How do travel marketers attribute proper credit to the various stages of consumers’ sometimes-multiweek journey from research to a booking?

While previously – and often still today – the last click got all of the credit, marketers are now trying to assess the impact of various interactions whether it was an early click on “cheap tickets,” a branded keyword such as “Expedia” or perhaps a click on a hotel through Kayak or TripAdvisor that ultimately led to a hotel site or online travel agency booking.

The assessment is key for marketers who not only want to track what led to the ultimate click but also want to rework their campaigns based on their attribution findings.

The issue also is front-of-mind for metasearch players such as TripAdvisor as CEO Stephen Kaufer knows that his company doesn’t always get appropriate credit for an online travel agency booking that it might have greatly influenced.

Kaufer referenced the issue during TripAdvisor’s fourth quarter of 2014 earnings call in February when he discussed the rollout of the company’s book-on-TripAdvisor feature, Instant Booking, and the effort to plug so-called leakage.

Kaufer cited the “effort on our part that started last year and will take place this year and beyond to plug the leak and just get fair credit for all the transactions that we’re driving but get lost in the online attribution shuffle.”

Tel Aviv-headquartered Kenshoo, with travel industry clients including Expedia, Skyscanner, Accor, Ctrip, Delta Air Lines and others, provides a variety of attribution solutions and digital software/marketing services.

Skift discussed trends in attribution technology with Kenshoo’s Christine Vincent:, a Kenshoo global industry partner, and Alan Tam, Kenshoo’s director of product marketing.

Skift: What do you see as the latest trends as it relates to the travel industry in attribution technology? What’s going on now? What should we look for in the near future?

Christine Vincent: We work with a lot of global travel clients and they use a variety of attribution technologies. Attribution can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s solving for understanding the efficiency of your marketing dollars across all of your channels.

I think the biggest shift that we’ve seen in the attribution space, in general, is that last- touch attribution has always been industry standard and moving to something more sophisticated than that is the direction that I think most marketers are going these days.

Skift: How does that come into play with all of the multi-device use that consumers are doing? Tablets, mobile, and back to desktop. How does it all fit in?

Vincent: I think it’s still something that everyone is trying to figure out right now. It’s still early stages. You know years ago or even up until last year it’s something that really you couldn’t do very well. There are a lot of technologies now that allow you to start tying that data together and really understanding clicks from paid search or whatever channel it may ultimately be. You can start kind of tying those pieces together either with assumptions or with algorithms. There are different ways of tying it into that information.

Skift: What are some of the things that the early adopters then are doing that are leading to some advantageous practices?

Vincent: They’re looking at stuff like CRM [customer relationship management] data, as an example, to look at users who are logged in. Existing users who are logged in both on their desktop computers and their mobile phones and trying to tie that whole tracking space together from that perspective. There are other third-party tracking systems that people are starting to integrate with that solve for the similar use case but in a different way. Some of our customers are starting to do that now. I don’t think anybody is necessarily taking action on it at this point but they really are just trying to understand the data and where to go from there.

Skift: I assume you expect that within the next couple of years that these kinds of things are going to see wider adoption?

Vincent: A lot of people are doing it. I think they’re just trying to figure out how it fits into their overall attribution strategy as far as taking action on it. I think there are a lot of things happening kind of piecemeal within search and social and the interplay between them. What does that mean for your overall business attribution strategy? Yeah, I think some are a little more sophisticated than others in that space and we’re kind of trying to see how it’s all going to play out.

Skift: Are you seeing certain sectors of the travel industry adopting this more widely than others?

Vincent: Yeah. The app-only businesses. It’s key to their survival and key to their business metrics. So somebody like a Hotel Tonight or Uber, somebody who has their whole business within an app environment and tying that back to search as well or other marketing channels. They’ve got to be able to nail that in order to be doing smart-marketing practices.

I think it’s harder for more of the traditional travel advertisers to take it from theory to practice just because there tends to be hurdles to get that kind of stuff done from an overall marketing perspective. Changing the way that you view things that have been more theoretical in the past but now you’re actually able to put data against it. It impacts other channels as well that you might have given credit to conversions previously.

If something was more of a last-touch marketing channel that might’ve been getting more of that volume just because you didn’t have the data to tie it together correctly. Now you’ll see the ramp-up.

Skift: So some of these traditional advertisers are being left in the dust in this regard?

Vincent: Those are your words not mine. No, I’m just kidding. Yeah, I guess you could say that. There are people who haven’t really fully embraced it. Part of that is because of having to do a complete overhaul to make their mobile site performance as compelling as their desktop user experience. A lot of that is kind of chicken or the egg a little bit. So, you want to take advantage of all this new technology and optimizing your marketing dollars in the mobile space but if your site can’t handle the conversion side of it then it leaves you in a tough spot. I think people are making sure that they have the right baseline in place before starting to get into this level of sophistication.

Alan Tam: I think with the web and apps and mobile, the game has really changed and accelerated in the past couple of years. The whole journey for your consumer and the person who is trying to book their travel has really increased and accelerated the complexity that these travel marketers deal with. I think that their inability to get onto the program faster or understand their customer segment has really affected how they’re performing.

I think you start seeing some of the separation with some of the leaders in this space today versus others. Looking at our customers, it’s very interesting to see who is doing what and how attribution plays into that. It’s all really about maximizing customer-lifetime value and being able to learn from their best customers and highest value customers across all these different channels. Across all these different devices and mediums that they’re trying to conduct transactions and making sense of it all.

That’s kind of where we’re seeing the space. What we’re focusing on is helping our clients understand that and to leverage all these data insights that they see on these channels to make more sense of not only their own data but to find more customers like that to help grow their business.

Skift: Can you tell me how this impacts the search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo and also in particular some of the metasearch players like Trip Advisor and Kayak?

Vincent: It depends on what their individual strategy is. If you’re a marketer who has been in a last-tough methodology environment and you shift to something that gives credence to more of a funnel activity, it tends to impact the search engines in two different ways.

If you think about just from a search engine standpoint, a user journey might look something like going to Google or Bing and searching cheap hotels. They click on an ad for Expedia, for example, and they don’t book anything. But a week later they come back and search for cheap hotels in San Francisco, click on an ad. A week later they come back and type in Expedia and then they convert.

In a traditional last-touch model that conversion credit would go to the Expedia brand term. For Google, that’s the cheapest traffic that an advertiser can get. Brand terms have really low cost-per click but the upper funnel “queuers,” “cheap hotels,” “cheap hotels in San Francisco,” the more generic terms are the more expensive terms. Those are really the keywords that actually drove the user to the site initially.

You can switch your logic to something that doesn’t give all the credit to the last click to something like divide equally or give most of the credit to the last click but some credit to the other queuers in the path or the other channels in the path. It’s not just within paid search. Oftentimes a display or social ad or whatever it may be is what initially drove the user to your site but those types of advertising dollars don’t usually get any credit in the conversion path. It would be something like meta or a brand search that ultimately drives the conversion.

Skift: If I’m understanding you correctly, Google would be somewhat of a loser in this whole thing because they’re not getting the full credit that they might have two or three years ago for the click?

Vincent: Well, not necessarily if that last click was a brand term but they were the more expensive generic terms that had originally driven the user to the site. From a paid search perspective, a lot of people are optimizing to the nonbrand ROI [return on investment] goal. So, if you can change your attribution logic to give more credit to the upper funnel terms you’re going to reinvest more money into those keywords and you’ll be able to be more aggressive on the search engines actually.

Skift: So, Google makes out either way?

Vincent: More or less. There are other channels that also get impacted by those, as well, like meta. Again, the meta feed-based advertising tends to be lower funnel activity as well. If you again are spreading those dollars out across the different touch points then those are potential losses as well. Gains elsewhere too. It really just depends.

Skift: Are there two or three best practices you could say for advertisers who are considering using this technology or evolving their use of it?

Vincent: If a new client is coming on board and using Kenshoo we encourage them to keep their current attribution methodology for a time period so we can actually collect data and really understand what does their user journey look like and understand all the touch points. We provide an analysis to our customers to show them if you move to something other than last touch or whatever it was they were using before you can really see how your revenue shifts across your program accordingly and you can actually make an informed decision.

This kind of goes back to the concept of agile marketing software. It’s not all about the last touch point in the journey. You have to take a step back and look at the instrumentalism of the different touch points. Look at what is the best way to strategically utilize your attribution to allow you to be more aggressive in the space.

Tam: And kind of build up that profile for the lifetime value customer. As you learn about them and how they operate, what their behaviors are, you’re able to leverage those data insights so that you can focus and target more customers like them.
This goes back to the whole agile marketing messaging that we’re focusing on. You have to be able to do that because things are moving so fast. The consumers are moving so fast. What’s going to be the impact of “the internet of things” and Apple Watch and these other components that come out? How is that going to impact consumer behavior in this industry as well?

Vincent: I think also being able to take action on your attribution methodology is important as well. A lot of people use attribution more from a reporting and dash-boarding perspective to see how channels interplay with each other but they don’t necessarily go beyond that. Being able to actually take action on those results for your different optimization initiatives is where it really gives you that next step forward into being more aggressive in the space.

Photo Credit: Digital marketers are trying to apportion which ads get credit, and how much, toward the last click or purchasing decision. Kenshoo