Marketing attribution refers to the methodology of valuing the touch points in the buyer’s journey as they become new clients. In simpler terms, it is how marketers value and score each step or interaction a buyer takes with your brand regardless of whether it’s social, video, direct marketing, or on a company website.

Accurate marketing attribution is a largely underutilized yet critical tool to know which campaigns drive the highest ROI. Marketers want to know if what they’re doing is working, as well as where, when, with whom, and how well. Without accurate attribution, allocating resources to future campaigns is an educated guess at best and a waste of time and resources at worst.

There is rarely a straight line between the first contact with a potential customer and a completed sale. The buyer’s journey averages between 7 and 13 touches and often requires many more. Further, a buyer’s journey can often span weeks or months. Which touches bring the most value? Was it a Facebook ad or a blog post that caused a deeper level of engagement? What triggered the customer to click out of a drip email campaign and into a purchase environment? It can be difficult to understand why customers make the choices they do along the way. Yet, the effort to attribute ROI to each step in the buyer’s journey offers the quickest and most effective way to improve decision-making. Good marketing attribution can clear the fog of confusion.

6 Marketing Attribution Models

So what models work best? From worst to first.

  1. Last Interaction/Last Click Attribution model
    This attribution methodology is the most common model found. It scores 100% of the conversion attribution to the last step a buyer takes. Historically, all tools used last click attribution because the one thing they could confidently say is what drove the converting visit.Pros: It is easy to understand.Cons: It doesn’t work. A buyer’s journey has multiple touch-points over a long-time horizon. To use the last touch as the way to allocate future marketing dollars is to ignore the balance of the other touch-points.
  2. First Interaction/First Click Attribution Model
    This model is essentially the same as last click, just in reverse. 100% of attribution credit is given to the action that causes 1st engagement.Pros: It’s easy. You could explain this to your kids.Cons: It doesn’t work either.Again, recognize that the buyer’s journey is long. The generic timeline to purchase is, on average, 22 days with cross-channel use and multiple touch-points. To assign 100% of value at the first touch is akin to attributing your graduation from college to your performance in kindergarten.
  3. Last Non-Direct Click Attribution Model
    Reports in Google Analytics attribute 100% of credit to the last “campaign” prior to the conversion event. Last Non-Direct Click attribution inflates the value of traffic to known traffic sources (Organic, referral, and other tagged campaigns) while undervaluing direct traffic. There is really no way to modify the model that GAnalytics uses for its standardized reports.Pros: LNDCA assigns credit for effects that span the length of a marketing campaign. Many companies, particularly those with 6-18 month sales cycles, value these long-term effects.Cons: By deemphasizing the value of direct traffic and attributing it to known sources of traffic, Google is quietly attributing an over-valuation to known sources of traffic. In particular, Google Analytics gives a heavier weighting to your AdWords campaigns. And of course Google is happy to pass along those data points.
  4. Linear Attribution Model
    If there are five touchpoints in your conversion process, a linear attribution model would assign an equitable value—20% to each touch point along the way.Pros: It’s not as wrong as First and Last Interaction Models.Cons: It’s only a hair better and really shouldn’t be used either.
  5. Time Decay Attribution Model
    Alright! Now we are getting somewhere. The time decay model assumes higher weighted attribution to those touch points that are closest to conversion.Pros: It rightfully assumes as a buyer approaches conversion, the more influence those touches can have on conversion.Cons: It rarely attributes an accurate weighing to the top-of-the-funnel marketing efforts, those that start the process of conversion.Time decay is a solid model that allows for you to adjust attribution value based upon your gut feelings/expertise. Understand your adjustments are not going to necessarily be correct so be prepared to tweak this model over the course of a few weeks to match your buyer’s journey.
  6. Customized/Personalized Attribution Model
    The Personalized Attribution Model is exactly what the name suggests. One can do anything. But, with great power comes great responsibility.Pros: The sky’s the limit. There are no suggestions. You are left to your own devices.Cons: The sky’s the limit. There are no suggestions. You are left to your own devices.

Final Thought

One should feel fairly confident in their modeling abilities before losing sight of land and heading over the edge of the world. Before creating a customized marketing attribution model, one should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What user behavior do you value and want to measure?
  • Can you describe historical repeat customer actions?
  • How are you accounting for offline conversions within your analytics models?

While marketing attribution is not new, marketing departments are racing to adopt best practices. It is important to remember that multi-channel marketing attribution, modeling and analysis is not a one-time effort; it is something one does all the time. Hopefully, over time models will tighten and attribution will become more accurate.