November 13, 2012

Why Attribution Efforts Fail Miserably: A Basketball Example

I want to walk you through a series of images from a basketball game.  The images will explain why attribution efforts fail miserably.

Look at the first image (below).  The player in the middle of the court just secured the rebound of a missed shot (the number on his jersey is "4").  He is passing the ball to the point guard (the number on his jersey is "0").

Now, we move a few seconds ahead in the action.  I positioned two arrows on the two players we are following.  The player with the ball (number "0") dribbled to the top of the key.  Next, he will pass the ball to the right wing, where his teammate is wide open.  But more important, look at the left arrow.  This is player number "4".  He has hustled down court, passing all of his teammates.  Because of his hustle, he had drawn two defenders near him.  And because he drew two defenders near him, his teammate (number "12") is wide open on the right wing.
Ok, we'll look at one more image, at the end of the play.
Because player #4 drew a defender close to him, his teammate on the right wing (#12) was wide open, and received a pass from player #0.  A defender rushed to the teammate (#12), blowing right past a shot fake.  Now, the teammate (#12) has a wide open three point jump shot attempt, which he buried!  The crowd went crazy, because this player hit a wide open shot that counted for three points, he's credited with one more point than he would be credited for on easier shots taken inside the three point arc.

But look at our player, player #4 ... he is just above the black arrow on the image.  If the shot is missed, player #4 has hustled into position, and has blocked out the defender.  Most long shots rebound to the opposite side the ball is shot from.  In other words, player #4 is in good position to get the rebound if the shot is missed ... and if he doesn't get the rebound, he has a defender blocked out, so that his teammate (to his left, #35) will get the rebound.

In the box score (basketball's version of a KPI attribution dashboard), here is what is documented from this offensive series:
  • Player #0 = 1 assist.
  • Player #12 = 3 points.
  • Player #4 = No credit for anything.
This is exactly the same situation we observe in all of our attribution/matchback work.  We'd give player #12 credit for closing the deal (last touch attribution).  We'd give player #0 credit for an assist (multi-touch attribution).  We'd give player #4 no credit for anything other than a defensive rebound.

Player #4, who is truly the reason for the success of this offensive series, gets no credit.  In large part, he gets no credit because we don't have a measurement system to assign value to his efforts (hustle, positioning, basketball IQ, fundamentals).

Coaches, however, do assign value to his efforts.  They watch film, and can visually see his value to the team.  That's why he is playing in this game.

We, as a measurement community, will fail until we find a way to provide attribution to the activities that truly make a purchase happen (customer service, merchandise, creative).  Today, we give too much credit to channels, discounts, and promotions (i.e. player #12 and, to a lesser extent, player #4).  

We don't give credit to customer service, merchandise, and creative (i.e. player #4).