Skip to main content
Mediacurrent logo
Hero Background Image

Blog Post

Marketing Attribution: What You Need to Know

by Jessie Golombiecki
December 14, 2021

Some of us remember life before the internet (seems crazy to think about!). During those times, making a purchase might have involved seeing ads on TV or billboards, asking friends and family for feedback, or relying on the information a salesperson provided before making a purchase. 

Fast forward to today where touchpoints for consumers have grown significantly. A customer may read a blog, attend an event, visit your site, and talk to a colleague before ever interacting with your organization. This can make it difficult for marketers to understand what channels and activities are impactful. To help marketers better understand ROI across all of these touchpoints, marketing attribution comes into play. 

What is Marketing Attribution, and Why Should I Care?

Most marketers are asked many times what ROI resulted from a specific campaign or what activities led to a conversion. Marketing attribution gives you the ability to provide answers to these questions. 

In simple terms, marketing attribution tracks and values marketing touchpoints to help you understand what contributes to your desired outcome (so what actions did a user take before they purchased your product or service). This will give you the insight to understand what campaigns and activities are seeing the greatest ROI (whether it’s a new ad campaign, a webinar you co-hosted with a partner, an email campaign you pushed out, etc.).  

Marketing attribution has many benefits. Here are a few:

  • Helps justify investments
  • Provides a better understanding of the customer journey
  • Gives you a better allocation of budget & reduces wasted spend
  • Creates actionable insights
  • Increases the quality of your leads

What are Attribution Models?

When using marketing attribution, a decision you’ll have to make is what type of attribution model to use. There are several different types of attribution models to consider, with pros and cons to each. I’ll review a few of the more widely used models.

  • First-touch attribution: This attribution model distributes the value of the conversion entirely to the first touchpoint. So let’s say your new customer met you at a tradeshow, visited your site afterwards, downloaded an eBook, and then made a purchase. Even though several actions were taken before the buyer converted, all credit would be allocated to the tradeshow touchpoint since that was the first touchpoint.
  • Last-touch attribution: You probably guessed it: this model only distributes value to the last touchpoint. So in the example I just shared, the last touchpoint would be the eBook download, and all attribution would be credited to this.
  • Multi-touch attribution: For this attribution model, each touchpoint is given credit to contributing to the final conversion. As mentioned earlier, many consumers do their research before buying, so this could mean there are several touchpoints attributed to the purchase. How the attribution is weighted for each touchpoint can vary. For example, a linear model gives equal weight to each touchpoint versus a time decay model which gives more credit to touchpoints later in the buying cycle.
  • Custom attribution: This model allows your organization to determine how you want to weigh different touchpoints. So, it is similar to the multi-touch model where you can give different touchpoints different weights but this gives you full control to customize based on your needs.

Determining what model to use ultimately needs to be based on what makes the most sense for your organization. If using a first or last touch attribution model, you just need to keep in mind that many touchpoints won’t have any credit attributed to them. This could potentially make some marketing activities seem less effective when in reality they still play a role (just typically not the first or last touch in the buying cycle). 

What Challenges Come with Attribution?

At face value, attribution sounds great but it comes with challenges. Here are some things you might experience as you dive into attribution.

Buy In & Alignment: Not only do you need buy-in from the organization, you need alignment. Everyone could agree that attribution is good, but with different definitions across departments of what it looks like, you are going to face discrepancies. 

Tying Metrics to Business Objectives: The challenges here are twofold. Both the increasing number of data points available to measure and the challenge of not always getting actionable goals from the organization can cause friction. 

Bad Data: Most organizations are faced with less than ideal data. Perhaps it’s inaccurate or maybe just incomplete or siloed. Identifying and filling those gaps is difficult. Ensuring you’re working with clean, segmented data will help improve your marketing attribution model.

Complex Buyer Journey: The decision making process consumers go through is more complex than ever and only getting more complicated. Attributing to the increasing number of touchpoints makes it ever more challenging.

Cost: While costs can be reduced through open source technology like Google Analytics, Data Studio, and even pairing your solution with open source CMSs like Drupal, attribution can still be costly in terms of people, outsourcing for skills you don't have on your team.

Technology Platforms: If you are using multiple channels, which you likely are, attribution measurement looks different on different platforms. For example, Facebook measures differently than Google Analytics. Understanding the differences in attribution will impact your overall results and what decisions you make later. 

How to get started with marketing attribution

Before jumping into making marketing attribution a part of your marketing strategy, it’s important to get stakeholders aligned and on board with using it. 

Once you have leadership buy-in, you’re going to want to think about goals and KPIs, but one critical step in implementing attribution at your organization is utilizing marketing tools. There are many different platforms that can be used to automate and streamline marketing attribution, but it’s going to require some initial work (and involvement from your team) to make attribution beneficial for your organization. Investing in the proper tools and measurement strategies will be worthwhile in the end. 

Take a Phased Approach

Marketing attribution can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking a phased approach is one option to ease into an attribution strategy. Maybe you focus on implementing first-touch attribution and after getting a better grasp on the activity happening during the sales process, implement a different attribution model that makes sense for your organization. The key is to continuously improve the process, which will provide you with data you can rely on to better understand your users and help you make decisions on how to allocate your marketing budget. 

If you’re ready to implement an attribution strategy at your organization, contact Mediacurrent to learn how we can help you get started.

Jessie Golombiecki

Meet team member, Jessie Golombiecki

As Marketing Manager, Jessie creates and executes marketing strategies and campaigns, participates in events, and initiates communication between departments. She uses data-driven results to develop and execute marketing plans that drive business growth and increase brand awareness.

Related Insights

  • Jessie Golombiecki
    Blog from Jessie Golombiecki

    How to Foster a Data-Driven Culture Hollow right arrow icon

  • Mediacurrent logo
  • Elliott Mower
  • Mediacurrent logo