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The Challenge of Attribution Paralysis

It’s long been clear to marketers that last-touch attribution is a simplistic and flawed way of evaluating the performance of paid digital media. Moreover, few would counter arguments that it unfairly skews marketing investment away from (generally higher funnel) premium publishers, or that it makes it easier for fraudulent actors to enter the programmatic supply chain.

So why do so many still rely on last touch? Unfortunately moving to multi-touch attribution (MTA) can often be easier said than done – it requires time, effort, resources, and coordination. There’s no doubt that there’s operational complexity associated with implementing alternative approaches, but there’s also a less acknowledged issue of marketer reticence – sometimes colloquially described as “attribution paralysis” – towards investigating and testing attribution alternatives. Buy-side practitioners tend to describe it as a function of generalized assumptions about measurement limitations across devices and “walled gardens.” While these limitations are legitimate and well-documented, their existence often a) obscures the availability of many innovative marketplace alternatives to last-touch measurement and optimization, and b) more broadly contributes to a degree of comfort with the status quo that limits innovation.

More often than not, marketers tend to feel helpless and do nothing. A “good” approach is generally sacrificed because a “perfect” solution is not possible. Another driver of paralysis is the risk of significant shifts across media spend, which can destabilize budgets and agency relationships.

While little can be done to spur innovation inside marketing organizations, the IAB Measurement and Attribution Committee plans to help reduce some of the complexity associated with MTA solutions. Its most recent whitepaper, titled “Multi-Touch Attribution Implementation and Evaluation,” aims to educate and provide practical guidance around MTA functionality, evaluation, and on-boarding / change management approaches. The committee will continue to build upon this guidance during the year and develop more acute material on attribution best practices. If you’d like to get involved, please reach out to me directly at [email protected].

Visit our IAB Attribution Hub for More Information


Benjamin Dick

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