Editor’s note: Ted Baxa works with social media marketing firm Three Ships Media.

RALEIGH, N.C. – All digital marketing is measured marketing. The accountability and precision that digital channels enable is often discussed (sometimes by this humble blogger in fact. See my Power of Digital Media post).

The impact of every penny spent online can be tracked: How many people saw your ad? How many clicked it to learn more? What percentage of those visitors added a product to the shopping cart on your eCommerce platform? How many converted into paying customers?

The granularity of data available and the depth of insights marketers can draw by analyzing these types of metrics are extraordinary. Through multivariate testing and constant refinement, marketers can apply the principle of kaizen (Japanese for “continuous improvement”) that our colleagues in the operations wing of organizations have advocated for decades. The information is easily accessible, highly accurate, and grounded in cold-hard numbers that are not open for misinterpretation.

Except when they are.

Most marketers operate under a “last-touch attribution” model when assessing digital performance. Under this framework, the most recent source—the “last touch”—of a visit receives all of the credit for driving that traffic. So if you see a display ad for a rock concert on Facebook then open up Google and search for tickets to the show, the people at Ticketmaster (or whoever bought the ad) think Google drove yet another person to their site. “Oh and those Facebook ads the new digital marketing guy advocated so strongly for aren’t working at all. Talk about overhype!”

Making that conclusion would clearly understate the value of the display ad while overstating the role of search in the purchase funnel. What digital marketers need is a multi-touch attribution model that accounts for the complexities of how digital channels interact to influence customer behavior.

A number of analytics packages have given marketers this capability for some time. Cookies—small bits of code that can track users’ behavior online—allow marketers to identify all of the marketing messages you have been exposed to over the past weeks or months, as well as your behavior across their web properties (Note: while this data is anonymous, the debate over privacy concerns is well-documented).

If you see an ad, exit your browser, shut down your computer, go on vacation for a week, then come back to your laptop and navigate to the URL of the advertised site directly, the webmaster can attribute part of your visit to the advertisement that ran seven days ago. A last-touch attribution model, on the other hand, would relegate your visit to the “direct” traffic category, a black-box of web analytics that assumes a sudden spark of divine inspiration compelled you to type in a web address, without any influence from marketing channels.

The technical hurdles to truly precise multi-touch attribution, while still substantial, are lowering (legal hurdles is a separate story). Premium analytics packages measure with an increasing degree of accuracy. Google Analytics added the capability two weeks ago, though questions exist about the quality of data from this initial incarnation.

Marketers now face an enormous range of possibilities when making resource allocation decisions—far more than in the past. Luckily, we have extraordinary tools to inform our decisions. A deep understanding of those capabilities (or a partnership with a digital marketing firm that does…shameless plug) is critical to any marketing campaign’s success in this new age.

(c) Three Ships Media

Reprinted with permission

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