Attribution Models: A Complete Guide for Marketers

Attribution Model
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What exactly is an attribution model? An attribution model is the rule or set of rules that determine how credit for sales and conversions are assigned to touchpoints in conversion paths. The attribution is usually done through scoring, equating a numeric value for different types of touchpoints and resulting in scores that reveal the most impactful touchpoints leading to each sale.

Without attribution models, it would be difficult to understand why leads convert to customers and which processes to repeat so that the cycle continues. The insights gained from attribution models are valuable for building repeatable, scalable sales and marketing practices.

Types of Attribution Models

Most marketing attribution models will fall into one of two categories: single-touch attribution models and multi-touch attribution models. Single-touch models attribute sales to a single touchpoint along the customer journey, while multi-touch models attribute sales to every relevant touchpoint and marketing channel. 

Both types provide insights that can be valuable to different businesses depending on factors like the type of company (B2B, B2C, D2C, etc.), the volume of marketing work, and the diversity of marketing channels that the company uses. 

1. First-touch and last-touch attribution models

It makes sense to discuss these two attribution models together since they’re the exact opposite of one another. Both of these single-touch attribution models give full credit for a conversion to one source. For the first-touch model, credit goes to the first interaction between a customer and your company, and for the last-touch model, credit goes to the last interaction. A touch, for example, could be clicking on an ad on social media, following a link on a search engine results page, or visiting the homepage of a website.

If you don’t have a lot of established marketing channels or are at a smaller organization, one of these models might work best for quickly determining your most effective marketing efforts.

2. Multi-touch attribution model

If first-touch and last-touch models work best for simpler marketing operations, the multi-touch model works best for more complex operations. It gives credit for the conversion to every touchpoint and marketing channel the customer engaged with, though the type of credit given to each depends on the type of multi-touch attribution model. According to a 2022 survey from MMA Global, 53 percent of marketers use multi-touch attribution to track their marketing efforts.

These models can help determine the channels that had the biggest impact on the conversion which is especially valuable if you’re working with large marketing budgets and need to make smart decisions on where to focus more of the budget. These models are also best for organizations experiencing rapid growth and scaling as they can keep up with your growing list of marketing channels and approaches.

3. Cross-channel attribution model

This model is similar to multi-touch attribution. It gives credit to all channels that a customer engaged with, however, it does not give credit to touchpoints within those channels. While it might include a blog post as part of what led to a conversion, it would not consider specific posts that the customer clicked on. This model may work best for businesses with multiple marketing channels but with lower volume production through those channels.

4. Last non-direct touch attribution model

This single-touch model is similar to the last-touch model except that it won’t attribute a conversion to a “direct touch,” or when someone comes directly to a channel. Instead, it will only give the attribution to a touch that came from another channel such as clicking on an ad or landing page link. You might benefit from this model if you’re focusing more heavily on paid marketing efforts instead of organic, or collaborative efforts like influencer marketing. It can also be beneficial for shorter sales cycles where there won’t be as many touchpoints before a purchase.

5. Time-decay attribution model

The time-decay model is a type of multi-touch attribution model. It credits each touchpoint that leads to a conversion; however, it lends more weight to the touchpoints that occurred closest to the conversion. This works best for longer sales cycles where you need to pay close attention to the touchpoints that matter most near the end of the cycle. 

6. Linear attribution model

Also a type of multi-touch attribution model, the linear attribution model gives equal weight to all activities before a conversion. Like other types of multi-touch attribution models, it can provide a wealth of information about the most significant sales and marketing channels for companies with longer sales cycles.

7. Position-based attribution models

These multi-touch attribution models, sometimes called U-shaped and W-shaped models, give more weight to touchpoints at specific steps in the customer journey. For the U-shaped model, the most weight is given to the first and last touchpoints. The W-shaped model gives more weight to the same touchpoints in addition to the mid-funnel touchpoint. Both models can help determine the channels and actions that are most likely to move someone to different stages in the customer journey. 

8. Full-path attribution model

This model is closest to the W-shaped model, though it weighs four touchpoints more than the rest instead of three. It considers the first and last touchpoints, as well as the touchpoints at the lead creation and opportunity creation stages, to be the most significant. This model also typically measures post-stage marketing activities.

9. Custom attribution model

If none of those models seem to focus on the data points you find most valuable in the customer journey, you have the option of customizing a model. This is often done with the full-path model as the starting point, then you can adjust the weight of other milestones along the customer journey that you think might be significant. 

How to Use Attribution Models in Your Marketing

Mapping Your Customer Journey

To get started using attribution models, the first step is to map out your current customer journey. Answer questions like:

  • How long does the journey take from prospect to customer?
  • What channels are we using to reach audiences at each stage of the journey? 
  • Which channels are receiving the most engagement?
  • What channels do we spend the most of our marketing budget on? 
  • How long do our prospects and leads tend to stay in each stage of the marketing funnel? 

Finding the answers to questions like these will help you determine the best marketing attribution model to match your operations and reveal the types of answers that will help you make better decisions on future marketing efforts.

Collecting Customer Data

The next step is to take stock of your customer data sources. The more data sources you have—especially sources of first-party data provided directly from the customer—the more accurate insights you’ll receive from using attribution models. 

The easiest way to get all of your data in one place is with a customer data platform (CDP). A CDP connects to systems and data sources across an organization to ingest structured and unstructured data to build a customer profile. It can integrate sources such as:

  • Data from real-time customer interactions
  • Marketing and sales campaign data
  • Product data
  • Customer support data
  • Mobile data
  • Point of sale data
  • Marketing data (e.g., behavioral data, web browsing data, survey responses, and marketing automation data)

Having all of these data sources in one place will make it easier to integrate with a marketing attribution tool.

Choosing a Marketing Attribution Tool

There are many options to choose from to visualize your customer data through the lens of an attribution tool, and more data marketing tools are being added to the MarTech market every year. Consider using a tool that supports multiple attribution models so that you have the flexibility to change your approach over time.

Well-known analytics tools like Google Analytics are great for single-touch attribution and can integrate many customer data sources for a unified view of marketing effectiveness.

If multi-touch marketing attribution models seem like a better fit for analyzing the performance of marketing channels and the effectiveness of touchpoints, robust multi-touch features will be needed to get the desired result. If you use a CDP for managing customer data, check to see if it also has analytics features that can handle multi-touch attribution. This will save you time in finding a new solution, save money by utilizing features in your existing technology stack, and reduce the likelihood of errors in the data from one solution to another.

Once you’ve chosen a tool, you can connect your data sources and view your marketing performance with the chosen model. 

Next Steps

Attribution models are key to understanding the value of your marketing efforts. They give you the power to know which marketing channels and touchpoints influence your prospects and leads on their journey to becoming customers. Choosing the right marketing attribution model will help you measure your marketing effectiveness and tailor your efforts in the future to focus on what works best. 

Once you know which model you want to start with, gather your customer data sources, and look for a marketing attribution tool that can work with your data. Consider a CDP that can organize your data in one place and provide robust multi-channel attribution and analytics.

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