What Is Attribution? Benefits and Examples

Alaina Bradenburger
Kassidy Vavra
Published: Dec 01, 2021
Last Updated:
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The main function of a marketing campaign is to drive customers into your business. Measuring how successfully each channel builds awareness and pulls people to your website improves your marketing efforts. When you know which channels are most successful, you can focus your efforts on growing those, trying different techniques on others that aren’t driving as much traffic. Implementing a marketing attribution model helps you measure each channel’s success and tells you which customer touchpoints are most valuable.

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What is Attribution?

Marketing attribution means assigning value to each customer interaction. It involves identifying customer behavior and lets you weigh different touchpoints against one another to see which has the greater impact on a specific marketing goal.

Through social media, streaming video, offline advertising including billboards and point of purchase ads, TV commercials, and more, the average person sees about 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day.  If you’re marketing in more than one place, customers are more likely to interact with your company before they even walk through the door or go to your website to make a purchase. One of the earliest unwritten marketing rules is that it takes seven touchpoints to gain a customer's interest. Now that customers are constantly exposed to ads, this number is likely higher.

Marketing attribution is a measurement of these touchpoints to determine your return on investment (ROI) for different attribution methods.

Benefits of Marketing Attribution

The most effective marketing strategies are driven by data. Marketing attribution gives you the data needed to make better decisions and fine-tune your message to best reach customers. Most professional marketers (76%) use marketing attribution to create data-driven strategies. Marketing attribution lets you:

  • Make strategic marketing decisions.
  • Align your marketing and sales messaging.
  • Optimize your marketing mix for the most effective reach.
  • Allocate your marketing budget.
  • Improve the customer journey from discovery to purchase.
  • Customize your messaging.

There are attribution models you can use to measure the ROI of different customer touchpoints. They range from single-factor models to more advanced ones. Each has its benefits, and there is no consensus on what type is best. Use the one that is best for your company and your business goals.

Types of Attribution Model

An attribution model refers to your system for assigning credit to different marketing touchpoints. There are different types of attribution modeling you can use to assess your touchpoints. Here is an explanation of each model and examples of attribution you can use in your marketing plan.

1. First-Touch Attribution

When using this model, you give all the credit to the customer’s first interaction. This means that if a customer finds your website through a banner ad on a different site and uses it to click through to your site, all credit for the sale is given to the banner ad.

This model is commonly used because it’s simple. It’s also effective for measuring which marketing activities create awareness and drive people to research your company.

2. Last-Touch Attribution

Conversely, last-touch attribution modeling gives all credit for a sale to the last touchpoint. If a customer heard about you through a friend or a social media post, checked out your website, and came into your store to check it out, you would credit the in-store sales team for the conversion.

Like first-touch attribution, this model is easily implemented. You don’t have to track the entire customer journey — you just record the part right before the sale was made. It’s a popular method for measuring online ads because you can easily see how many people clicked an ad and subsequently made a purchase.

If your customers don’t typically engage in multiple touchpoints from research to buying, then this model might be a good fit for your company.

3. Multi-Touch Attribution

This model lets you credit sales to multiple touchpoints on a client’s journey. This one is most realistic because most people will hear about your company through multiple channels before they decide to make a purchase.

The multi-touch model can be difficult to implement because it’s hard to know which touchpoint is most responsible for converting a customer. But this model gives you more data to drive overall marketing decisions, which can be beneficial when trying to decide where to focus your efforts.

Linear Multi-Touch Attribution

You can use a linear attribution model in which each touchpoint gets the same amount of credit. This model helps you identify each step in a customer’s interaction with your brand. However, it doesn’t necessarily let you understand which marketing channels are most effective as each step holds the same weight.

U-Shaped Multi-Touch Attribution

You can also use a U-shaped multi-touch attribution model in which you give the first touchpoint and the last touchpoint equal credit, splitting the remaining credit equally among other touchpoints. For example:

  • If a customer clicked through an over-the-top ad you placed on a streaming video, you would give the ad 35 points.
  • Next, the customer looked you up on Facebook, found you on a search engine, and read some customer reviews. Each of these touchpoints would get 10 points.
  • Finally, the customer went onto your website and made a purchase. Your website would also get 35 points.

A U-shaped model lets you determine how customers are finding you since you measure the first touchpoint, and it helps you map out each client’s journey. But it might not accurately assess the steps between research and purchase.

When your business has a longer sales cycle, this model can help you determine how customers found you and what prompted them to purchase. It also gives you insight into which marketing activities keep a client interested before they finally decide to buy.

Time Decay Multi-Touch Attribution

A time decay model also lets you credit multiple steps in the client journey, but it assigns more points to interactions that happen closer to conversion. In the previous example, you would give more points to the organic search engine and customer reviews since they happened right before the customer decided to log on to your website and make a purchase.

If you sell products or services that require a lot of preliminary research and relationship building, this model might be right for you since you can evaluate the touchpoints right up to the point of purchase. A car dealership might consider this model because customers often carefully consider this purchase. Customers usually do comparison shopping and visit a website multiple times before actually deciding to buy.

4. Algorithmic Attribution

This model uses technology to measure each touchpoint and assign credit for the conversion. It is driven by machine learning and provides you with a lot of data to inform your decision-making. Many sites that track analytics use this model, including Google. This tool helps you assess all digital marketing, but you need to select “multi-touchpoint” when setting it up as it typically defaults to "last touchpoint."

Each company offering analytics uses different algorithms, so your metrics will likely vary a little if you’re using multiple software platforms. However, these tools give you a more accurate picture of the customer journey, and many companies display the data in a visual manner that’s easy to understand.

How to Use Choose an Attribution Model

There is no “right” or “wrong” attribution model, and you can use any of them in your marketing strategy. To pick the one that will offer the best data, consider the length of your buying cycle and your marketing mix. Using a multi-touch attribution model works well when most of your marketing is digital, but it might not be the right model if your marketing mix includes an equal amount of offline marketing.

If you use a mix of online and offline marketing, you can use a marketing mix attribution model that lets you measure the impact of traditional advertising channels. One of the best ways to get this information is to ask. Include a question about how customers heard about you in your online checkout form. Survey your existing customers to see how they found you and how well they remember your offline advertising.

These and other analytical tools help you prioritize your offline ad spending. You might find out that you’re spending a lot of money on a television ad that drives little interest, while the in-car ad on the subway has driven multiple customers to your site with a QR code or similar call to action.

You might not choose the right model the first time and end up with data you don’t find valuable. In this case, try a different attribution model and see if it generates better information. You can also run multiple models at the same time to generate better data.

How to Analyze Marketing Attribution Models

Marketing attribution is easy to set up and monitor, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a numbers person. There are multiple software platforms you can use to collect and analyze conversion data. In the next year, the marketing world will shift significantly as internet companies revise their platforms to protect customer privacy. Any data collection platform that currently uses cookies won’t be able to generate the same level of data.

Marketing Attribution Data Software

You can still collect data on how people get to your page and how long they spend interacting with different parts of your website. If you’re using attribution software, it should come with a tutorial on how to set up your website to collect necessary data.

Choose software that integrates with your client relationship management software, email provider, website host, ad platforms, and SEO tools. You can find one that specifically tracks interactions on mobile devices or choose a platform that measures both desktop and mobile interactions.

Your best bet is to choose a robust platform that integrates with everything you use to create and run ads and interact with customers.

Once you’ve collected your data, you can use it to make a variety of marketing decisions.

How to Use Marketing Attribution Data

After you’ve used a marketing attribution model for a while, you should have a better idea of which channels are driving customers to your company and which are responsible for more conversions. When you see the channels that aren’t doing well, you can change marketing tactics.

For example, you might find that your pay-per-click ads are driving more conversions than your organic social media posts. You can use this data to change your social media strategy. You could look through Facebook and Instagram analytics to see which posts are generating the most engagement. Then, you could focus on the topics that create a buzz around your company.

When you run your next attribution model, you can see if there was an uptick in social media conversions.

You could also decide not to allocate money to social media and shift your budget to pay-per-click ads. Since these ads drove high levels of clicks and conversions, you are likely to see a higher return on investment by focusing more of your time and financial resources on this channel. If you run your marketing attribution model again, you might find that the increase in spending didn’t improve click-through rates on these ads, which would let you reallocate your marketing budget again.

Valuable attribution data isn’t confined to marketing — you can also use it to inform other company-wide decisions. Your finance and accounting departments are likely interested in knowing the ROI of each marketing channel, and they will be able to better assess how much to allocate to marketing in the yearly budget.

The sales team might be interested to see which channels create the best awareness so they can focus on those that create high-quality leads. If your marketing teams see that social media leads to a lot of conversions, they might engage with prospective clients on LinkedIn instead of spending as much time cold calling.

Where to Start

Now that you know how marketing attribution can benefit your company, you can get started. First, create a list of goals and objectives for your attribution model. This will help you choose the right model and research attribution platforms.

Once you’ve decided which model to use, start looking into different software providers to see which has the most accurate models, the easiest data-collection process, and the appropriate integrations for your company. It may take some trial and error, but once you’ve got the hang of trying out different methods, you can fine-tune your marketing for a seamless customer journey that drives business to your door.


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