Marketing Attribution Explained

The concept of attribution, as a whole, is fairly simple. When an action leads to a certain result, we attribute that result to the who or whatever performed the action. In marketing terms, attribution works much the same, however, determining the actions responsible can be much trickier.

What Is the Definition of Marketing Attribution?

In strict terms, marketing attribution is the identification of which specific marketing actions, or touchpoints, led to an outcome. However, thorough attribution involves much more than the simple identification of contributing touchpoints; analysis determines to what extent each touchpoint led to the desired outcome and assigns a value.

It would be easy to assume that the most valuable touchpoints should be used again. However, marketing attribution must also analyze which combination of touchpoints led to the outcome, and to what degree. The data can then determine which should be used again, in which combinations. It’s easy to see that although the definition of general attribution sounds simple, a complex set of data are analyzed in numerous ways in order to come to a marketing attribution determination.

Why Should You Value Marketing Attribution?

Although the complex interplay of the touchpoints and the various results achieved can seem overwhelming, marketing attribution is a necessary factor to consider when you are deciding how to spend your marketing dollars. Consider the fact that many users will not make a purchase upon the first visit to your website, but rather after some series of actions – after clicking through a Facebook ad, visiting the website, putting an item in the cart, leaving, receiving an abandoned cart email, and returning through a link in that email, for example. Analysis of this process can help you determine which of the steps were most valuable in converting your customer.

Armed with information regarding each step in the process, you can decide which marketing actions had the largest return on your marketing investment. Across multiple customer conversions, the trends that emerge can be integral to your decisions regarding where to direct your advertising budget.What Challenges Lie in Marketing Attribution?

There are a number of challenges that prevent even seasoned marketers from adequately using data from across their marketing plans.

  • Marketers use multiple sources. In the multi-step scenario presented above, the customer experienced the brand at multiple points before finally making a purchase. Determining the extent to which each contributed toward the eventual sale is difficult, and the reason for the development of so many marketing attribution models. In addition, analyzing several steps is less efficient.
  • Not all sources are available for analysis. Some of the sources that led to your sale may not be in your control, and analysis of their data is either completely unavailable or limited to what the data holder provides.
  • Limiting analysis can lead to an incomplete picture. Depending on the model used, marketers can limit their analysis to the last action that led to a click through to a site, or the first action in a chain of events that led to the sale. While a more limited analysis is simpler, it confines analysis to studying only one touchpoint at a time.

Which Marketing Attribution Models Exist?

Marketing attribution models exist in two major categories, separated by complexity and level of analysis. Single source attribution models focus on only one touchpoint, while multi-source attribution models analyze several sources. Knowing the difference between the models and your business’s attribution needs can help guide your choices.

Single Source Attribution Models

Single source attribution models simplify attribution to one of two touchpoints:

  • First touch attribution models. These models attribute all conversions to the first source the user engaged with. For instance, in the above scenario, the user clicks on a Facebook ad, which eventually led to a series of events culminating in a sale. First touch attribution is useful in determining what motivates a user to visit but dismisses all the actions that took place after the initial visit even if the initial visit did not lead to a sale.
  • Last touch attribution models. Last touch models attribute all conversions to the last source with which the user engaged. In the previous scenario, the last source was an abandoned cart email the user clicked on to return to the website and make the purchase. While this model can provide valuable insight into the final trigger to purchase, it fails to take any prior engagement into account.

Multiple Source Attribution Models

Multiple source attribution models consider each touchpoint that led to the sale, allowing for a more complete picture of attribution. However, many types of multiple source attribution models, known as multiple touch attributions (MTA) exist.

  • Linear MTA assigns equal weight to all touchpoints.
  • Time decay MTA considers the amount of time that has passed since earlier touchpoints in an effort to give credit to the touchpoints that led more directly to the sale.
  • U or W shaped MTA both give the most credit to the first and last touch, with W shaped MTA assigning some extra credit to the event that created the opportunity.
  • Full path MTA gives credit to all touchpoints, assigning most of the weight to first touch, last touch, and opportunity.
  • Weighted MTA gives the most full-scale picture of attribution, applying weighted credit to each step in the sales process. Each organization customizes the weight assigned to certain levels based on their importance within the industry.

How Can You Get Started?

Although multiple source attribution models present a more complete picture of marketing attribution, you don’t have to start with the most complicated methods. Fortunately for you, if you already have a basic understanding of how your social media works and are using Google analytics, you know some information about how users utilize your site.

From there, you can analyze which interactions are leading to sales. Over time, track this data and tie it into your overall revenue to determine which touchpoints are located in which levels of your sales process. You can determine which areas work best as a first touch, which seem to lead directly to sales, and where to continue to invest your marketing dollars. As you gain more experience, you can implement testing to determine what weight each touchpoint has on sales generation.