Attribution in marketing refers to the process of attributing value or credit to different touchpoints in a customer’s journey, in order to understand the impact of marketing and advertising efforts on customer behavior and conversion. It helps to optimize and allocate marketing budgets by identifying the most effective channels and tactics.

What is attribution?

Marketing attribution is a scientific method to evaluate the efficacy of your digital marketing efforts, by determining which touchpoints your consumers are encountering and how those contribute to sales or conversions. 

There are several different attribution models used by marketers to attribute customer actions to particular marketing activities or content. Attribution modeling is an excellent way to understand the consumer’s journey and determine what’s working and where you can improve. It also shows you how various marketing channels are working together and where you should focus more effort and time in order to achieve your KPIs. 

How to measure attribution

Marketing attribution is typically measured using certain models. These models allocate a weight or value to different parts of your marketing campaign and use those to determine which of your efforts are more or less effective. There are a number of models available for you to use, and each comes with its own opportunities and challenges. 

Choosing the right model depends on what you’re trying to measure, and why, and it’s important to do your research before relying too heavily on a chosen model to give you results.

What is an attribution model?

A marketing attribution model is a set of rules that determines which touchpoints in your marketing campaigns should get the credit for a signup or conversion (or measuring brand awareness, if that’s your goal). The best models are those that will give you insight into what channels consumers have been exposed to, what messages they saw there, and what touchpoint(s) most impacted their decision to take action (such as making a purchase). A good attribution model also indicates how much impact – if any – the customer’s perception of your brand had on their decision to take the action, and even how much impact external factors had on their decision. 

What are the main attribution models?

As mentioned earlier, there are a few different attribution models you can use, generally broken down into two types: single-touch and multi-touch attribution models.

Single-touch attribution models

A single-touch attribution model assigns 100% credit to a “single” marketing touchpoint. This means that your customer may have seen three different YouTube pre-rolls before they decided to click on the website and make a purchase, but with the single-touch model, only one of those pre-rolls will get the credit for the conversion. 

Single-touch is usually divided into two classes: first-touch and last-touch. 

In first-touch, the model makes the assumption that a consumer chose to take action after the first touchpoint (for example, the first time they saw your ad online).

Last-touch, on the other hand, gives full credit to the final touchpoint before the action. It makes the assumption that the customer made a decision to buy or convert after interacting with the last touchpoint they were exposed to.

This model comes with some pretty obvious setbacks, like not being able to see the full journey a consumer takes. That’s why most marketers recommend using other methods in conjunction with this one, to get a more balanced view of where their marketing efforts are working. Of course, if your funnel is very simple, or you’re trying only to see what happens at the top or bottom of the funnel, this could be very useful.

Multi-touch attribution model

Multi-touch models look at every touchpoint a consumer has engaged with from the first to the last (that is, until they make their purchase or convert). These models are usually considered to be more accurate than single-touch and assign value, or weight, to each touchpoint differently.

These models are primarily differentiated by how they divide up the credit. Here are the four most common multi-touch attribution models:

How to choose an attribution model

Deciding on the right attribution model depends on many factors from the type of business you have to what you want to learn about your customers. There is no “best” model to choose but there are a few pointers you can use if you’re picking your first model (and remember, you can – and should – change your model as your business grows).

First, consider how many stages there are in your funnel. Do you include lead generation, lead nurturing and sales? How about brand recognition? Your business goals will help you pinpoint how many stages your marketing funnel has, if you’re not 100% clear on them already.

Next, think through how many marketing touchpoints you have. No touchpoint is too small, so take note of all of your marketing efforts from targeted emails to online ads, offline marketing, content recommendations, and even social media. 

Also, a point to consider is what you want to achieve. Some businesses may be at a point where conversion is important while others just want to encourage sign-ups. You may even want to boost your brand awareness to keep your business name top of mind. 

It’s also valuable to consider any factors that are out of your control, and which may impact your results. Increased interest rates will definitely impact real estate and the sale of “nice to have” items, while a supply chain shortage could cause increased demand for your product. Ultimately, choosing the best attribution model depends on what you need. 

The challenges of attribution 

Attribution models come with certain challenges that should be accounted for. Though there are ways to handle these, be aware of them when you choose your model:

So what’s the bottom line? Attribution models are not built equally and cannot take everything into account. This means the results you get from them will be good, but they’ll never be perfect. 

What you can do to mitigate this is to test and compare your results. A/B testing is a really smart way to help you narrow down how consumers are interacting with your brand. And the more you test, the more you’ll know which attribution model is right for you, so you get to know exactly the impact your marketing efforts are making.