With the brief exception of the 90s dot-com bubble, the web has been a marketer’s paradise: low cost ads reach millions; real-time reports measure from the click to the interaction and ultimately the action linking everything into one pretty package. Before the web marketing was more of an art, a series of hunches and trends, perception and focus groups. Now it is nearly a science, something which is tracked, measured and optimized down to the last decimal of ROI. But evolution has changed behavior and the days of the linear funnel are behind us.
The web has become complex.
Surfing was once an conscious activity, now it is a functional behavior. Social started as an explicit action, now it’s a part of normal connection. Even the access points have shifted becoming all but endless with any type of device in literally any place. The web has changed.
Just look at the stats: In August of last year Google reported that 90% of people move sequentially between screens in the same day, 67% in online shopping. Over the last holiday season over 1 in 3 used phones before buying on a computer. Even shoppers know it: 73% agree that their path to purchase is more complex, less direct.
Customers don’t align with reporting.
Online or otherwise, how people buy is influenced by many things and at many times: they jump from consideration to research back to work [literally]; trust is checked by social commentary, price by a variety of value considerations [not to mention devices]. To measure results as a single-dimensional path over one period, one device and only from elements which generate a clearly trackable action count as analytics have is to ignore the obvious complexity.
Just as multiple attribution reporting exposed the reality, and necessity, of overlapping contribution sources, multi-device reveals the fundamental flaw in the direct approach. There is no requirement to stick to a single device, no force compelling people to buy from a particular site [or channel], nor even a meaningful reason to act in a trackable manner on a social post.
In the web’s past with a more limited set of tools, there was often enough data with few enough roads to create a decent story… Interest from search, a return visit, a email offered, and that to a purchase. But that’s no longer the case [in hind sight it probably never should have been]: between the second screen and walled up social worlds, the jump is too big, the data too fragmented and the interference unreasonable to piece together one system and call it an interaction. The funnel is anything but linear.
Measurement must move beyond the obvious even if the result is uncertainty.
Undoubtedly companies will find a way to link devices, force more account logins, perhaps even build a super-cookie to create a more comprehensive picture but the equation is going to keep growing as fast as they do. And as it changes those who cling to the direct attribution mentality will find themselves in for a shock, unable to duplicate success as the linear indicators get further and further from the walled up, over the map realities of behavior.
Whether it’s because of more screens, track-resistant social systems, or evolving buying methods, web marketing must move to consider the entire ecosystem and, as the so-called legacy media teams have learned, look at complex paths it creates to understand behavior… There won’t be as easy of an answer to what works; analytics even with piles of data will tell less of the requiring a compromised between what’s known and what can’t be. It’s no small change but consider what you accessed today, from where and with what, and think about trying to track that… it’s clearly not the same game.