing it; marketers also need to demonstrate that the system is working and has everything required to keep working.

Tactically, it’s important to harness the honeymoon period after the system is live. When you hit the ground running, you take advantage of people’s time and attention, thus cementing the value. If you miss that window, it’s hard to get it back.

While it may seem challenging, this goal is also realistic. Here’s what it takes to see ROI on your attribution initiative within three months.

Step 1: Clearly define objectives

Be clear from the get-go. Before you even begin implementation, it’s critical to align your system to clear business questions. This should go deeper than “see what’s working and what’s not” (although that’s a good place to start).

In any organization, there are a wide variety of ways that you can drive efficiency. Do you want greater revenue efficiency, more efficient leads or compounded revenue? If you have to pull a lever, which one do you want to pull? You will have multiple options, and you’ll need to decide which will drive the best business return before diving into the technology.

Step 2: Look intrachannel first

Cross-channel attribution helps us understand the complex relationships between all of our marketing efforts across multiple channels, by definition. But to get there, start with a single channel testing framework. In any one channel, there are almost always reasonably clear and accessible opportunities for optimization that you weren’t aware of.

Take search, for instance. Attribution can quickly identify specific keywords that are far less efficient than you thought. You may have been defending the value of those keywords internally or dumping budget towards them through competitive bidding, but they simply aren’t paying off. At scale, cutting a single failing keyword by 50 percent can pay for your attribution solution.

These early efforts don’t require a huge swing in time, resource or budget allocation. The idea is to cut the fat, not to make drastic changes. In the search example, that might mean reducing spend on a few keywords, not canceling your branding campaign altogether. When you get your attribution solution up and running, look across things that have lower efficiency than you expected. Then dig in and do precise surgery as appropriate.

Step 3: Expand your efforts based on time-to-impact

Every marketing channel returns results in a different, predictable time frame. We call this “time to impact.” For SEM campaigns, that time is short; you can typically see the results of a change within three or four days. If a keyword is in someone’s path, it makes an immediate impact. Video marketing campaigns, however, have a longer maturation time and can take 60 to 90 days before reaching their full potential.

Use time-to-impact to begin expanding your intrachannel attribution efforts. Begin with the channels where you’ll see quick results — again, paid search is a great example — then stagger your optimization testing to give each channel enough time in market to produce meaningful results. In practice, this looks like a flow chart: tackle X channel this week, Y channel next week. This measured strategy isolates the right inventory at the right time and sequences your efforts in a way that makes sense for each channel and your business objectives.

Step 4: Go cross-channel

When you have optimized several of your channels individually, start thinking cross-channel. This takes several forms. You can compare each channel’s projected performance based on results in the first 90 days to prioritize your efforts. Say you saved $250K by cutting a specific keyword in the first three months; you can extrapolate that out to a million dollars of savings over the course of the year. How does that compare to the other channels that you optimized?

The optimization tactics uncovered in the initial 90-day window, when pursued strategically, usually generate ROI quickly. That means the system begins paying for itself, and more importantly, you have money left over. This is where attribution really becomes a cross-channel effort. It delivers the insights that allow for cost savings — let’s stick with our search example and say $250K — and shows you the potential returns over different periods of time for your other channels. You can then make informed decisions about where to invest that $250K for maximum impact, without having the worry about ROI on the attribution solution itself.

Final thoughts

Think of the first three months of your attribution program as being like the early days of a fitness program (P90X comes to mind). It’s going to be hard at first. You have to show up and do the work every day. But once you do, the results start to pay off both in isolation and as a whole. Your arms are stronger, and your whole body feels better; your individual channels are operating more efficiently, and your entire marketing program sees greater returns.

The 90 days goes quickly. But with dedicated, focused efforts, you can not only be ROI-positive, but you can be armed with the knowledge you need to invest your marketing dollars wisely for years to come.

by Alison Lohse