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This Is Attribution

Dec 24, 2019

When Alice Sylvester exited the agency side of advertising, she witnessed both the emergence of market research and the explosion of digital advertising. Now as marketers embrace multi-touch attribution for media, will we see a day where brand and media metrics meet in the middle? Hear her thoughts on privacy changes leading to an attribution apocalypse – and what’s next.


Guest bio:

Alice Sylvester has held a variety of research and planning positions at major advertising agencies including DraftFCB, Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, and J. Walter Thompson. She was Chairman of the Board for the Advertising Research Foundation, a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Advertising Research, and was recently inducted into the Marketing Research Council Hall of Fame.


She has chaired the David Ogilvy Awards for Research Excellence, as well as The Emotional Response to Advertising Initiative. Alice is a co-author of Advertising in the Mind of the Consumer.


She’s currently a partner at Sequent Partners where she is involved in industry ROI initiatives, new media metrics development, and cross media measurement.


She is also the content producer for Attribution Accelerator held in October in New York City.




Key takeaways:

[2:00] I introduce today’s guest, Alice Sylvester, and ask her about how she came to be where she is today.

[6:36] I mention the dual roles of advertising — brand preference and sales impact, both of which can negatively affect each other — and ask Alice if she sees any way or any value in resolving this divide.

[8:41] I mention a chat I had with a Capital One exec who has been doing brand lift studies and hopes to one day be able to pinpoint the KPIs responsible for brand love. Alice details why she thinks that we don’t have the data to answer these questions today.

[12:52] Alice outlines where she sees multi-touch applications fitting into the current landscape of customer journeys as well as the promises it makes.

[15:04] Has the industry gone too far with regards to attribution and privacy? Alice touches on privacy issues and coming regulations and what she calls the attribution apocalypse.

[16:15] Some unfulfilled promises of attribution.

[18:24] I’ve noticed that clients who don’t or won’t do attribution often have a lack of trust in where the data comes from and how it’s attributed. Alice and I discuss the possibility of breaking out of the confines of confidentiality and standardizing the process, or parts of it.

[24:05] Alice offers that even if we understand the limitations of the datasets, attribution is something people should definitely jump into. Don’t wait for perfection!

[26:02] In the past 10 years, even if it may seem that marketers have had reduced choices in terms of ad placement, Alice finds that digital out-of-home has offered a wealth of possibilities that were none existed before, however, there may less experimentation — everybody in the industry is stressed and overworked.

[27:44] A.I. as a tool to alleviate oversight and optimization workloads — and a scary prospect for Alice as a creative person.

[29:31] Is the agency of the future just a janitor, turning the lights on and making sure the machine works?

[30:54] On the worth of continued measurements, Alice offers the example of a 12-year-old: you don’t know how they feel about your brand, but in four years they may be making purchases. The customer base always replenishes itself and changes.

[33:45] Are we moving more towards a short term marketing environment? Alice offers that we’ve been in one for 20 years and touches on why and how attribution can help.

[36:48] How much of a marketing budget should be devoted to metrics? Alice has an interesting answer.

[38:40] Alice offers up some parting advice: get ready to face privacy restrictions on a mass scale and how it’s going to change the data landscape. I thank Alice for coming on the podcast and sharing so much of her experience.


Be sure to tune in for the next episode and thanks for listening!


Connect with our guest:

Alice K. Sylvester at Sequent Partners

Alice K. Sylvester on LinkedIn


Mentioned in this episode:

C3 Metrics


About your host:

Jeff Greenfield is the Co-Founder and Chief Attribution Officer of C3 Metrics. As the chief architect of the platform, Greenfield worked directly with the former CEO and Chairmen of Nielsen to solve advertising’s Attribution problem.


Greenfield’s history of technology and marketing initiatives have served blue-chip clients including GlaxoSmithKline, Kimberly-Clark, Sony BMG, Black & Decker, Forest Labs, Plum Creek, and more.


Prior to co-founding C3 Metrics, Greenfield was a recognized thought leader in the area of Branded Content as publisher of Branded Entertainment Monthly, a joint effort with VNU Media, detailing industry statistics, gaps, and trends. He’s been a featured speaker at NAPTE, The Next Big Idea, and a news source in: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, CNET, and Investor’s Business Daily.


Greenfield studied Biochemistry at the University of Maryland, holds dual degrees from Southern California University of Health Sciences and is an instrument rated pilot.


Jeff Greenfield at C3 metrics

Jeff Greenfield on LinkedIn

Jeff Greenfield on Twitter


Quotes (edited):

“Media test was a very, very hard measure of performance: you either moved stuff off the shelf, or you didn’t.” — Alice K. Sylvester


“There are no people in media, it’s just big numbers. Account planning is the opposite.”
— Alice K. Sylvester


“Originally everything was market-mix modeling.” — Alice K. Sylvester


“We are not at the stage where we can measure brand growth through analytic review of KPIs and behavioral responses.” — Alice K. Sylvester


“We’re still in adolescence on all this stuff, but it will get better.” — Alice K. Sylvester


“You have to separate the ideal and the promise of attribution from today’s practice because we know that there are some enormous holes in the journey, with the walled gardens of Amazon and social.” —  Alice K. Sylvester


“Everybody in the advertising industry is stressed and overworked.” — Alice K. Sylvester


“I hear people say long-term is one or two years and that’s crazy! Long-term on a brand build is 10 years, 20 years, 50 years.” — Alice K. Sylvester