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Traditional Cost Attribution in a Digital World

Traditional marketing channels have been the backbone of marketing plans for decades. Print, TV, Radio, outdoor displays etc have all been proven options. But with the dawning of digital, direct cost attribution has really been put into the limelight.

Ironically digital – the channel that has the easiest and most direct cost attribution model almost shoots itself in the foot because of this. Due to being able to measure direct performance, businesses can be hesitant to continue investing in a digital channel if it isn’t providing an instantaneous ROI. On the flip side, traditional channels have generally had a bit more lag time before judgement has been made. And even then the true value that their providing isn’t generally something that’s accurately measured. Instead it’s usually a result of anecdotal observations and overall improvements.

Is this fair? I’d comfortably say no. As with any marketing channel, testing the waters and having a play with messaging is often something that has a bit of trial and error before you hit the sweet spot that provides the returns you’re looking for.

In a modern marketing landscape, digital is often valued from it’s scalability and low barriers of entry. Traditional still holds the mantle for higher cost, especially across print, radio and television, but still has a more “premium” feel to it. I question whether this translates to a typical consumers perception? Maybe because they see they can afford to advertise in places other than digital it improves the perception of the brands positioning in the market? Or does the honesty of digital, especially in user generated forums make this “branding” redundant?

Large scale organisations are able to track overall sales and account for organic growth vs advertising generated growth if they know what they’re doing and have systems in place. Small businesses on the other hand don’t tend to have the volume to normalize and forecast growth, instead relying on anecdotal evidence. This tends to mean that cost attribution and returns can be calculated for larger scale businesses more easily, and profitability of advertising can also be further held against lifetime customer value vs immediate customer value, allowing for more flexibility and cost to be attributed for acquisition.

I’m keep to see the day at which cost attribution for traditional is treated equally to digital, and where methods of tracking this attribution become more powerful and diverse. In the mean time, I’d encourage decision makers to look beyond immediate ROI for digital and instead treat it similarly to how many tread traditional advertising, and judging it’s value as a ROI from the lifetime value of a customer.

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