The Lasting Problem with Last Touch

Ben Plomion is vp of marketing for Chango.

It might sound strange to say that site retargeting is broken. After all, it’s often the most powerful weapon in a digital marketer’s arsenal. But a programmatic marketing campaign is only as valuable as the metric that demonstrates its value, and retargeting has a serious measurement problem. At the heart of the crisis is “last touch,” which, ironically, was supposed to solve one of retargeting’s biggest problems: how to credit the conversion.

Last touch was designed to put an end to duplicate conversions by crediting only the last tactic employed before the conversion occurs. And, sure, this works as de-duplication. But that doesn’t mean it makes any sense. Why the last tactic and not the first? Last touch is arbitrary and simply ignores a huge portion of a campaign.

Imagine if all of the credit for a sale at The Gap went to the salesperson who greeted you and helped you find the dressing room. No, the salesperson didn’t get you into the store or make you aware of the item you came to buy, but, hey, she was the last person to talk to you before you opened your wallet.

It sounds odd, and yet that’s what we’re doing with site retargeting. Last touch tells you nothing about what’s going on behind the scenes, and if you don’t know what you’re data is really telling you, you’re going to make mistakes in calculating costs and ROI. Big mistakes.

Not perfect, just better

If there’s one defense of last touch, it’s that we still don’t have a perfect attribution model for site retargeting. But that, of course, isn’t a very good defense. We can certainly do better, and there’s one very straight-forward way to make things better in a hurry: Why not just take site retargeting out of your ad sever? That is, remove it from the same ad server account that includes all of your other buys. If site retargeting is isolated, the duplication problem goes away.

If that sounds extreme, remember that site retargeting does not acquire any customers but rather speaks to those who have already demonstrated interest in your product. In other words, site retargeting is fundamentally different from your other tactics. Yes, you can measure incremental ROI, but the true ROI has to take into account how the visit was generated in the first place. Brands that wake up to this simple fact will have plans that look very different in a matter of months and see a healthy increase in their overall business ROI.

I’m guessing that right now at least some media planners reading this are thinking, sure, good idea, but why bother? After all, the more dollars the media planners move from prospecting to retargeting, the easier it is for them to show an increasing ROI. Why not score more points with the clients who don’t understand all of this anyway?

I’ll tell you why. Because clients are starting to figure it out. CMOs and CFOs today get it. And their jobs are on the line just like yours. You can only mask the numbers for so long before the true story comes out. And, in this case, the true story is that site retargeting is getting more credit than it deserves because we’re using the wrong metrics.

The big picture

There’s no need to throw out the baby with the bath water. Site retargeting can be a great and efficient tool. We just need to remember that without prospecting, there is no site retargeting. And that means putting an end to all the measurement games and using campaign dollars as effectively as possible. Isolating your retargeting measurements from the rest of your measurements might seem scary at first. But, in the long run, what’s really scary is relying on a meaningless metric like last touch.

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