A few years ago I attended one of those multi-city marketing tours that software companies do – this one was by Eloqua, a major marketing automation company. Held in a hotel downtown it was a full-day event with probably 150-200 people attending.

At one point they did a case study with the Boston Bruins. They explained how the Bruins had used Eloqua to segment their season ticket holders based on likelihood to re-subscribe for the next season. Through carefully crafted offers and email nurture campaigns they had significantly improved their re-subscribe rate over the previous season.

The only thing they failed to mention was that in the previous year the Bruins had won the Stanley Cup for the first time in almost 40 years. Obviously that had a huge impact on fan enthusiasm and season ticket re-subscribe behavior. In the face of that, it was actually impossible to tease out the impact of the Eloqua program based on just one year’s results unless they had run a control group, which they did not.

We often face this attribution problem in marketing. We live in a dynamic world where customer expectations are changing rapidly, digital platforms are changing their algorithms, and competitors are launching programs that we’re sometimes not even aware of. Don’t jump to conclusions: it can take a lot of data and careful analysis to figure out what is really moving the needle.

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