Understanding Search's Place in Multi-Touch Consumer Journeys

David Alpern | June 29, 2017

To understand how search is impacted by other forms of media, just imagine: You’re in the market to buy a new car. You’re going to start to take more notice of automotive advertising on television and radio. You’re likely going to be cognizant of outdoor advertising for automotive brands. You may consult some print publications for reviews. As you pursue related content online, you will be cookied for the delivery of relevant web-based-targeted advertising.

Ultimately, as you progress toward a purchase decision, you’ll undoubtedly visit a search engine multiple times, which will deliver you to auto content and review sites. Search will also funnel you to the websites of the car brands that piqued your interest as well as dealer websites. You might sign up for email opportunities along your journey. And all this will typically happen before you ever set foot on a dealer’s lot.

All these touch points exemplify how prospective customers use both off-line and online media—desktop and mobile, and voice and text—on their way to ultimately making a purchase. Marketers want to know what part of their media mix has an impact on these journeys. It’s known that a rising tide lifts all boats. However, they want to know what elements contributed heavily to that tide.

The developing science of attribution modeling is considered the panacea, but remains complex and incomplete. As such, the reflex is to presume what always worked still works and to also rely on attributing credit to what the in-house tracking resources report are driving sales. This embedded bias does not really reflect the multifaceted way customers interact with a brand’s media efforts along their purchase journey.

Multi-touch vs. Last Click

So in a world where multi-touch is the reality but last click reporting modeling prevails, how can credit be apportioned? Last click, which historically ascribes an abundance of credit to search, endures because it delivers a tangible number. Yet multi-touch is the reality in consumer behavior, according to studies such as that from the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) in November 2016, which found that migration away from traditional last-touch analytics is progressing at a snail’s pace because of the burden of the investment needed to implement, understand and utilize a more complex attribution infrastructure.

Big5 Case Study

Big5, a California sports retailer, shared a case study at a recent Search Insider conference illustrating the delayed halo benefit of multi-touch. The company invested heavily in upper funnel, including non-brand search, in a recent November test. Downward ROI impact was initially felt since non-brand searchers are typically more upper-funnel research-focused and not yet in a buy-now mindset. However, they found a latent halo impact on later sales resulting from consumers who were touched by their earlier media mix. Sales increased that December from the earlier increased seeding of retargeting cookie pools, more email opt ins and eventually more brand searches.

By increasing their November budget by 15% with early touch media, they were able to retarget consumers at a lower CPC and CPM throughout the key December holiday period. It ultimately increased their fourth-quarter ROI by a reported 24%. Their observed multi-touch success has helped the company justify shifting budgets away from last-touch media during the early days of subsequent holiday seasons. As they shared at the summit, they looked for places where they could move budget from last touch to upper-funnel paid search, even though it appeared to initially be underperforming.

In essence, all roads lead to search (the new Rome!) for the typical consumer journey. The halo impact of other media fortifying future search activity is the reality, although it remains largely opaque and overlooked in many last-click analytics reporting conclusions. While investment in attribution capability is the ideal, correlation efforts to ascertain delayed trends orchestrated by other media on search can be observed by connecting some dots and determining which, and how much, media is truly adding more wind into search’s sails.

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