With almost every norm disrupted by COVID-19, it’s no surprise the usual shape of brand interaction has undergone dramatic change. 

Advice encouraging consumers to stay at home has seen the number of Brits avoiding public spaces climb from 14% to 80%, driving a sharp drop in reach for out of home advertising (OOH). At the same time, attention claimed by TV and digital media is rising at its fastest rate since 2014; sending engagement up by 6% and 9% respectively. 

These behavioural shifts will have a huge impact on the media, but simply following the wider trends won’t be enough to ensure sustained success. While it’s likely restrictions on outdoor events will continue to limit OOH conversions, and online media will keep driving higher results, decisions must be made on more than probability. 

Marketers need an accurate understanding of which channels are driving returns, and this will call for an adjustment in attribution that moves away from single event measurement.

Time to break the single event habit 

Attribution has become an essential tool for analysing which touchpoints drive specific conversions and making better-informed spending choices. But its effectiveness in the current climate is limited by a tendency towards the single event model. 

As most marketers know, the single event approach sees all value for the desired outcome attributed to one event in the consumer’s journey — typically either the ‘first touch’ where brand interaction begins or the ‘last touch’ that comes before their purchase. 

This way of assigning credit has its uses, aligning well with direct response and branding campaigns — especially offline. For example, it’s especially useful when marketers are keen to understand things like: How many people saw my billboard? How many sports fans were at the event we sponsored? How many people were exposed to my transportation advertising on the tube? Similarly, it can also be useful for pinpointing which retail outlets or particular e-commerce sites fuel the most sales at the end of campaigns. 

But consumer behaviour in the wider online space is rarely straightforward, with buys often preceded by a complex web of engagement across multiple devices and channels, and that creates sizeable challenges for the single event model. 

Varied activity requires multi-faceted measurement

As ongoing social distancing measures have spurred consumers to ramp up their media consumption, already complex consumer journeys have expanded to include yet more online touchpoints. For marketers, this makes it vital to identify what’s working, and what isn’t, to ensure investment is spread efficiently across the digital spectrum. 

Understandably, the natural urge is to focus on whichever channels fuel the greatest conversions. But this single event mentality is likely to result in increasingly narrow campaign scope and ever-decreasing success rates. 

For instance, say a gardening brand finds that search advertising is performing well, with ads targeted to the keyword “best indoor plants” producing the strongest sales. Upping their spend in this direction will mean they soon start to reach the same individuals repeatedly, and there is one key reason why: the contribution many other digital channels make to feeding the marketing funnel and qualifying consumers with related interests is being missed, whether that’s video, display, social media, or content discovery. 

Enhancing long-term success and purchases means taking into account the diversity of online consumer journeys and establishing the true value of every event, and the best way to achieve that is transitioning from single to multi-event attribution.

Choosing the right multi-event path 

With multi-event attribution, marketers can gain a more holistic view of the purchase story and ensure value is properly assigned to key moments of engagement and interest. The choice of how they do so is up to them. 

Multi-event models take many forms, with ‘even weighting’ the easiest to adopt: a method that keeps things simple by allocating equal credit to all touchpoints. But those in search of further granularity can harness a host of other options. For instance, U-shaped attribution offers an evolution from first and last touch; giving both a larger slice of credit and distributing the rest across mid-level interactions. Alternatively, time decay operates on the theory that value increases as consumers get closer to purchase and assigns value incrementally, while algorithmic attribution allows marketers to assess each event individually using insight into consumer interests and automated analytics.

No matter which route they take, switching to multi-event measurement will not only help marketers avoid one-track investment, but allow them to better link conversions with the varied interactions that fuel them — drawing a unifying line between once disparate TV ads, desktop content recommendations, and social media messages.

Implementation can also be further streamlined by selecting tools to suit varying needs. Google 360, for instance, is likely to be the top pick for marketers keen to take charge of attribution by building models for themselves. Then there are tools for more specific uses, such as Segment’s solution for ensuring data is accessible across organisations, and mobile app specialist, AppsFlyer, which uses data to provide brands with a holistic view of every user journey across platforms, channels, and devices. 

The way consumers interact with brands is constant and fast-moving.  It can be hard for marketers to keep up. But those who revamp their attribution models now will be ahead of the curve during the pandemic and beyond; and not just because many consumers intend to make new habits permanent. As online engagement continues to grow, marketers will need attribution that works with the ever-shifting form of consumer journeys. The wider horizons of multi-event measurement will give them clearer insights into interaction value, allowing them to rapidly adapt to whatever new behaviours come next.