A report released last month by Marchex, a mobile advertising analytics company, and Digiday, found 56% of respondents consider mobile advertising measurement and attribution “very challenging” or “challenging” as opposed to scale (39%) or transparency (37%). All marketing verticals-agencies, publishers, and brands-agreed on this notion, showing unanimous concern about the challenges inherent in attribution. There are a few issues at work here, but there is also hope.

John Busby, senior vice president of marketing and consumer insight at Marchex, sees a micro and macro challenge to mobile attribution. The micro challenge is that mobile apps do not support cookies. “The macro challenge is tying a purchase influenced by a mobile advertisement to an actual sale that occurred offline or over a phone,” he says. “That’s because there isn’t a cookie that goes from online to offline.”

Difficulties Linking Online Activity to Offline Purchases

While the report notes marketers are trying to tie in-store purchases to mobile ad exposures through mobile coupons or publisher reporting, Busby says there is no effective solution to link an online behavior to an offline event. A big mistake companies make, according to Busby, is assuming that measuring advertising success on a desktop works in the same fashion on mobile.

“Many people are still in test and experiment mode with mobile advertising,” he says. “If you’re hoping for someone to fill out a form or conduct research, that’s not what they want to do on their mobile phone. Oftentimes, after a mobile advertising campaign, marketers are unsure if it was effective.”

Steve Golub, vice president of account management at DXagency, says he often sees companies make the mistake of overvaluing clicks in mobile advertising. “Time and time again, we see advertisers launch mobile campaigns to new highs in click-through-rate, only to be disappointed by poor conversion down the funnel,” he says.

Golub cautions that the mobile landscape is extremely conducive to accidental clicks, such as users not realizing the unit was an ad or accidentally clicking while swiping on their phone. As a result, advertisers must find ways to manage ad spends to true campaign KPIs and move away from traditional clicks.  

“For direct response campaigns, many consumers are still more comfortable filling out forms, entering credit card information on a desktop,” he says. “The biggest challenge then becomes attributing credit to mobile ads when the ultimate action is taken on another device. Many companies, like Facebook, are making strides in cross-device attribution, but it is still an issue that must be monitored closely.”

Consider Cross-Device Attribution

Mobile attribution is also difficult due to the different phone operating systems, the web and app split, and the fact that each SDK (software development kit) contains its own information, says Lauren Moores, vice president of strategy for Dstillery.  “For mobile web campaigns on the Android, cookie-based attribution solutions work but that is a small percentage of overall mobile marketing,” she says.

To provide attribution to all other mobile advertising, Moores says you need the ability to match cross-device, either deterministically or statistically. This allows you to provide a proxy of site visits or site conversions as the metric for measuring mobile.  

“For brands with physical stores, it is possible to use store visits as a proxy for conversion to feed back in the attribution loop,” she says. “Brands working with mobile management platforms to manage their SDK data will have the ability to measure the success of a campaign on various app metrics but that data is not as readily available for the tech providers today or not being used as much as it could be for measurement.”

Adopt Location-Based Data

Mobile presents some interesting opportunities for real world attribution, adds Tom Desaulniers, co-founder and president of Go2Mobi, which offers mobile audience targeting for global brands, agencies and business marketers.

“Because mobile devices move with customers, it’s possible to get a sense of the real world value of your mobile advertising campaigns by using location visit reporting,” he says.

Using location data, it is possible to take two groups of people in a similar geographic area-those who saw a clients’ ads and those who did not. When more people who saw an ad visit a store’s physical location, Desaulniers says you can attribute this store visit to the lift caused by your mobile ad campaign. 

Track With Email

Another way marketers can overcome the challenge of mobile attribution is largely through email, says Sean Rusinko, senior vice president of strategy for Verndale, a marketing technology agency. “Email is mobile’s best friend,” he says. “A unique identifier is attached to the email referral and is the mechanism to tie together all of the devices of a user into one profile.”

To better measure the success of your mobile marketing campaigns, Rusinko says each stage of the funnel should be segmented and evaluated against mobile behavior. “Demand generation and research behavior, to purchase, through post-purchase and advocacy should be evaluated to identify increases and decreases in engagement so mobile marketing and advertising efforts adjust accordingly.”

Keith LaFerriere, chief experience officer with Verndale, agrees but adds that mobile advertising is similar to other mediums-you still have to understand the who, when, and where of the message. “Go with what you know-the customer,” he says. “And, in the event you don’t know enough about your customer, then find out more. The biggest opportunity at this point, regardless of channel, is to better understand who you’re talking to and then prepare your content strategy and campaigns to those groups of persona. However, let’s not be too creepy out there, ok?”

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)