Is Google finally scrapping last-click?

Last-click attribution might be on its last mile – finally.

On May 23, Google announced a new product, Google Attribution, that will help businesses more effectively measure how well their marketing investments across multiple customer touch points contribute to sales.

“For the first time, Google Attribution makes it possible for every marketer to measure the impact of their marketing across devices and across channels — all in one place, and at no additional cost,” Google stated on its blog.

The launch of Google Attribution is a major signal that businesses, including auto dealers and manufacturers, need to embrace multi-touch attribution – or measure the value of every media impression and engagement in the sales funnel that influences a customer’s purchase.

Progressive brands have known for quite some time that many touch points influence a customer’s decision to make a purchase, especially high-consideration ones such as automobiles. Before a customer steps foot on the lot, they may learn about a vehicle from a TV ad, visit a site such as Cars.com on their mobile phone, read reviews about a dealership, view a vehicle detail page or encounter a display ad, among other interactions. But Google’s products have historically measured the last click — or whatever a customer touched last before buying a product. This last-click focus has given Google customers, including dealers and manufacturers, a distorted understanding of their digital advertising investments.

Google has been seeking to remedy the limitations of last-click attribution by improving its measurement tools to take into account multi-touch attribution. Google Attribution is a major step forward. The product will use machine learning to assign a weighted value to the myriad touchpoints that influence a customer’s purchase. As reported in Ad Age, “The goal is to make sense of ad dollars’ effectiveness across different channels and devices. If a consumer’s last action before buying something is a Google search, for example, an earlier email campaign may also get its share of the credit.”

Google noted that the improved product, when rolled out later this year, will be free for small and medium-sized businesses.

This development underscores what Cars.com has been saying all along: last-click attribution is a flawed approach. Only dealers and manufacturers that embrace multi-touch attribution will have a clear understanding of what marketing tactics are impacting actual vehicle turn. As we recently reported, 43 percent of walk-in, on-the-lot shoppers research vehicles without ever contacting a dealership, and they are influenced by a number of touchpoints. Cars.com influences 60 percent of average dealers’ sales and service transactions – and yet, too often, dealers’ CRM systems, hampered by last-click attribution, fail to track the impact of a third-party site like Cars.com.

Google is not the only company doing something about the limitations of last-click attribution. Recently the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) announced that more than 24 brands, including Allstate and Coca-Cola, are joining a newly created Marketing Attribution Think Tank that will find ways to improve the state of the art in multi-touch attribution. The MMA also rolled its own tool to help businesses better assess multi-touch attribution. The MMA noted that most marketers are still not applying multi-touch attribution broadly, leaving on average about 65 percent of their spend unassessed by multi-touch attribution.

We believe dealers and manufacturers have a huge opportunity to make better marketing decisions by understanding how the customer journey affects the decision on what, where and from whom to buy. Now is the time to get smarter on multi-touch attribution. Fortunately, many tools exist to help you. Cars.com and our partners have been talking about this topic actively. For instance, our partner Clarivoy recently launched a study that analyzes the state of attribution in the automotive industry. Brian Pasch, Founder of PCG Companies, recently discussed on our blog the blind spots that exist in dealers’ CRM systems – blind spots that are making dealers under-value their marketing partners who influence auto purchases.

To become a more effective dealer, embrace multi-touch attribution now.

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