Monday, April 05, 2010

VisualIQ Measures Marketing Impacts Across All Channels

Summary: VisualIQ combines customer-level transactions and contact history with traditional aggregate data to produce better marketing performance measurement. It hasn't solved the problem of identifying the same customer across channels, but it's trying.

I was going to start this post by writing that last-click attribution has recently come under fire, but the first Google hit on the topic brings up a study from 2007. So maybe the criticism isn’t particularly new. But the fact remains that, now more than ever, marketers are trying to measure the impact of all contacts on customer behavior.

Broadly speaking, the problem is attacked in two ways. One, most common among consumer goods manufacturers and others who do not sell directly to their customers, uses aggregated data in marketing mix models to find correlations between marketing efforts and total sales. The other, favored by banks, retailers, communications providers and others who do sell directly to known buyers, assesses the impact of each contact with specific individuals. Last-click attribution is a particular challenge for online marketers because they fall between these two situations: they can often identify their buyers but not trace their full contact history.

VisualIQ, founded in 2005 as Connexion.a, proposes to straddle these worlds by combining aggregate-level models with customer-specific contact history. They haven’t found a magic bullet: like everyone else, VisualIQ tracks online customers through cookies, with all the limits that implies. But VisualIQ strives to make the best use of what’s available by unifying data from as many online campaigns as possible, linking cookies with online transactions, and then linking online transactions to offline identities.

This approach offers some general advantages and two specific capabilities. The general advantages come from assembling all advertising and customer transaction information in one database. This allows VisualIQ to analyze campaign results, do whatever identity matching is possible, and to isolate the impact of source, contact frequency, demographics, location and other variables. VisualIQ, a hosted service, has invested heavily in technology to analyze massive data sets along such dimensions.

The first specific capability is relating pre-purchase contacts to actual purchases for individual customers, thus moving beyond last-click attribution. Although this is subject to the limits of cookie-based tracking, VisualIQ does what it can to build a unified identity by sharing the same cookie IDs across as many online channels as possible. The second capability is building mix models with data from actual customer contacts instead of market-level estimates or surveys. VisualIQ says it has found this yields more accurate results than traditional information.

This is all good stuff and VisualIQ has packaged it nicely in a tiered set of offerings. These range from campaign-level reporting to customer-based insights to predictive modeling and simulation, with prices for the simplest system starting as low as $5,000 to $10,000 per month. The company has had considerable success, counting major banks, retailers, and communications firms as clients. Note that these are all industries that sell to their customers directly.

But VisualIQ’s specific offerings are just part of the story. What’s really important is setting explicit goals of linking identities across channels and measuring cross-channel marketing impacts. These are arguably the core challenges in marketing measurement today. This focus has led VisualIQ to look for alternatives to cookies and to use existing methods to combine online and offline information for the same person.

The company is also seeking to make it easier to apply its results. Today, it basically generates reports that suggest better media allocations and advertising contents. But it is working to automatically feed those findings as rules into execution systems such as ad servers and ad exchanges. This brings marketers closer to the ultimate goal of self-optimizing programs. Other vendors are also pursuing self-optimization, but VisualIQ promises the advantage of decisions based on data from all channels rather than a single channel or, heaven forbid, just the last click.

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