July 21, 2022
Go-to-market

How to use better attribution models to create demand

Learn what’s wrong with attribution, why you should focus on measuring demand creation, and how it could revolutionize your marketing.

Most marketing teams don’t create demand, they capture it.

They struggle to market effectively because the attribution models they work with can’t measure demand creation. This means they’re forced to leave tons of demand on the table, ripe for picking by competitors.

If they could measure the impact of activities that create demand, marketers would be able to target whole new audiences of potential customers.

In this article, we’ll explore what’s wrong with typical attribution models, delve into the different types of demand, and provide practical advice on how to implement a better way of measuring marketing success.

How traditional attribution models fall short and what that means for marketers

Different attribution models give credit for conversions in different ways. For example:

  • First-touch attribution gives 100% of the credit to the first interaction with the customer.
  • Last-touch attribution gives 100% of the credit  to the final interaction before conversion.
  • Linear attribution splits the credit equally across all interactions.
  • Time decay attribution assigns weighted credit to each interaction based on the time from conversion.

These models only measure interactions that occur within the typical buying funnel. This funnel describes the journey a buyer goes through before making a purchase and can be represented as three stages:

  1. Awareness. The buyer becomes aware they have a problem that needs solving.
  2. Consideration. The buyer begins to consider different product-based solutions to their problem.
  3. Decision. The buyer shortlists potential vendors and decides which to buy the product from.

Demand already exists to be captured at each of these stages. Demand creation happens before people get a chance to enter the buying funnel, so traditional attribution models can’t measure it. 

Let’s consider an example of how this impacts marketing teams.

Say you’re a marketing lead at an email marketing company with an advanced segmentation product. A small business owner reads your CEO’s latest LinkedIn post about the value of audience segmentation.

They Google search “how to segment email audiences” to learn more, and discover a blog post you produced explaining how to create a segmentation strategy. Having read it, they go away to think about how it could help them. 

Several weeks later, they see an ad for your product on Twitter and click through to your site. Tempted to give it a go, they sign up for a trial. After enjoying the product, they convert into a paying customer.

A first-touch attribution model would credit the conversion to organic search. Last-touch would credit paid social. Linear would distribute equal contribution across each touchpoint. Time decay might not attribute the blog post at all.

In reality, it was a sum total of unmeasurable interactions with all of them: the organic post that started the chain of events, the ad that communicated benefits and spoke to the pain, not to mention indirect cues from sources in the time and space between awareness and decision (i.e. someone mentioning your brand name on the next table in a cafe).

How the modern online experience makes your attribution model less useful

The business owner in the example above had a problem that needed solving but didn’t know it. They weren’t doing research when they came across a solution. They were just browsing LinkedIn. The demand was created, not captured.

Data from the global technology investment firm, Bond, shows adults in the USA were spending 6.3 hours per day with digital media in 2018, up from 2.7 hours a decade earlier. 

creenshot of Bar Graph that shows the result of Bond Data Research that adults in the USA were spending 6.3 hours per day with digital media
U.S. adults spend about 6.3 hours per day on digital media

About 147 minutes of that time is spent on social media, and the number of social media users is still rising.

Screenshot of line graph that shows the number of people using social media platform‍
Social media use is rising almost across the board

People engage in diverse online communities and consume content daily. They learn about products organically through web-based discussions and recommendations. 

Unfortunately, our attribution models never caught up with that cultural change.

Your brand is likely being talked about in channels you’re not aware of. Perhaps in a discussion on a subreddit, in passing during a podcast, or deep in a Tik-Tok feed. The point is, you’re probably not measuring it.

These conversations will still happen without your knowledge. The problem is that you won’t know where to focus your marketing efforts unless you can measure them.

Get to grips with the different types of demand and what you’re missing by only addressing one

There are two types of demand: demand capture and demand creation. Traditional attribution models are broken because they only focus on one of them. 

By allowing the limitations of attribution to dictate your activities, you’re marketing with a self-enforced handicap. It’s an error that will impose a false ceiling on your success.

To fully comprehend why demand-driven attribution is important, you first have to understand the difference between demand capture and demand creation.

Demand capture: reaping what’s been sowed

This form of demand is made up of potential customers within the buying funnel. Some will be in the awareness stage actively researching their problem. Others will be in the decision phase ready to pull the trigger on a specific product.

Attribution is easy here because potential customers’ interact with brands through measurable sources like organic search, paid ads, and email marketing. That means you can understand which touchpoints are driving conversions and focus your efforts to improve marketing performance.

Demand creation: planting seeds for future harvest

This is the section of the market that doesn’t yet know it needs what you have to offer. They have a problem that needs solving but aren’t in a buying cycle and don’t know that a solution like yours exists. 

They’re social media users, podcast listeners, and online community members who are browsing and engaging, but not shopping.

The nature of these platforms means traditional attribution models can’t measure marketing efforts. They’re largely third-party and the impact of marketing occurs directly on the feed or in the content. There’s no crossover with your website and no touchpoint that your attribution software can observe.

Engaging in demand creation presents an advantage against your competitors. You’re not aiming for the immediate conversion, but education and affinity. When the people you reach through demand creation marketing enter a buying cycle, your brand or product is top-of-mind.

Where to find the most valuable demand creation opportunities 

Many platforms allow you to reach an untapped audience and create demand. They all fall outside of what a traditional attribution model can measure, but that makes them no less important.

Dark social

Dark social is brand attention generated through shares on platforms characterized by user-to-user interaction. Think LinkedIn, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

Acquisition originating from dark social channels is typically misattributed as direct. Consider what happens when you share an article from LinkedIn with a colleague through WhatsApp. They receive a URL, open it, and are attributed by analytics as a direct visitor. There’s no credit for social. 

A meta analysis of different studies places the percentage of all shares that are through dark social between 21% and 84%. That’s a significant portion of your audience being attributed to the wrong channel.

With Gen Z audiences, this percentage is likely higher. A 2021 report by The Influencer Marketing Factory revealed that 97% of Gen Z consumers “use social media as their top source of shopping inspiration.” 

There’s no reason to think their purchasing habits will be much different in the workplace. That makes dark social one of the most important sources of demand to consider as they enter the workforce en masse.

Influencer marketing

Influencers are largely associated with B2C sectors like fashion, but they’re an untapped source of demand for B2B brands too. In a report on B2B influencer marketing by TopRank Marketing, 78% of B2B marketers surveyed “believed that their prospects relied on advice from industry influencers.” However, only 19% of these marketers were running ongoing campaigns.

In an interview with Forbes, TopRank Marketing’s CEO and co-founder explained this disconnect. He attributed it to limitations imposed on marketers by the way performance of the marketing investment is evaluated.” In other words, the inability to measure success makes it impossible to attain.

Canva took full advantage of the power of relevant influencer marketing by making Apple alumni Guy Kawasaki “Chief Evangelist” of the brand.

Screenshot of Canva post making Guy Kawasaki as Chief Evangelist of the brand
Guy Kawasaki’s LinkedIn featuring the title of Chief Evangelist

He was an early adopter of the web-app, using it to create graphics for his personal social media. Canva reached out to him and brought him on-board in what is a largely ceremonial role. It got the brand in front of his LinkedIn audience of 3 million people.

Podcasts

Podcasts have a  unique messaging delivery method that qualifies them as an excellent channel for demand creation. A study by BBC Global News found that podcast listeners are 16% more engaged during brand mentions than the main content.

They theorized that the “intimate and conversational nature of the podcast environment creates an elevated state of engagement for brand mentions.”  It resulted in a 14% increase in purchase intent.

Email and SMS marketing automation platform, Omnisend, host their own podcast to leverage this. Free and featuring short, digestible episodes, it can be consumed easily. 

Screenshot of Ominisend Podcast page‍
The Cart Insiders podcast on Spotify

Covering topics like cart abandonment discounts and sign-up form strategies, it’s not designed to sell the Omnisend product. Instead it attracts a relevant audience with free advice, driving brand affinity above the typical buying funnel. 

Some listeners are bound to enter a buying cycle for an email or SMS marketing platform in the future. When they do, Omnisend will be top-of-mind.

Online communities

Digital communities can be split into two categories: third-party and proprietary. The former consists of sites like Reddit and Quora with diverse user-bases. The latter refers to platforms built specifically by businesses to generate a community around their product or service. 

Both are valuable considerations for B2B brands.

Reddit, for example, has scale on its side, with around 1.7 billion monthly visits worldwide. Split into distinct topic-focused subreddits, it’s an easy way to find pre-made third-party communities. These are the perfect targets for demand creation efforts.

Delphix, a data management SaaS platform, built a proprietary community

Screenshot of Proprietary Community Page built by Delphix
The Delphix community homepage

While oriented towards existing customers, it’s also social proof that other people can use to build an understanding of Delphix. 

Proprietary communities can also reduce the burden of support on the company. Jama, another SaaS brand, noticed a 28% decrease in support ticket volume in the two years following the launch of theirs.

Bank of America’s (BofA) now-defunct Small Business Online Community is another good example of a proprietary online community. It was created in 2007 as a free platform for small business owners to gather, connect, and learn before social media really took off. For BofA, it was also a tool to generate brand affinity.

Three steps you can take to build a better demand-driven attribution model for your business

With countless untapped audiences to target, there are abundant viable avenues for demand creation. That makes the argument for updating the way you handle attribution clear. 

Here’s a three-step plan you can follow to update the way you approach attribution. Implementing it will free up your marketing team to dive into creating demand.

1. Make the case for creating demand

The first problem to solve is how demand creation efforts are perceived internally. Marketers are limited by the way their activities are measured. If their performance is assessed through KPIs that only relate to demand capture, there’s no incentive to create demand.

This means key stakeholders need to understand the limitations of the current KPIs. They also need to be prepared for a period of change. If refocusing on demand creation activities takes resources away from demand capture, typical product marketing metrics may temporarily decrease.

2. Set up a measurement strategy

Next, think about how you can measure the success of demand creation efforts. Attribution software won’t be much use, as you’ll be working on platforms outside of its reach. 

Instead, consider reverting to a manual approach. Adding a field to conversion forms that asks leads “Where did you first learn about us?” is a simple and effective approach. 

Screenshot of a Template Survey asking how users first learn about the company
A template survey asking how users first learn about the company

If your conversions take place on calls or emails, ask how the lead first discovered you directly.

The data you collect will be qualitative and not perfect, but still extremely valuable. Self-reported attribution is a near-immediate form of feedback. You’ll get a confidence boost from seeing your approach is working and insights to guide your continued demand creation efforts.

3. Create a blended attribution model

Demand creation is not a replacement for demand capture. The perfect marketing strategy involves both. Developing a new attribution model that combines data from attribution software and customer self-reporting delivers more insights than either source alone.

A hybrid attribution model will show you where demand is created and where it’s captured. It will make clear how targeting both types of demand is a complementary practice. You’ll have all the information you need to justify continuing to develop demand creation marketing strategies.

Rethink attribution and start creating demand

Brands like Canva and Omnisend that are winning in their markets right now aren’t just capturing existing demand. They’re creating it too. 

Engaging with relevant communities, using influencer marketing, and focusing on driving discussions about your brand on social platforms are all ways to change the way you do marketing. But they rely on the freedom to work without the constraints of traditional attribution models.

Updating how you think about attribution is the first step towards a more complete approach to marketing. The people who know they need a solution are a small slice of the market. Why not target the whole pie?

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