September 24, 2016

An September Attribution Conversation With Catalog Craig Paperman

Yes, this is considered "Business Fiction" ... if this isn't your cup of tea, then why not read about these 8 easy tips to make your retail business perform better (hint - they're easy to implement and they won't make much of a difference - unless you think that having employees park cars in front of the store causes folks to think the store is performing well - and make sure to read the response to a commenter who asks an honest question about how to fix his retail business).

Kevin: Craig, you look crabby today.

Craig: You always think I look crabby. Idiot.

Kevin: Why do think I am an idiot?

Craig: Never mind.

Kevin: No, if you are going to take pot shots at me, at least have the courtesy to man-up and share why you think I am an idiot.

Craig: You are an attribution idiot.

Kevin: That's why you think I am an idiot?

Craig: Among other things.

Kevin: What don't you like about my point of view on attribution?

Craig: I'll tell you what I don't like.

Kevin: Get on with it!

Craig: Fine. You have no idea how to attribute orders to customers. No idea at all.

Kevin: Do you have a clear picture on what you need to do, from an attribution standpoint?

Craig: If we don't send catalogs, nothing else happens. The catalog is the catalyst for the whole process.

Kevin: I disagree with you.

Craig: That's why you are an idiot.

Kevin: I just got off the phone with an e-commerce startup. They told me that Instagram is the catalyst for their whole process. Their creative team generates beautiful imagery that customers cannot help but share, creating a whole bunch of free marketing for their brand. You don't need a catalog to make magic happen.

Craig: And my catalog is full of beautiful imagery that customers cannot help but purchase from.

Kevin: Do you see the problem?

Craig: Do you?

Kevin: The problem is that you have to pay a ton of third parties for the right to get your images in the mail. The online brand doesn't have to do that. And then you spend all of your time trying to parse orders across vendors. Maybe you should focus your efforts on having a robust customer acquisition program.

Craig: That's why attribution is so important. We have to prove that our investment works.

Kevin: Think about what you are saying.

Craig: Oh, I've thought about it. I can't stop thinking about it.

Kevin: In order to put that catalog in the mail, who do you have to pay?

Craig: An awful lot of people!

Kevin: Paper reps. Your printer. The USPS. Your merge/purge provider. Your co-op - heck, four or more co-ops.

Craig: Because I spend so much money, I need to prove that there is a return on investment.

Kevin: Who is telling you that you need to prove there is a return on investment?

Craig: Who?

Kevin: Is your staff telling you to prove there is a return on investment?

Craig: No.

Kevin: Then who? Who is telling you to prove that there is a return on investment?

Craig: Our co-op rep said that attribution is really important.

Kevin: Why would your co-op rep tell you that?

Craig: Because she's trying to help us. She gives us a lot of free tips. She told us that #engagement is really important, too. She sent me a link to a blog post called "Six Reasons Why Engagement Is A Game Changer."

Kevin: She wants to help you so that she can "prove" that catalog marketing works. You know why?

Craig: No.

Kevin: Because if she "proves" that catalog marketing works, she gets paid.

Craig: By who?

Kevin: By you!!

Craig: Oh.

Kevin: Have you ever noticed that the loudest voices in the attribution discussion are the voices that you have to pay to get catalogs put in the mail?

Craig: Um.

Kevin: What do your attribution "partners" tell you to do when a customer receives a catalog and then comes to your site via paid search and then purchases via a discount in an email campaign?

Craig: Well, you match the customer back to the catalog, and if the customer was mailed a catalog, you give the catalog credit.

Kevin: Why does the catalog get credit?

Craig: Because the catalog inspired the order. How else did the customer get to the website?

Kevin: But how do you know the catalog inspired the order?

Craig: Because the catalog came first!

Kevin: In my example, email was part of the purchase process, right?

Craig: Yes.

Kevin: So who is to say that email didn't initiate the process?

Craig: Nah, email is a pointless distraction compared to "the catalog".

Kevin: And how do you know the customer wasn't searching for products for months?

Craig: Because Google Analytics makes it really hard for me to observe that kind of behavior.

Kevin: So you make assumptions because a third-party provider makes it hard for you to measure the whole chain of events leading up to a purchase?

Craig: Google Analytics is free.

Kevin: Maybe you should pay them, or pay Adobe so that you have a more complete view of customer behavior.

Craig: See, this is why you are an idiot.

Kevin: I'm an idiot because you want to prove that the catalog works because your vendors want catalogs to work so that vendors continue to get paid by you?

Craig: You are an idiot because you don't look at the business the way you are supposed to look at the business.

Kevin: How am I supposed to look at the business?

Craig: You are supposed to mail a catalog. The catalog creates a whole stream of #engagement, which I am more than happy to pay for. Then, the customer orders online. Finally, we apply #datascience to parse orders across the marketing channels that contributed to the order, with the catalog getting most of the credit because the catalog kick-started the process. Then all of our vendors get paid, and we hope to make profit in the process. The entire industry is happy. That's how you are supposed to look at the business.

Kevin: And who told you to look at the business that way?

Craig: Nobody. That's the way it is supposed to be.

Kevin: You listened to those with a megaphone. Who holds the megaphone?

Craig: Again, you are an idiot.

Kevin: The vendors you pay hold the megaphone. They pay trade journalists to get their message to you. Their sales reps tell you what to do. The vendors sponsor all of the major conferences, and their sponsorship dollars allow them to use a megaphone to tell you what to do.

Craig: My vendor partners wouldn't lead me astray.

Kevin: How old is your customer?

Craig: We just had a 32 year old purchase from us! Our database provider overlayed demographic and social data to demonstrate that we have younger customers. Our database provider wants to prove we have younger customers who might be willing to capitalize on their retargeting product.

Kevin: How old is your average customer?

Craig: Sixty-three years old.

Kevin: That's what happens when you look at the business the way you are supposed to look at the business.

Craig: Here we go with the age nonsense and catalogs mailings again.

Kevin: Craig, you aren't even trying.

Craig: Of course I'm trying!

Kevin: You want to know how to solve the attribution riddle. But the riddle you are trying to solve is biased because you want the catalog to get most of the credit. The outcome of your approach to attribution is an aging customer base that is disconnected from modern commerce. And anytime I point this out to you, you call me an idiot.

Craig: You are an idiot because you aren't doing things the way you are supposed to do them.

Kevin: But by doing things the way you are supposed to do them, your vendors are being paid but your business is struggling.

Craig: So help me solve the problem, but help me solve it by doing things the way we are supposed to do them!

Kevin: Let me ask you a question.

Craig: Oh Christ, here we go.

Kevin: Have you ever gone to a restaurant and enjoyed really good soup?

Craig: Why would I eat soup at a restaurant?

Kevin: #OhBoy.

Craig: I mean, if you are going to go to a restaurant, why not enjoy a Prime Rib? I'm thinking thirty free range ounces of heavily salted and peppered medium-rare perfection, with au jus and creamy horseradish sauce and roasted vegetables. Doesn't that sound good?

Kevin: Make sure your co-op rep takes you out to dinner.

Craig: That's what you eat at a restaurant. Prime. Rib.

Kevin: Which portion of the meal that you described do you attribute the success of the meal to?

Craig: What?

Kevin: Do you enjoy the Prime Rib meal because of the roasted vegetables? The salt? Creamy Horseradish?

Craig: It's the whole thing. It's how it all fits together. It's perfect! And the service. I like it when Wanda serves our table. Wanda is funny. She tells great stories.

Kevin: I'll bet Wanda works for tips.

Craig: You can't separate anything from the experience. It all fits together, resulting in a great meal.

Kevin: So you don't attribute 60% of the success of the meal to free range beef, and 15% to Wanda, and 10% to the vegetables, and 10% to salt-and-pepper, and 5% to creamy horseradish and au jus?

Craig: Who would ever do that? An idiot, probably.

Kevin: Don't you want to be able to attribute the success of the meal properly? You made a $49 investment in the meal, don't you want to know why your investment worked or didn't work?

Craig: No, I just want a great experience.

Kevin: They why not approach your customer acquisition activities the same way? Why not create a great experience via a combination of marketing and merchandising and customer service and creative? Then evaluate the whole package. Is the whole package working, or is the whole package not working? Use your customer acquisition ad-to-sales ratio to measure overall effectiveness. Test mailing catalogs or not mailing catalogs. Test increasing the paid search budget or reducing the paid search budget, and see what happens to new customer counts. Try managing a true customer acquisition program, and measure the overall effectiveness of your program.

Craig: I don't want to do that. I want to do things the way you are supposed to do them. Now please tell me how to attribute orders to the catalog, so that I can #optimize my catalog investment.

Kevin: #OhBoy. 

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