CMOs and Attribution: Reaching the Actual Customer vs. the Measurement Science That Reaches the Device

No one in marketing right now can be assured that they have reached the right person they want to reach. The only thing they can be assured of is that they have likely reached a device. But who knows who is actually using that device?

As stated in a July 7, 2017, Forbes article, “The digital ad race between former e-commerce-only giants Alibaba and Amazon is just beginning, but it is clear that we are swiftly moving into a world of unified commerce, where online and offline consumer behavioral and transaction data are captured and analyzed on unified platforms. This will certainly bring about a new era for retail.”

However, what remains unaddressed is the validation that the person being targeted through that ad is the actual person being reached.

The race among Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba is about using behavioral and transactional data married with advanced machine learning to execute online-to-offline marketing and analytics in an unprecedented way. But this race will continue to be lost as long as attribution is not included.

And this is not marketing attribution.


“Attribution is the ability to continually and forensically identify a human on a network, regardless of the device they’re using. The operative word here is ‘continually.’ Attribution by its very nature is dynamic and cannot rely on static biometric data, such as fingerprints, retina scans, or selfie photos.”


As I continue to read the fallout of the June cyberattack, this is about CMOs demanding a level of authentication not previously seen when they are investing in creating compelling content or “storytelling” to engage the right targeted person.

Everyone is getting attacked because the internet is anonymous, and a CMO can’t actually reach the right customer at the right time with the right offer because the state-of-the-art marketing-tech, ad-tech, and marketing attribution doesn’t guarantee reaching that right person.

We’ve been referencing the need for what we term ”Triple-A” networks. These are global, private, isolated networks where businesses can control Access, Availability and Attribution. In other words, it’s about a business being able to specify its level and speed of access, know it’s always on, and always know both who is on it and what they are doing.

To that end, we recently announced our work together with Pinn, a software company that specializes in attribution. Again, this is not attribution from a marketing perspective, or as defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which views attribution as the identification of user actions that contribute to a desired outcome.

So, when we talk about attribution, what do we mean?

Attribution is the ability to continually and forensically identify a human on a network, regardless of the device they’re using. The operative word here is “continually.” Attribution by its very nature is dynamic and cannot rely on static biometric data, such as fingerprints, retina scans, or selfie photos.

Instead, attribution must adhere to three key guidelines:

  1. Continual attribution requires more than having the human take a single explicit action (touching a fingerprint sensor). To be continually attributed the human would have to touch the sensor every few seconds.
  2. Attribution must work across every device on a network. Static biometrics require special hardware (e.g., a palm scanner) that many devices don’t have.
  3. Static biometrics are not secure enough. They’re easily spoofed by gelatin fingers or images of someone’s face.

Pinn leverages every existing sensor on a device to learn the physical (e.g., camera, size of finger press) and behavioral (e.g., typing speed, mouse movement) attributes of a human. By capturing data during normal interaction, the human’s identity can be validated continually. Since the technology uses sensor configurations found on every modern computing device, it will work across every device on a network. And, most importantly, the combinations of attributes are nearly impossible to spoof.

The world’s corporations are struggling to find the right balance between the needs of their CMOs, chief information security officers (CISOs) and other stakeholders in the C-suite. Extending reach and driving experiences to the global community of consumers put tension smack into the middle of this problem: the CMO wants to reach the right person to grow the business, but the CISO may also be blocking that person to protect the business. This is where attribution can make a difference.

With attribution, we are accurately identifying who is interacting with a system by tying a person’s human identity to their digital identity. Let’s use the example of ensuring that the right person – based on continually attributing their identity – is controlling a power plant output at any given moment and is also authorized to adjust the output or even take the system down. Without continuous attribution, the wrong person may be able to take these actions at any time.

Attribution as a part of a Triple-A network is going to be a requirement to ensure that every investment made by both the CMO and the CISO are being made with the best possible outcome for both sets of obligations – grow and protect, respectively. This can be done; the two outcomes don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We just need to change the way in which decisions are being made, ensuring that both the CMO and the CISO are a part of the decision.

But make no mistake, attribution is going to change the way we think about identity. Because we have to know who someone really is . . . all the time.

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Mary Clark is a former Chief Corporate Relations Officer and Chief of Staff at Syniverse.

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