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“I’m Focused on Brand Awareness. Why Should I Care About Social Attribution?”

It was a warm spring day in downtown Dallas. Hands were being shaken, business cards were being exchanged, and the impressive line-up of speakers was parading through at the usual clip. I was representing Simply Measured as a sponsor at a conference in Dallas. The conference was invite-only and consisted of Directors, VPs, and members of the C-suite from some of the world’s biggest companies. Each of them was a senior leader in marketing, sales, and IT.

The setting was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it was exactly what you’d expect: big curtains behind the stage, Powerpoint slides, and a friendly emcee to boot. Then, after lunch, something happened that changed me in a deep and profound way from that day forward.

I stood in the back, listening to the post-lunch executive panel discuss a number of topics, including the role of social data at their organization. About 15 minutes into the discussion, it happened.

You can only go so long doing ‘awareness’ campaigns before you have to actually start showing your impact on the business,

said one of the marketing VPs on the stage.

I watched the head of every person in the room–all Directors, VPs, and higher–start nodding and chuckling. The overwhelming and even comical nature of everyone’s agreement with the statement was stunning.

I have asked the following question of more social marketers than I can recall:

What are you focused on with your social campaigns?

And nearly all of them say:


Now, to be clear, what those head honchos were all nodding and chuckling at was not the concept of making more people aware of your brand. What they, and I, would say is: even if you are focused on brand awareness at the top of the funnel, you must analyze and show the impact of social on your entire marketing funnel, not just the top.

The 2016 State of Social Marketing

Increasing brand awareness is as valuable a cause as any. Although the conversion point gets a lot of the spotlight, somebody’s got to get future customers into the funnel, so they can eventually convert. If nobody is aware, there’s nobody to convert. So, if your sole responsibility is top-of-funnel awareness, why do attribution down the funnel? Why not just keep making those impression and engagement numbers bigger and bigger, and call it good? I’ve got three reasons for you:

1. Getting the RIGHT People Matters the Most

Getting the right people aware matters more than the number of people. Here are two scenarios. You pick which one is a better awareness campaign. (Note: I’m going to use small numbers for simplicity.)

  • Scenario #1: I launch a campaign supporting my company’s new shoe. I show 200 impressions on social, get 10 engagements. Three people buy the new shoes.
  • Scenario #2: Same shoe campaign, but I only get 100 impressions on social, five engagements. 10 people buy the new shoes.

Takeaway: If your top-of-the-funnel outcomes on social don’t translate into meaningful conversions for your business, you have not effectively created awareness.

Your company doesn’t want just anybody to be aware of what you offer; it wants buyers (depending on your business, this may be media consumers or donors) to be aware of what you offer. How do you know if those people are buyers? You see if your efforts are leading to conversions, which requires full-funnel social attribution. By determining which owned, earned, and dark social content is leading to conversion, you have the insight to publish content with the messaging, promotions, and products you know (no more guessing!) will appeal to the most-likely-to-convert segment of unaware consumers.

2. It Has Become the Status Quo in Digital

While social presents some unique challenges for attribution, it is still a digital marketing channel and isn’t exempt from needing to show its ROI.

The Social Marketer’s Guide to Social Media ROI

Digital channels have channel-specific metrics. To name a few, email has open rates, paid search has impression share, display has CPM, and social has engagement. All of these, and many other metrics, are general indicators of how things are going at the top half of the funnel. We can say across digital channels that if people are seeing your content, doing something with it, and it doesn’t cost you an arm-and-a-leg, then at least some people are becoming aware of your brand and considering what you offer at a reasonable rate.

Let’s take display, for example. Most organizations would say that the display team lives at the top of the funnel. Display gets the message out there and repeatedly reinforces your brand recall. (A lot of social teams I’ve talked to would describe their contribution to the company similarly.) However, despite display being a widely accepted top-of-funnel channel, it does full-funnel attribution to the point of on-site conversion. Considering that every other digital channel is doing it, even one also trying to drive awareness, social should be doing attribution as well. Now that there is a complete solution, social can speak in dollars and cents, just like the rest of digital.

[Shameless plug: Use the Social Analytics API to integrate your social attribution data with the outcomes from the rest of your digital team.]

3. Bottom-of-the-Funnel Guides Optimization at the Top

I used to manage paid search and display campaigns for Chevrolet dealerships. The channel metrics I would look at were CTR and Impressions. For Corvette campaigns, channel metrics were usually awesome, but downstream attribution data was poor. Lots of people clicked on Corvette ads, but not many of those people turned into leads for the dealerships. I was getting a lot of riff-raff. Everyone likes to look at Corvettes, but not many people buy them (ref. point #1).

When I looked at the Silverado and Cruze campaigns, the channel metrics were rough. It wasn’t easy to get clicks, and CPC’s were so-so. But, when I looked at the downstream effect, there were outsized results for leads. If I were only optimizing based on channel metrics (impressions and engagement in social), I’d be pouring resources into Corvette campaigns, when in fact, Silverado and Cruze campaigns were generating much more business for the dealership, despite iffy channel metric results. So, what did I do? I started pouring more effort into Silverado and Cruze, and the dealerships started selling more cars.

How to Increase Social Conversions

If all you’re doing is optimizing toward impressions and engagement, you may be perpetuating the Corvette effect: not delivering nearly as much business value as you could. Perhaps there’s a certain media type, or offer, or co-marketing partner, that is consistently part of your posts that lead to conversion.

Attribution enables you to determine:

    1. Is what I’m optimizing for aligned with the outcomes the business cares about (goal completions, revenue, etc.)?
    2. If I’m not aligned, what should I start doing to generate the type of awareness that will turn into conversions downstream?

Want to give Simply Measured’s very own Social Attribution a whirl and see for yourself? Request a personalized demo below!

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Colin Zalewski

Product Marketing Manager at Simply Measured with a passion for full-funnel digital marketing. I enjoy a round of golf, a Kentucky Mule, and warm evening walks with my wife and dog.

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