Rethinking Marketing Attribution

Episode #043: John Readman, Founder and Product Owner at Ask BOSCO

Episode Information

Most of the time, consumers don't purchase directly from an ad. They probably received an email, viewed your ad, and then went to Google to search for the brand's website. In order to get a clear understanding of what's going on, you need to look at the bigger picture.

In this episode, we chat with John Readman, Founder and Product Owner at Ask BOSCO™. He has more than 20 years of experience working in digital marketing and eCommerce with brands like Asos, Pepsi, and GAP.

We’re talking about how organizations should think about digital transformation, ways to avoid analysis paralysis, how to determine if you need a marketing attribution model, and so much more. 

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Digital transformation should flow through the entire business, not just marketing.
  2. Having access to a large amount of data is great but it can lead to analysis paralysis. Avoid it by organizing your data in one place.
  3. Trying to determine if you need an attribution model? Map out the entire customer's path to purchase.

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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL Marketers where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truth about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. So, first question, tell me something about yourself that few people know.

John Readman: So, I suppose most people will know me for being in digital marketing and marketing technology and software, but I was actually meant to be a fighter pilot and I was taught to fly planes at university by the Royal Air Force, but it wasn't meant to be. So, I ended up in business development and sales as my first job out of university, which then led me into the internet and digital marketing and software. So if things have gone a different way, I could have been Maverick in Top Gun.

Stephanie Cox: I was just like, how do we get from Maverick in Top Gun to digital marketing, right?

John Readman: Yeah, that's it, yeah.

Stephanie Cox: That's crazy. So, one of the things that you and I were talking about before we started recording the episode was your company name. So can you talk a little bit about where that came from and what it means?

John Readman: Yeah, so our business is called Modo25 and we build some technology called BOSCO. When I set the business up with one of the founders of Skyscanner, the flight booking app, him and I met on a charity bike ride where we're cycling from London in the UK, all the way across the world to Sydney in Australia, over 25 years. We're trying to raise £ 2 million or$ 2. 5 million for this orphanage over that period of time. When we set the business up together, we decided we wanted to contribute some of our profits each year to help impact the lives of 280 orphans in a Ugandan town called Jinja. So we help clothe, educate, fund, inspire, and hopefully get jobs for 280 kids in an orphanage in Uganda. When we were trying to come up with a company name, we were really struggling and we're thinking," Well, we'll go with like the typical agency or techniques like Probable, or Certainty, or Predictable," all those things. Then I thought," Well, if purpose and supporting the orphans in Uganda is at the core of what we do, we should name the company after one of the children." One of the children who had the most memorable name, and I suppose the easiest to find a domain for and everything was Modo. There's a nine- year- old girl who's one of the orphans at the orphanage in Uganda called One More Child. So we've named the company after Modo. The reason it's called 25 is that I met my business partner and initial investor, Bon, on Ride25, which is the bike ride from London to Australia. So, that's the background of the name of the company. When we decided to build the software, we thought, well, what does BOSCO do? Well, BOSCO provides the vision and direction for Modo. So, we named the software after the person who runs the orphanage. So, we're slightly different business. We're not just for profit, we've got a core purpose running through our business. So far, it's absolutely helped us recruit people. It's helped us attract clients and hopefully it highlights that we're nice people.

Stephanie Cox: I love that story. It touches my heart for a variety of reasons. One of which is because all three of my kids are adopted internationally. So, a big heart for adoption and orphans.

John Readman: Oh wow.

Stephanie Cox: Yeah, so when you think about this decision, it's not just naming the company, but it's also creating a business with a purpose. I think there's a lot of talk around this idea of CEOs and founders being more than just business leaders and having an impact on the community. How do you think that plays into your company every day? I know you mentioned it helps with recruiting employees and bringing on new customers, but when you think about that responsibility, what does that mean to you?

John Readman: Well, hopefully it makes everybody realize when maybe they're having a tough day, or they've got a difficult client call, or something's a bit of a challenge, that it's not just lining the shareholders' pockets with money. We've actually got a slightly more important purpose that we're helping to change lives in Africa. One of our core purposes is transformation, and that's not just transforming our digital capabilities of our clients. It's also helping transform the potential future of the children Africa. So hopefully, when somebody is having a tough day, they think," Well actually, yeah, I can't do this. I can't do that." It's in the back of their minds, that there is this slightly bigger purpose of why we're getting out of bed every morning and doing what we're doing. It has absolutely, as I just mentioned Stephanie, helped attract certain types of candidates who maybe wouldn't have looked at our small startup business if it wasn't for our more purpose- driven approach. Just, it's also really motivating to hear the stories that we get back from the orphanage. So we've managed to just get the first child from the orphanage into university, which is a huge step. We managed to find somebody to help fund that because obviously that's a huge amount of money and they're actually going to go to university to do medicine and be a doctor and then they're going to go back to the slum where they were found as an orphan and they're going to be a street doctor. So, that I think just closes the circle of one of the medium to longer term vision is we want to actually set up a delivery center in Uganda, and not only help gives them an education, we want to give them jobs. So can we have a Modo25 office over there and help them teach them how to code, or teach them how to do performance marketing, that could ultimately, I suppose, give them an income and then help change the economy of the town, rather than just... and transform that whole area. Yeah, no, so we're hugely... and I think the big thing though, is the companies that are claiming they've got a purpose need to actually live it and breathe it and put it at the core of everything, rather than just having a photo of what we're doing one event or something just to tick a box. They've really got to mean it because I think if they don't mean it though, there'll be found out over time.

Stephanie Cox: No, I love that, you're absolutely right. One of the things that you mentioned was around transformation and digital transformation, which I feel like is a buzzword we hear a lot. In a lot of companies, they're like," We're going through digital transformation," and then you look at what they're doing and they're not. So can you talk to me a little bit about what that means to you and what digital transformation should look like for companies today?

John Readman: Oh wow. Yeah, well that could take a long time. I suppose the biggest thing that we see a lot now is, and I suppose this has been accelerated by the pandemic, is companies who may be digital representing a small single digit amount of income to them. So, it might be less than 5% or certainly less than 10%. Now, digital is starting to represent double digits and actually people are really starting to understand the opportunity that digital gives them. That could be, if you start looking at it in a digital first world, suddenly you could have a global business straight away, depending on the market and the service and what you're selling, but let's say you're an e- commerce business. You could quite easily scale internationally, whereas if you were a retail business in the past, you might have to go have physical stores. You might have to go and negotiate local rents and employ local people, whereas I think people who are truly transforming their business from a digital point of view are looking at," Well, hang on. This can give us a global footprint," but then also I think certainly in the world I live in gets obsessed thinking, well, digital transformation, just the marketing end, but actually it's flows through the whole business. If you look at why Amazon's actually being so successful globally, it's not really their marketing. It's more their fulfillment, logistics, customer service, and that's all about having core digital processes that everybody just knows will work and trust. Well, the numbers would say now less and less people go to Google to search for things, people just go straight to Amazon to buy things. That's because they know it will turn up when it turns up and they trust the process. That process is a digital process that gives them confidence. So I think it's that whole end- to- end digitalization of the whole customer journey and process. I think it's taking a really big step back, mapping it out and understanding, well, what systems and process can we put in place to make our customer's experience from end-to-end better? And hopefully that will make them more loyal and as a business we'll make more money and we'll be more profitable. But yeah, I could go more on different angles, but I think as a general rule, I'd say that's what we're seeing.

Stephanie Cox: So, when someone wants to start that process, where do they get started? How do they start to think about really using digital to effectively propel their business forward and grow it?

John Readman: I suppose, depending on the type of business, but let's say again, if you were a retailer or an e- commerce business, it's about understanding where the demand for your products or services are. I think you've got to do some analysis around the data and that could be at a local level, that could be at a global level and understanding, well, what's the demand for what we do in the markets we're going to, and then how do we stack up against the competition? So we've just started doing some work with a BMX company that is wanting to expand, selling their BMX is globally. And in each different country, they have different competitors who are similar but different, but they want to become this big global player selling BMXs online, which is quite exciting off the back of the Olympics with all the noise around BMXs. But yeah, so I'd say you've got to start with, what's the size of the market, who are my competitors, and then how can we digitally engage with those audiences to put our products on the right place, the right device, at the right time, with the right customer so that hopefully we can scale up our business. I think it's about having a broad view on the media opportunity, or the marketing opportunity, or the visibility proposition across all different channels. I think that's where the people who get it right think about all the different channels, rather than going," Right, we're going to do a bit of Google shopping, or we're going to do a bit display, or a bit of social media." People are thinking about,"Well, how does it all tie together to give me a complete picture?"

Stephanie Cox: So one of the other topics that relates to digital transformation that I know you're really passionate about is everything tied to measurement. I think oftentimes, marketers can almost get analysis paralysis when there's so many things to measure. So when you think about measurement, where should we start? How should we start thinking about what data we should look at, what data we should pay attention to, where does attribution fit into that mix? So what's your philosophy on really, measurement?

John Readman: You're right, so this is a big... I think your point about paralysis by analysis, or there's just almost we're snow- blind. The wonderful thing about digital is there is a huge amount of data that is produced, but that's also one of the bad things because what that data does is that it gives us almost too much data. So, I think one of the hard things for senior people who maybe are new to a lot of the performance marketing channels or digital marketing channels, is understanding well, which bits of data is the most important piece. I think we've spent a lot of time educating boards and certainly CFOs and CEOs, on what are the key metrics that you should be working on with your chief digital officer, or your CMO, or your digital marketing agency to actually drive the right performance? So, I think that the key challenge, the first thing, is to try and get all your data into one place. So if you're advertising on Google, if you're advertising on Facebook, on TikTok, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or wherever else you're advertising, trying to get all your data into one place so you can then organize all your data and see everything in one central deduped dashboard is really, really helpful. That would be the first part of the puzzle of solving an attribution problem. Then I think that the other challenge is getting the senior leadership team, the people that hold the purse strings for the budget, to actually buy into the concept of attribution. So do they really understand that there's multiple touchpoints for each purchase? So somebody could have seen a display ad then they come onto the website, then you re- target them on Facebook. Then they click and if your product's good, then they might sign up an email. Then you send them an email and then two days later, they search a search term and because they know your brand, they click on your ad. I'm still amazed on a daily basis the number of people that are still doing last click or last non- direct click attribution. I think that is a big disadvantage to the people that are doing that because it's not opening up the whole marketing funnel for them. So, I think it's a tough subject and we could go on for lots inaudible but to summarize into sort of like a chunk, would be you need to get all your data into one place. You then need to analyze a significant amount of that data in what are all the touchpoints and paths throughout for that and then the biggest thing and challenge is all attribution models are wrong. What we've got to try and work out is which one is less wrong or the best fit. Just unless you sell one thing to the same person all the time, it's going to be very difficult to find a model that's perfect for your business. But what we need to do is find a model of best fit because an attribution model is better than no attribution model, but you could argue that last click is still an attribution model because that's the model you're working too. But I think some form of multi- touch model needs to be implemented across a business if it's got multiple channels, because it will unlock the right amount of budget and the right channel, enable you to scale a lot faster. But it's a topic that we debate very regularly with many, many clients. I think you need to get the senior teams' buy- in. You can't go to them and say,"Oh, we want to spend a load of money on display," unless you've got the evidence to say,"Well, this is why, because we know if we spend on display, that's going to mean later down the funnel, we're going to get more last clicks here."

Stephanie Cox: So your comment around last touch attribution, last click, makes a ton of sense. It's often what I see a lot of marketers implementing, because it's the easiest one. How do you help them understand that you're really missing out of the bigger picture, because I loved your example, which is I saw an ad, I got an email and oftentimes I'd never... I get all of these emails from retailers and I never click on them. What do I do? I go to Google, type in their name later, and then go buy something. So how do you help them start to see in order to have a more accurate picture of where they should invest? Because it's not just one channel, it's a collection of it. How do you help them understand and make that leap?

John Readman: I think there's got to be a desire within the business to improve performance, because you can take the horse to water, but... So, they've got to be looking to improve performance and wanting to understand their data. It also depends what their objectives are. Is the objective just overall total, we want more sales and we want more profit, or do we want to have certain types of, we want more profitable customers, and we want more customers that have got lifetime value of X, or more customers like this? Because if we knew what the sort of objective is, you can then go analyze the data and within the data, you can get some directions of, ultimately, these are the channels in the mix that we need to look at. So to go back to your question is like, how do we get people to start doing it? I think the first step would be to analyze maybe a month's worth of transactions and we would literally look every single transaction to see how many touchpoints are. If the average touchpoint is over three or four, you probably need an attribution model. If it's less than three and four, last click's probably okay for now, but you'd probably still benefit. If it's one, you just need not last click. If it's two, you're probably okay. If it's three or four, you should think about it. If anything more than four or five, interactions across a purchase cycle, you should have some form of attribution understanding because if you don't, you may be missing out on customers further up the funnel who could have been a customer, who've never actually found out about your service or product. And you won't know, unless you go away and look, and most clients we talk to when we do this, they're amazed by how many touchpoints there are across those purchase cycles. And often, along how long that is, it could be six weeks it could be eight weeks, it's quite a long period of time, often between the first interaction and the purchase. I suppose the other bit to highlight that you can, you need to make sure you've got all your tracking set up correctly in order to ensure that you're capturing all these data and all these interactions and touchpoints. So yeah, that's what, we do analyze about a month's worth of data and see how many touchpoints they have and then to see, well, is it worth doing? Then if it is worth doing, we'd start drilling in to see, well, actually the data are saying," Actually this is the common channel for the first touch, and actually you might need a 40/20/40." So 40% on the first interaction, 40% on the last, 20% spread across the middle, less direct, we might decide we're going to cut out all the direct, where they actually typed in the URL direct. But there's loads of different models and we've got teams of a very clever data scientists who work all this out for each individual client to help them get the best.

Stephanie Cox: How much of the this lack of movement to multi- touch attribution is driven in your opinion, based on the silos that can often happen in large organizations? Where there's someone who owns email marketing, someone who owns PPC, someone who owns PR, et cetera.

John Readman: Yeah, this is exactly a huge part of the problem and this goes back to something I touched on a minute ago, this needs to come top down and needs to be... enable people at the senior level to help everybody. But no, I've seen situations where certain people in certain meetings have disagreed with the attribution model because it makes their channel look worse, or it means their budgets reduced because suddenly their click in the process isn't recognized for as much of the credit of the transaction. I think the way teams are structured and the way people are rewarded and recognized, hugely affects behavior. That's just human nature but I think the companies that get this right are looking at overall team performance and company performance, and they're less looking at individual channel performance, or they're looking at channel performance and everybody's looking at attribution in the same way. We've often seen, it's like the discrepancy sometimes between PPC and looking at it directly in AdWords, or looking at it directly in Google Analytics, or looking at Facebook in Facebook, or looking at Facebook transactions in analytics. There's often lots of differences. Some people just, they get very defensive about their channel and it could cause problems but I think the key to this is getting everybody to buy into, if we do this in this way, it is going to change the numbers but we're all getting changed for the right reasons, and it will mean the overall the business will be better, which hopefully will give everybody more opportunities, more budget, more growth, both personally and professionally. But it's an absolute challenge and also it's hard and people don't necessarily... If it doesn't necessarily tell them what they want to hear, they might start pushing back a little bit on the numbers and say," Well, actually..." and we've had that quite a few times with clients who actually disagree with the data, which is an interesting conversation.

Stephanie Cox: So how do you think about, if you're in a large organization you have those silos, breaking them down? Is getting everyone onboard with multi- touch attribution the first way to think about that? Is it more of breaking down channel owners? How do I make this bigger change to your point earlier?

John Readman: Sorry, carry on.

Stephanie Cox: I was going to say to your point earlier, you mentioned about you've got to get the executives on board with all of this too, which we haven't even talked about CFOs and the role that they play in marketing attribution because they want to invest in the channels that drive the most revenue. So, how do you think about making this big shift, is there one place to get started versus another?

John Readman: So, that's a great question and it's something that we find CMOs or heads of digital struggle with and grapple with, or even the performance marketing team or your agency will struggle and grapple with on an ongoing basis. I think the best place to start is a CFO or the CEO. The questions you could ask is how do you know that what you're spending... most big retailers or big e- commerce companies now, where people who are we're spending a lot on digital marketing, it's normally still Google first then maybe Facebook, but how do they know that they're spending the right amount of money in the right channel for their market? How do they actually know that? They'll probably say," Oh, well, the CMO's told me." Or," My agency's told me." But have you seen the evidence? Everybody's in the situation where they're trusting the reports, or they trusting the insight they're getting, but these smart individuals, the CFO, or their COs, it's all," Well, if we could show you a tool that would enable you to have visibility of which channel you should invest the most in, how would you feel about investing more or making better decisions?" So, I think it's almost challenging their thinking, because I do think historically, and hopefully less so now, but digital marketing agencies in some instances and in some verticals, have got a reputation for lack of visibility or making commissions on spends. So, I do think if you start with the CFO with the question of going," How do you know that's the right amount of money to be spending on your digital?" And they'll be like," Well, this person's inaudible." Well, how do they know? Then you just start putting on the string and go, " Well, have you done the analysis and who's done the analysis, and then on what basis did they do that analysis?" Just start, I suppose, putting a bit of doubt in, but highlighting that there is an answer and there is a credible way to make this better. I'd maybe say, even challenge the question, are there better performing channels? So, could you move some of the money that you're spending in Google or Facebook into another channel, and that might actually help you achieve your business objective of attracting more customers quicker, or getting better, new first orders, or whatever their business objective or goal is. So, I definitely, in order to get things done in any organization, but particularly larger organizations, having the FD on board, or the CFO on board really helps tailor the question because they're ultimately the people who will ultimately hold the purse strings for the budgets. So, I'd start with challenging," Well, how do you know this? How do you know that? Wouldn't it be helpful if you could see where's the best place to spend my next pound?" So, I suppose that'd be a good question. How would you know where the best place to spend your next dollar is when you're planning your media spends? Then I'd orchestrate a conversation around that.

Stephanie Cox: Do you find that it's hard for people to let go of their investments in Google and Facebook? When you mention that, the idea of maybe shifting around your spend, I can imagine a lot of marketers are like," But it's Google and it's Facebook," and they just assume that they have to be there, they have to invest heavily. How do you help them see maybe what's really going on and what channels are really driving the revenue growth?

John Readman: Well, I suppose that there used to be only one way, which used to be the the test and learn model, which is," Well, why don't you give me$ 5, 000, we'll go spend it on a new channel and see what happens? And then we'll prove to you that we can make this work." But now, with the developments in AI and machine learning, we can run lots of different forecasts and algorithms and go," Right, based on your spend profiles, based on the available market demand in each individual channel, based on how your consumers perform other channels, we believe there's an opportunity of X or you in..." let's say Amazon, or in TikTok, or Snapchat, for instance. I suppose there's two questions there is, is it if we move budget or if you had additional budget? I think that that now, because of computing power and the access to data, you can answer that question and that's available in platforms such as BOSCO, and there's lots of other smart people who could probably help you work that out, but yeah, I'd be trying to run some sort of simulation or forecast rather than say," Oh, give us$ 10,000 and we'll go run a trial." I think also, why would you move$10, 000 from Google if Google is working, to go and test something that may or may not work? So I think you have to be really confident in your numbers, but I think Google and Facebook and a lot of the channels are getting more and more expensive than the margins are getting eroded. There are lower hanging fruit opportunities in media, but people are a little bit nervous and scared. I think some of that is about a knowledge bias because they don't know what they don't know. So, whether that be the digital marketing team, or whether that be the digital agency, I think they have a bias based on what they've done before or what the available knowledge within their team is. I think sometimes even within agencies other than teams, they're reluctant to go and hunt out new opportunities because they're so stuck in the day- to- day delivery and pressure of delivering numbers in a performance marketing role. I think that has happened a lot.

Stephanie Cox: No, that makes a ton of sense. So, if you had to talk to a digital marketer today and you could only give them one piece of advice, what would you say?

John Readman: Wow, one piece of advice. I'd say understand your customer's path to purchase, to establish whether or not you need an attribution model. Because I think the other thing with that is, if you don't need one, you don't need to worry about it, but I would imagine most people now do need one. It's understanding what is that media mix that's going to give you the best performance for your business? So actually doing analysis to see if you need one.

Stephanie Cox: You've been listening to her REAL Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review her podcast. Don't forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing goodness, shouldn't be kept a secret.

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