When Marketing Isn’t Really Marketing – Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnels

I was excited this week about the prospect of finally having the time to play with Google Analytics’ advanced Multi-channel Funnel (MCF) functionality. As announced at their summit last year, they’ve extended their advanced attribution modelling to all GA users and this provides the opportunity to (finally!) try and attribute some measure of value to the various different marketing activities that are carried out as part of the marketing role.

There are three things that have been introduced that are particularly interesting:

  1. The facility to look back 90 days in a visitor’s history rather than just 30
  2. The option to create custom groupings of channels to be used in the MCF
  3. Most interestingly, the option to create a custom attribution model (more below)

There are/were lots of blog posts written about these changes. On the 2nd item, this post from the Search Engine People is a great summary of what can be done with this functionality (essentially, re-grouping the standard channels groups – organic, direct, PPC etc – in to groups more relevant to your business).

On the 3rd item – I found this excellent article from SEO Takeaways which describes a new type of attribution model, hopefully better than the models that come out of the box.

The new type of model (called a Proportional Multi-touch Attribution Model) does away with the idea that it is the order or position of a touch point in the model that matters in the process. In a standard “last-click” model for example, then it is the last thing that a visitor did before hitting your site (whether typing your URL in to a search box, clicking on an Adword ad, or whatever), that gets all of the credit for the visit to the site (or for triggering the specified goal).

In the new model (PMAM for short!), it is simply the importance that you assign to a given touch point that actually makes the difference to the attribution model, regardless of position. For example, if customer 1 clicked on a banner ad, then carried out an organic search before hitting your site and customer 2 carried out an organic search, then clicked on a banner ad, then both of these funnels would be treated in exactly the same way.

But, what’s even more interesting, is that not all touch points are treated equally. For me, the purpose of most marketing activity is to somehow nudge customers along some sort of customer buying journey. We use quite a simple framework at Red Gate as follows:

  1. Awareness of problem – is the customer aware of the problem or opportunity that your product addresses?
  2. Discovery – can you help customers discover your solution to that problem/opportunity in the market?
  3. Validation – can customers validate your product?
  4. Retention – after they’ve bought, can you look after them and keep them?

NB: This model is taken almost wholeheartedly from the book Digital Body Language by Steven Woods – a great and simple read which I’ll review on this blog sometime soon.

Anyway, the point is – marketing activity, I think, should be focussed on moving people down this funnel. If you were selling a bit of anti-virus software, is everyone out there Aware that this is even a problem? In this market, I expect so, so perhaps your biggest problem is helping people Discover your particular solution amongst the masses. So if you were marketing an anti-virus product, you really should be working on helping people who haven’t Discovered your product to do so.

So, when putting the PMAM together, you need to make some decisions about how valuable you think different activities are at pushing people through the funnel. And this is where I think the custom channel groupings get really useful. A good example in The Search Engine People article is the need to split branded and non-branded organic and PPC searches. Why? If your anti-virus software was called “Ben’s AVSoft” (for some unknown reason!) then people might find your website through two distinct types of search – by typing something like “Great windows anti-virus software” (non-branded) or by typing in “Ben’s AVSoft” (branded – because the customer obviously already knows about your product). If a customer clicks on an ad of the former type that you’ve put up, then I would argue that that marketing activity has done more to push that customer down the funnel than the latter. This is because you’ve moved that customer from being just Aware of the problem to having Discovered your solution. With the branded search, you haven’t done any such thing – they’d previously discovered your product by some other means, and are now probably just coming to your site to have another poke around.

I.e. the purpose of bits of marketing activity is to effect some sort of state change in the potential buyer – and the values you give to different touch-points should reflect how impactful those touch points are at effecting those changes. The way the PMAM works (or at least, the way I’m going to try and implement it in Google Analytics) is that you give a value, relative to 1, for how important you think each touch point is. So, if you think a non-branded Google PPC Ad is 10 times more effective than a branded Ad for marketing effectiveness/effecting a state change, then you could give the former a rating of 1 and the latter a rating of 0.1.

And this is where the Custom Channel Groupings as outlined in the Search Engine People article are so useful. You can’t for example, go through every single referring site and mark each one on this scale. Instead you merge them up in to groupings meaningful to your business then provide a rating for each group. As they suggest, I would certainly split branded and non-branded PPC Ads in some way (perhaps based on the Ad Group names, if a good convention is used?), but you could also split up types of referrers, types of email and so on.

And this is why I titled this article “When Marketing isn’t really Marketing”. Can you really call it “marketing success” in, say, SEO, when a customer types in “Ben’s AVSoft” and comes straight through to your page? Of course some earlier bit of marketing activity was phenomenally successful because the customer must have heard of you somewhere – may be a conference, or a blog post, or from a colleague. But each of these activities were what I would call “successful marketing” – they’d effected a state change in the mind of the customer to bring them closer to your product. The search for “Ben’s AVSoft” wasn’t marketing at all. If anything it was just a semi-technical piece of work to make sure your Google result looked bearable (because it’s not hard to get high ranking for a search on your exact product name – as long as you don’t call your product “Taylor Swift”).

And, just for the record, here are my strawman ratings for some of the most important touch points that we use:

  1. Non-branded PPC and organic – 3
  2. Branded PPC and organic – 0.1
  3. Direct – 0.01
  4. Banner ads – 2
  5. Referrals – 2-4 depending on details
  6. Social Media – 2
  7. Emails to customer base – 1
  8. Emails to non-customers – 2

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