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Don't Just Measure the Ad, Measure the Journey

Leverage Attribution: The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts; By Jeff McCollum, CAKE president

NEWPORT BEACH, CA--(Marketwired - July 17, 2014) - For anyone who buys, sells or has any kind of stake in the world of digital advertising, a headline like We Have No Idea if Online Ads Work is certainly something you notice. This recent Slate column focuses on a much talked about eBay study that essentially came to the conclusion that search ads offer no measurable benefit for well-known brands.

A useful piece of research for eBay, and smart of them to be so scientific in how they analyze the effectiveness of their advertising spend. However, I'm not sure that it really tells us much about whether online ads in general work, for a couple of reasons: 1) Not all advertisers are eBay, and 2) Online advertising is greater than the sum of its parts.

First, it's not that big of a surprise that there's practically zero value for eBay in running search ads next to its own name. If a consumer is already searching for eBay or even items they might buy on eBay, they probably are going to get to the site anyway, without being prompted by an ad. But a lot of brands that advertise online are not nearly as recognizable, and even if they are, their business model might be quite different. Brands like eBay and Amazon are huge e-commerce destinations. It's worth considering that the situation might be different for say, a well-known shoe or apparel brand that wants to run search ads that funnel consumers to places where their products can be bought. 

And when it comes to online advertising, search is but one of many "touch points" where a person might encounter your message.

Consumers today are exposed to marketing across a wide array of online channels -- from display and search to email, social networks, video and mobile screens. Advertisers need to consider how each of these channels intersect and collectively impact the customer's path to purchase. For example, a person might first be exposed to a brand through a blog mention, an email, display ad, or a combination of all three. Each of these could therefore be influential in the consumer later searching for that brand. So maybe you don't need to buy branded search terms, but what about engaging on those channels that might prompt a customer to search in the first place?

One search ad, or email, or banner is probably not going to be that effective in and of itself. It's the combined effect that really counts. And learning about what works and what doesn't requires careful measurement, testing and a transparent understanding of the end-to-end customer journey. How many times did a consumer see a display ad? Play a video? Open that email? Visit an affiliate's blog?

This is attribution. And this is what CAKE is about.

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