Discovering the Five Stages of Marketing Attribution Grief

Discovering the Five Stages of Marketing Attribution Grief

Kelli Negro, SVP Marketing

Published 06/01/2023

Welcome to the hustle and bustle of digital marketing, where analyzing attribution data can feel like solving a Rubik's cube blindfolded. Ever found yourself sifting through Google Analytics, only to end up more puzzled than before? Trust me, you're not alone.

In this intricate world of analytics, marketers are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions.

For example, with GA4’s introduction, marketers are on a steep learning curve, grappling with a new system, trying to make sense of new changes in attribution, and striving to understand stringent GDPR compliance measures. There's an underlying sense of denial, disbelief that familiar ground has shifted so dramatically.

Adding to this, the integration of AI and machine learning technologies bring in predictive insights and enhance decision-making. But understanding their intricacies, while leveraging their capabilities optimally, presents a significant learning hurdle for marketers. It's a crucial shift, demanding focused learning and adaptation. It's not uncommon for marketers to feel anger as they strive to master these advanced systems.

Furthermore, we face the allure of Meta's Advantage Plus. It offers promising high return on ad spend (ROAS) through AI-optimized ads, igniting hope among marketers. However, the complex question of incrementality—whether Advantage Plus is truly driving new value or simply taking credit for inevitable conversions—introduces a delicate bargaining between expectations and reality.

Just as we’re wrestling with these complexities, an economic downturn casts a daunting shadow. The stress is palpable, with 74% of marketers feeling the pressure of an economic downturn which is influencing their 2023 budget decisions and 66% on the brink of burnout. It’s a challenging climate that brings the imperfection of marketing attribution into sharp relief.

In navigating these trials, we've identified a pattern. The emotional journey marketers go through can be distilled into what we've termed the 'Five Stages of Attribution Grief'.

Welcome to the journey through the Five Stages of Attribution Marketing Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. A better understanding of these stages is similar to finding a compass in the complex maze of digital marketing. Ready to identify your current stage? Let’s dive in, navigating these stages together and lightening the ride with a touch of humor along the way.

Entering the 5 Stages of Grief

When marketers get to that point, they go through something like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; as they adapt to their new reality. Not everyone goes through every stage, and some take longer than others. Some manage to spend their whole careers in stage 1, denial!
We recorded this tongue-in-cheek video to highlight what happens at each stage of this journey and remind marketers that they’re not alone. We’ve all been there.

Watch the video - The 5 Stages of Marketing Attribution Grief

Stage 1. Denial


“These attribution numbers are right, right?”

In the Denial stage of Marketing Attribution Grief, marketers question the accuracy of their attribution data and struggle to accept that their current strategies may need to change. They might feel confident in their approach and have a hard time accepting the fact that their numbers might not be as accurate as they previously thought.

This stage is characterized by a deluded sense of belief in what seems to have driven results in their career so far. They may also be in denial about the impact that privacy regulations and changes in consumer behavior have had on their business.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to move forward, the worst thing you could do is stay busy. First take 5 deep breaths, then take a step back and look at the big picture.

Stage 2. Anger


“We already changed the media budget!”

The Anger stage can be a challenging and emotional time for marketers (and their coworkers!).This stage is characterized by feelings of frustration and anger as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of data and the inaccuracies in their attribution numbers.

Marketers now accept that they’ve been making decisions based on incorrect information, but instead of moving on, they’re looking for someone to blame. The anger often comes from fear of the impact this could have on their career prospects, or in the worst case they may feel their job is at risk.

Feeling anger is a natural reaction to the challenges faced by marketers, but the key to getting through it is to channel this energy in a positive, productive, and solution oriented direction.

Stage 3. Bargaining


“These numbers are probably close enough…”

The third stage of marketing attribution grief is often the hardest to get out of. In this stage marketers feel sure there’s some silver bullet, and that once they find it they’ll get back to the way things were.

The problem is there are no silver bullets. The false sense of security is based on faulty assumptions about the nature of marketing attribution. Marketing isn’t rocket science: it’s harder! That’s what makes it interesting.

Instead of holding out hope for a perfect solution, marketers should take the situation as it is, and start seeking out methods that can help them deal with uncertainty.

Stage 4. Depression


“We’re not close at all.”

It gets worse before it gets better. Making moves to measure incrementality often just reveals the true extent of the problem. At this point marketers have to finally come to terms with the fact that they can no longer trust the numbers they’ve been using to make important decisions.

This stage can be a difficult and disheartening time for marketers, as they try to come to grips with the reality of the situation. They may feel like their hard work and investments have been for nothing. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a loss of confidence in their abilities as a marketer.

However, it’s important for marketers to remember that they are not alone in this stage, and that the best of us feel imposter syndrome from time to time.

Stage 5. Acceptance


“We’ll never know. My attribution sucks.”

Acceptance is the final stage of the process, where marketers come to terms with the limitations of the data they have available and learn to adjust their expectations. This can be a difficult process, as marketers have to let go of the idea of having a complete and accurate picture of their advertising efforts.

Making things more complicated, marketers also have to educate their wider stakeholders, who themselves may be at different stages of this same process. Eventually marketers come to realize that the answer to their attribution questions may never be a definite one, but that it’s still possible to make informed decisions.

Once marketers accept they’ll never have perfect information for every decision, they can be more strategic by running experiments to inform the most important ones.

Stop Grieving, Start Growing

At Measured we help marketers run true incrementality tests and benchmark against the thousands of experiments we have in our database. Marketers using our award-winning platform understand which of their advertising dollars are actually driving sales, so they can make confident decisions about where to invest, and where to cut, to get the best outcomes. The typical brand using Measured might move over 30 percent of their budget to higher performing channels, driving more growth with less.

If you’re interested in seeing a demonstration of our award-winning product, book a free demo here.

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