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Last week at Search Insider Summit (SIS) in Captiva, Florida, I was fortunate to host a roundtable discussion on integrated marketing. SIS is truly a high-brow event where brands send senior marketers and agencies send their CEOs, and this roundtable was no exception; I would hazard a guess that no less than one billion dollars in annual online spend was represented by the 20 or so people sitting around the table (brands like Zappos, Target, and Virgin America, for example).

As the discussion heated up, there was little debate about whether integrated marketing – that is, a unified approach to paid search, display, mobile, video, tablets, email, SEO, and social – was a good strategy, but there was plenty of debate on how to actually attribute value to different parts of an increasingly complex conversion funnel.

Keep in mind, these are some of the smartest minds in online marketing with some of the biggest budgets and vastest arrays of technology and human resources to interpret data. Most if not all of the people around the table had built their own data warehouses, engineered custom attribution algorithms, purchased best-of-breed business intelligence and Web analytics, and invested in robust Hadoop “big data” solutions to quickly harness gobs of data.

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And this is where things got a bit ironic: the more data these companies had access to, the more difficult it became to be confident about the data. When your only option for measuring conversions is a “last click” javascript pixel, you go with what you have and put a stake in the ground. When you can start to play with “first click,” “last click preferred,” or “linear” attribution models, suddenly you have to justify your decision, and you are always questioning whether your decision was the right one.

When different marketing channels are all siloed in a company, every channel only worries about its own performance. In an integrated marketing scenario, suddenly everyone has to agree on who gets credit for what, and once the marketing departments agree, you then have to convince C-level executives that everything they once knew about marketing measurement is now wrong (to that end, one company said that they just stuck to last-click attribution – even though they knew it wasn’t correct – because it was just too hard to try to convince the CEO of a new model).

In other words, the more data we have access to, the more tough decisions we have to make, the more political battles we have to fight, and the more angst we have to handle about whether our interpretation of the data is even correct to begin with. As one person in the group put it, the message to marketers who don’t yet have the privilege of having so much data is: it gets worse.

Ultimately, the solution, to quote a former boss of mine, is to not let “the perfect get in the way of the good.” Over the next few years, access to data is going to increase dramatically for all marketers, and the “wide tail” of multiple marketing channels is going to force online marketers to move beyond text ads on desktops and care about display, video, and text on laptops, desktops, mobile, and tablets. More data and more channels but likely not many more people in the marketing department; we’re all going to have to relax, take a deep breath, and learn to put a lot of asterisks next to the reports we deliver to the C-suite!

David Rodnitzky, CEO