The Assisted Conversion

By Andreas Pouros | 09 Jun 2009

In many sports the role of the 'assist' has become increasingly important in the analysis of player performance. What can online marketers learn from this?

What is an assist?
An assist is a contribution by a player in a ball game that helps another player score a goal. Normally an assist can be awarded to the player who gave the last pass to the goal scorer. FIFA goes one step further and says an assist can also be awarded to the last-but-two holder of the ball, provided his or her action had decisive importance for the goal.

Since the 1994 World Cup it has become common practice to keep records of assists. This has partly been done for the benefit of US fans whose avid stats-taking is a major contributor to their enjoyment of most sports.

The United States Major League Soccer began awarding their MLS Scoring Champion Award based on attributing points to players - two points for a goal and one for an assist. The French League, Ligue 1, awards a Trophee de Meiller Passeur ('best passer trophy') to the leader in assists at the end of every season. While closer to home, PA Sport has incorporated assists into its Actim Index of Premier League player performance in the UK.

The assist in online marketing
Most online marketers work with methodologies and technologies that attribute a sale to the immediate source that referred the user. This source could be a paid search ad, a natural search listing, a banner ad, an email or a direct visit via the URL. This immediately-referring source is the equivalent to the goal scorer in our ball game analogy. Now consider the research:

  • Less than 15% of sales come as a result of only one session.1
  • 45% of sales complete in a different medium to that in which they started.2
  • In one study 25% of customers who first interacted via a display banner ended up booking via paid search marketing, and 12% via an affiliate network.3

Essentially, 'last click' attribution means various activities, affiliates and mediums often get sole credit for a sale. But as we've outlined with performance-scoring methods in sport, giving all the value to the direct referrer fails to acknowledge, remunerate and nurture those elements providing the 'assists'. It leaves out the key individual who put the ball in front of the goal scorer.
Most marketers acknowledge, at least in principle, how integrated the sales pipe has become and how a variety of consumer interactions typically contribute to the eventual sale. However, few do anything about it.

Okay, I get it. Now what?
There are two key things you should be doing in response to this assist-and-goal-scorer dynamic.
Firstly, use your web analytics intelligently to identify how users are interacting with your brand, as well as coming and going from your site. Just because a user clicks on a branded PPC ad doesn't mean they didn't find you the day before via natural search or see your messaging in a banner ad. Run tests, including stopping and starting activities in various combinations to identify and confirm correlations. Never cull line items of marketing spend without measuring both their goal-scoring performance and their assist rates.

Be particularly wary of the sales your systems tell you were referred to you from Google using your brand terms, as many of those conversions will have been influenced by another activity before Google was used to navigate to you. Did they see your ad on TV before searching for you or read a blog post or news story? In those cases you should maintain your presence in Google for your brand terms (you never sack the goal scorer, even if he goal hangs!) but you need to understand what created that demand to begin with - and maintain and nurture those contributors. Or to put it another way retain and invest in those that 'assist'.

Secondly, look to reward those that make the assists or invest in activities that are demonstrably part of the consumer journey. We've seen some progressive thinking among some marketers and affiliate managers who reward by attributing a percentage, say 6%, to the 'goal scorer', and 3% to the last 'assist'. This also makes certain merchants more attractive to affiliates, which adds considerable merit to this approach. Explore ways of extending this philosophy across the rest of your marketing channels and activities.

Food for thought
Returning to the ball game analogy, consider how FIFA also looks two players away for a 'decisive assist' before attributing the assist to a player. If marketers had a method, supported by a methodology and technology, to determine what constitutes a decisive assist this would herald a new era in attributing value within a highly integrated marketing process. You could remunerate several parties at different rates and attribute credit to multiple interconnected activities. You'd also be able to better understand the contribution of other media, such as social networks, news sources, online PR campaigns, and even specific bloggers and commentators, too.

1 Source: 2008,  The last click wins - unravelling the customer journey
2 Source: 2008  The last click wins - unravelling the customer journey
3 Source: 2008, RIP last click wins