May 05, 2019

Dear Management Analytics Consultant: Attribution

Dear Management Analytics Consultant:

Our Marketing VP is as old-school as they come. She strongly believes that the catalog is responsible for all sales, telling me that without the catalog we wouldn't have acquired the customer in the first place, meaning that all downstream orders should be credited to the catalog. At minimum, she'll accept matchback results that give credit for all online orders to the catalog recently mailed to the customer. Meanwhile we've A/B tested our catalogs (without telling her) and we learned that 42% of demand is catalog-attributable while 58% is organic and is generated without catalog mailings.

Here's my question. How do I convince my boss that we have actual data that proves the catalog has limited value? I've even hired a pair of attribution vendors to analyze a month of data, and their analyses are wildly different and are unreliable. How can I get my boss to trust me when I can't trust attribution vendors because their algorithms disagree?


Dear Sophia:

You probably won't convince your boss that you are right and her worldview is wrong. Your boss built an entire career based on a worldview not unlike the J. Peterman character on Seinfeld had. If she accepts your view of catalog marketing (which is based on data, by the way), she has to come to terms with the fact that the value she brings to the organization is diminished.

There are several things people in your position do. If Management demands that a lot of catalogs be mailed, then mail them ... but not necessarily to housefile customers. Mail them to prospects and hold out online housefile buyers. Stuff as many catalogs into the mailbox of a first-time buyer for three months. Use email marketing to communicate to pure online buyers with high organic percentages. Recommend smaller catalogs (which are more productive - chalked full of winners of course) and then run scenarios showing that you can mail MORE of the smaller catalogs, which should be pleasing to your old-school boss.

A final note. All attribution models are flawed. They are all based on assumptions, though some of the assumptions (and math behind the assumptions) are better than others. The digital age promised us clarity. Instead, the digital age delivered confusion. Use your A/B test results to inform investment decisions. Work with a trusted attribution vendor and help shape their work with your A/B test results. Vary your search and Facebook spend on a monthly basis, giving attribution vendor algorithms more opportunities to detect key relationships.

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