Despite the fact that it has been a priority for years, attribution remains one of many marketers' biggest challenges.
Now, Google is trying to change that with the unveiling of a new attribution offering called Google Attribution.
Here's what marketers need to know about it.
It aims to answer the question, "Is my marketing working?"
Marketers can slice and dice their campaign results in any number of ways but at the end of the day, marketers ask themselves a simple question: "Is my marketing working?"
Google says that Google Attribution is designed to answer that specific question and boldly claims that "for the first time, [it will be] possible for every marketer to measure the impact of their marketing across devices and across channels."
Google says it solves a number of major attribution challenges
Marketers love the concept of attribution, but making it work in the real world has proven difficult. Google says that Google Attribution will address a number of the biggest attribution challenges, including difficulty of use, cross-device tracking and ad tool integration.
It is integrated with other Google offerings
In terms of integration, it's no surprise that Google has integrated Google Attribution with its ads and analytics products.
According to Google, Attribution "takes in data across AdWords, Google Analytics and DoubleClick Search without any additional tagging," and "results are immediately available for reporting, updating bids or moving budget between channels."
It uses machine learning to enable data-driven attribution
As one of the world's most innovate tech companies, Google has invested significantly in machine learning and Google Attribution uses some of the company's machine learning tech to enable data-driven attribution. What is that? The company explains:
Data-driven attribution uses machine learning to determine how much credit to assign to each step in the consumer journey -- from the first time they engage with your brand for early research down to the final click before purchase. It analyzes your account's unique conversion patterns, comparing the paths of customers who convert to those who don’t, so you get results that accurately represent your business.
For marketers still relying on last-click attribution, the data-driven attribution model could provide a beneficial new perspective that helps them allocate marketing spend more wisely.
Google is making a big push to track offline store sales
Google Attribution will give marketers access to store sales measurement at the device and campaign levels. Marketers whose companies collect email information at the point-of-sale can import store sales data into Google AdWords, but Google isn't stopping there.
To track offline sales more broadly, Google has established relationships with firms that it says give it access to data for 70% of credit and debit card transactions in the United States. Google will use this data to aggregate and anonymize store sales and provide it to marketers even if they don't report sales data to Google.
There are privacy concerns
Not surprising, the fact that Google has partnered with firms giving it access to data for billions of credit card transaction has caused numerous observers to speak out about the privacy implications of Google Attribution.
To counter privacy concerns, Google says its partnerships give it access to spending data only, not transaction details like products purchased, and the search giant revealed that it developed a "new, custom encryption technology that ensures users' data remains private, secure, and anonymous."
Whether that is enough to allay fears that Google is collecting too much data remains to be seen.
It is free
Last year, Google unveiled Google Attribution 360, a paid attribution solution, that targets large marketers. The newly announced Google Attribution platform, on the other hand, will be free, making it an attractive option for marketers at small and mid-sized businesses already using Google's ad services.
Some marketers are skeptical
On paper, there's a lot to like about Google Attribution, but some marketers are already expressing skepticism about the offering.
As Jason Beckerman, the CEO of Unified, which operates a business intelligence platform, told Digiday, "there’s no real separation of church and state." He elaborated:
If [Google's] competitors end up having higher return on ad spend, it could put Google in a tough spot. Google wants to become one-stop shop for marketers and own their marketing. It has got too much skin in the game.
While such concerns are not without merit, given that a significant percentage of every new dollar directed to digital ad spend is going to Google, it would appear that many marketers have already decided to make themselves dependent on Google. For these marketers, adopting tools like Google Attribution might not require such a huge leap of faith, especially if they see it as an improvement over their existing attribution efforts.