What Is the Best Marketing Attribution Model for Your Organization?

7/17/2019 Kristin Hambelton

What Is the Best Marketing Attribution Model for Your Organization?

To accurately measure effectiveness, marketers need to weigh the value of touchpoints driving engagement across the media mix. This delivers a deeper, more precise understanding of consumer engagement and how to best optimize campaigns by leveraging the touchpoints that generate the most ROI.

By delving into a more intricate and overarching attribution strategy marketers will gain a better understanding of the following:

  • A granular, 360º view of the customer journeys within target audiences
  • How channels across the marketing mix influence one another
  • How channels across the marketing mix drive consumers toward purchase
  • Consumers’ preferred touchpoints across online and offline channels

At the same time, quite a few attribution models have been created over the years, leaving marketers spoiled for choice when it comes to finding the right model that effectively contributes to a consistent view of the customer.

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Understanding the different types of marketing attribution models

How can marketers land on the right attribution model? More to the point, what insights do different attribution models provide, and how can marketers pick the best one?

To pick the models that match a brand’s needs, it helps to understand what’s available, the value each delivers, and the challenges they introduce.

A recommended practice is to choose an attribution model based on the unique sales cycle of the business, the insights the model provides, as well as the impact of the insights on campaign efforts.

Attribution models for short sales cycles

For marketers engaging consumers across short sales cycles with limited touchpoints, first or last touch attribution models can quickly identify the messages that initiate or close a sale. However, neither model provides insight into the effectiveness of any other engagements across the sales cycle.

First-Touch Attribution. First-touch attribution looks at a consumer’s engagement history and assigns full value to the first touchpoint engaged with along the sales cycle. This model is easy to set up and track, and provides insights into how consumers are introduced to a brand.

Last-Touch Attribution. Last-touch attribution looks at the last touchpoint engaged with prior to conversion. For marketers, this can prove valuable when investigating the touchpoints that influence consumers at the bottom of the funnel. Like first-touch models, the underlying math is relatively straightforward and easy to implement.

Attribution models for longer sales cycles

For marketers engaging consumers across longer sales cycles with a higher number of touchpoints before conversion, there are more comprehensive attribution models that identify the most effective touchpoints.

U-Shaped Attribution. Named for the weight of credit this model gives touchpoints across the sales cycle, U-shaped attribution assigns heavier credit to the first and last consumer touches prior to converting (hence the U shape). Specifically, it assigns 40 percent of credit to both the first and last touch, then divides the remaining credit between the mid-funnel touchpoints. This model is useful for identifying the combinations of media and messaging that hook and convert consumers.

W-Shaped Attribution. W-shaped attribution assigns more credit to the first and last touchpoints before conversion, but also assigns heavier value to the mid-funnel touchpoint where a consumer can be actively considered a lead. Value is then assigned across the remaining touchpoints evenly. This model is useful for understanding the touchpoints that deliver and convert leads, while also showcasing the touchpoints that influence consumers to actively engage with purchase intent. However, W-shaped attribution limits visibility into the mid-funnel consumer engagements that help drive conversions.

Time-Decay Attribution. Time-decay attribution assigns increasing value to touchpoints as consumers grow closer to conversion. This model recognizes that various touches provide different value to consumer influence, and is useful for marketers looking to identify the touchpoints that directly lead to conversion. The downside is that this model values touchpoints based on where they engage consumers across the funnel, instead of the impact the touchpoints had on consumers.

Attribution models for insights into audience behavior

For marketers looking to understand how consumers are interacting with campaign efforts, linear attribution may be beneficial.

Linear Attribution. Linear attribution assigns even value across the entire sales cycle. For marketers, this model can provide insights into the customer journey, while providing a “big picture” look at digital marketing efforts. The catch is that not all touchpoints are created equally. While this model can’t identify the touchpoints driving ROI, it can provide useful insights into where along the digital mix consumers are engaging.

Combining models for omnichannel marketing attribution

For marketers looking for the most comprehensive view of touchpoints driving conversions, no single attribution model can effectively optimize campaigns in today’s omnichannel marketing landscape.

In order to effectively understand the touchpoints driving ROI across online and offline channels, marketing attribution models need to be combined as part of an omnichannel attribution strategy. (For more on that, see Marketing Evolution’s blog post, How to Combine Existing Attribution Measurements into an Omnichannel Attribution Model.)

This means that marketers should look at the value and insights each marketing attribution model provides and pick the ones that will be most beneficial to the marketing analytics needs of their organization. The idea is to combine insights to provide a holistic view of attribution that can help optimize campaign efforts across the marketing mix.

It’s that last part that remains elusive for most marketers. According to a recent report, eMarketer estimates fewer than 10% of companies are capable of attributing at a more holistic level [source].

While marketers have no shortage of attribution models to aid them in understanding consumer behavior and the various touchpoints that influence the path to conversion, the following bears repeating: no single model delivers comprehensive and accurate marketing attribution measurements across the omnichannel journey.

Marketers need to combine models to get top-down and bottom-up insights that provide the greatest opportunity to optimize campaigns.


Editor’s note: The original version of this article first appeared on Marketing Evolution’s blog, December 18, 2018.

Kristin Hambelton is the Chief Marketing Officer at Marketing Evolution. To learn more about RRD and Marketing Evolution’s strategic alliance, head here.


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