A Complete Marketer’s Guide to Multi-Touch Attribution and Models

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Multi-touch attribution is an attribution model that lets you break down each touch point to make data-driven decisions that inform future marketing efforts and see the best return on investment (ROI).

Marketing attribution, sometimes called lead attribution, identifies and analyzes key touch points along the customer journey. These touch points represent which channels or specific campaign components generate the most leads.

Attributing leads to a specific marketing channel lets you better focus resources to boost conversions. For example, if more than half of your recent new customers were leads drawn in by your new Google Ads campaign, you’ll likely renew or continue that strategy moving forward.

There are multiple attribution models to choose from based on your needs, goals, and metrics. Multi-touch attribution could be right for you if you juggle several touch points or have a complex customer journey.

What is Multi-Touch Attribution, and How Does It Work?

Multi-touch attribution in e-commerce marketing is an attribution model that lets you break down each touch point to make data-driven decisions that inform future marketing efforts and see the best return on investment (ROI).

The customer journey from prospect to lead to conversion is rarely straightforward. Customers find you from all corners of the online and offline world, and neglecting any of those avenues in marketing attribution research leaves you without valuable insights.

The multi-touch attribution model is similar to marketing mix modeling (MMM) but with a more comprehensive and data-driven approach. Multi-touch and multi-channel attribution are also different—while multi-channel assigns value on a channel-by-channel basis, it neglects specific touch points along the way.

The ultimate goal of any marketing attribution model is maximizing your marketing dollar by funneling time and budget where they’ll generate the most leads for the least amount of money. 

Unlike single-touch attribution, multi-touch plots out a complete path with several touch points. A single-touch approach credits a single point without room for nuance, which is far too broad if you have a strict marketing budget or need to determine which Google Ads campaign to prioritize.

Multi-touch attribution is important because it offers a more detailed look at the customer journey than other attribution models like first- or last-touch attribution.

The difference between first-touch and last-touch campaign attribution is emphasizing the customer’s first interaction with your brand versus their last interaction before ultimately converting—multi-touch leaves room for both, including every touch point along the way.

How to Measure Marketing ROI

Using multi-touch attribution to prioritize marketing investments is only effective if you compare it with your return on marketing investment (ROMI).

The best way to measure marketing ROI is with consistent methods across each touch point, including content marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, and more. Work in specific time frames—you won’t get an accurate look at the true marketing cost until enough time has passed for data patterns to emerge.

Measuring digital marketing ROI is particularly complex. It’s easy to see sales, clicks, and other marketing metrics as measurable results, but a successful marketing campaign can generate multiple “soft metrics” that aren’t so easily defined. Increasing brand awareness or steps to improve the customer experience aren’t measurable, but they’re often critical touch points in the sales funnel. 

Why Marketing ROI Is Important

Marketing ROI is important to know because it shows if your marketing investment is paying off. 

Businesses use MROI for these purposes:

  • Distribute marketing dollars across high-value campaigns and channels.
  • Establish baselines for future marketing campaigns.
  • Perform a competitive analysis against competitors.
  • Plan new projects and prioritize existing ones.
  • Gain a better understanding of the customer, including their wants and pain points.
  • Get insight into other types of growth, like number of clicks or content shares.

Multi-touch attribution models analyze marketing campaigns by weaving a full picture of your ROI and each integrated touch point, including non-revenue generating touch points.

How to Calculate ROI for Marketing Campaigns

How you should calculate your MROI depends on what channels you work with and the metrics you measure.

For example, you calculate ROI for a content marketing campaign differently than a Google Ads paid-per-click (PPC) campaign—one has specific measurable quantities and metrics, the other doesn’t. 

Here are two popular formulas:

  • (Sales Growth − Marketing Cost) ÷ Marketing Cost = MROI
  • (Sales Growth − Average Organic Sales Growth − Marketing Cost) ÷ Marketing Cost = MROI 

Measuring ROI only works if you have comparison baseline, so use the same calculations to regularly assess your marketing investment and track trends.

A good ROI percentage for advertising looks different between companies and campaigns. Some marketing requires more investment, while others are low cost, shifting the idea of “good ROI” from campaign to campaign.

Marketing Evolution reports most marketers recommend staying around a 5:1 to 10:1 ratio—consider anything below a 2:1 ratio a red flag.

As you calculate your marketing ROI, don’t forget intangible factors like growing your reputation, improving customer experience, or increasing brand awareness.

The Benefits and Challenges of Multi-Touch Attribution

Different attribution models have their own advantages and challenges. Choosing the right attribution model for your marketing efforts is the only way to appropriately attribute conversions to all your digital activities.

Benefits of Using a Multi-touch Attribution Model

The benefits using a multi-touch attribution model include:

  • See more conversions: When you understand how each touch point contributes to conversions, you can prioritize and repeat processes that see the most results. 
  • Prioritize successful campaigns: As you create a content timeline, leverage your findings to funnel more money and attention into high-performing touch points.
  • Cut resource wasters: Touch attribution lets you see which touch points aren’t beneficial along the customer journey to cut underperforming campaigns and reallocate those resources somewhere more beneficial.
  • Better allocate spending: Make smarter budgetary decisions and increase paying conversions while simultaneously proving campaign effectiveness to key stakeholders.
  • Learn more about your customers: Learn more about your customers as you assess touch points in multi-touch attribution modeling. By mapping customer engagement, you get a sense of where they spend their time and what marketing messages appeal to them.

Challenges of Multi-Touch Attribution Modeling

Challenges of using a multi-touch attribution model include:

  • There’s a lot of data to track: Multi-touch attribution is beneficial if you’ve got enough data to track the consumer journey, including offline engagements like phone calls, walk-ins, and traditional advertising. If you’re working with inaccurate or incomplete datasets, you might consider another model.
  • The learning curve can be steep: Touch attribution pulls data from campaigns and channels across the web and offline interactions to identify key touch points and calculate ROI. If you’re new to data-driven marketing or haven’t ventured beyond basic Google Ads findings, consider working with a professional.
  • Identifying and weighing touch points isn’t easy: Knowing what constitutes a touch point and how much weight to assign each takes trial and error, especially for omnichannel advertising and customer journeys with extensive micro-touch points. Tools like a customer data platform (CDP) can help.

How to Implement Multi-Touch Attribution

The customer journey isn’t straightforward. A lead might jump between touch points, circling back to different campaigns as they weigh their options or consider the advantages of your business over your competitor.

By mapping your most common customer journeys—and understanding each persona’s path likely differs slightly from another—you can see which touch points are best for specific personas and optimize those to match campaigns.

In many ways, multi-touch attribution is where data science meets opportunity creation. The multi-map approach showcases the different ways you attract and convert leads, which also highlights parts of the customer journey that lack in comparison. 

Start reaping these advantages by following these steps:

1. Choose a Multi-Touch Attribution Model

You can choose one or multiple types of multi-touch attribution models—you’ll probably try several before finding the right formula for your specific needs. 

Popular multi-touch attribution models include:

  • U-shaped: U-shaped attribution models, also called position-based attribution, assigns 40 percent of credit to the first and last touch point, while the rest distributes evenly across all the touch points in between.
  • W-based: W-based attribution models assign the most weight to the “first discovery” touch point—when the customer first learns of your product or business—as well as the lead capture and final conversion touch points.
  • Linear: Linear attribution models divide credit equally across each touch point in the customer journey.
  • Time-based: Time-based attribution model focus on touch points closest to the moment of conversion, like the first or last touch point. Remaining touch points decrease in weight the farther they are from those conversion events on the customer journey timeline.

Many businesses have the most success with a custom attribution model. Though highly efficient, custom models are challenging to create without professional help or specialized tools.

2. Identify Relevant Touch Points

Once you’ve chosen a model, it’s time to identify touch points. Start slow, working in one customer map at a time and taking each campaign and channel individually. Keep your focus on new conversions and first-time customers. 

Touch points can include everything from opening an email newsletter or clicking a URL with a tracking code to filling out a contact form or seeing a paid banner ad on an unrelated website.

Break these into smaller touch points as applicable; then consider how your revenue fits each.

3. Collect and Analyze Data

Marketing analytics software can be very helpful at this stage, but specific steps vary depending on the channel and touch point you’re working on. Have a secure, organized place to track your findings. Some data is easier to understand if you turn it into a chart or graph.

To set up multi-touch attribution in Google Analytics, you would follow these steps:

  1. Visit your dashboard and assign data goals—like what link they clicked to find you—based on your touch points and attribution model.
  2. Click Conversions, then Attribution.
  3. Select a specific goal to measure and assign conversions credit to individual touch points.
  4. Compare goals and touch points across models.
  5. Revisit data regularly and apply findings along the way.

Is Multi-Touch Attribution Right for Your Business?

When done correctly, multi-touch attribution can be the essential piece to your marketing puzzle to help you make more informed decisions and increase ROI. Learn more about other types of marketing attribution models here. Staff Staff
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