Data Strategy

What Value Can Marketing Attribution Deliver?

May 4, 2021

How well does your company understand how you achieved — or didn’t — your marketing and sales goals? Is it clear to you what touchpoints in the customer journey your prospects, and eventual customers, engaged with, and what ultimately brought them to you?

Identifying and valuing interactions with marketing touchpoints is what marketing attribution is all about. If you can pinpoint what happens at each step of the customer journey, you can start to get an increasingly complete picture of how each touchpoint feeds into the marketing engine.

What is marketing attribution?

On the surface, marketing attribution sounds simple enough. And once upon a time, it was. In the pre-digital era, most businesses didn’t have multi-touch marketing campaigns that led to customers bouncing from channel to channel. Now, the pathway is exponentially more complex, but with the side benefit that you can access a great deal more data about what customers are doing, what their intent is, what their journey looks like, and from this, determine how best to optimize and allocate marketing effort and spend

So what is marketing attribution, really? 

Fundamentally, marketing attribution means attributing, or assigning, credit to different events in the customer journey. Some events may be weighted more heavily because they are more valuable conversion points or happen further down the funnel, and therefore closer to making a sale. The idea in modern digital marketing is to deploy robust and detailed enough attribution models that you can capture as much information as possible to get as close to understanding and tracking where conversions come from: what channels, what content, what did you spend to get that conversion, etc.? 

This also covers the “why” of marketing attribution. It doesn’t make sense to launch marketing campaigns built on strategies that aren’t powered by data-driven insight. You need to know more about the customer journey and its touchpoints to direct your resources most effectively and drive campaigns toward conversions. Your efforts, without this insight, might work sometimes, but it won’t be systematic, data-driven or necessarily impart insights for future campaigns and spend decisions into what you did well or badly. Essentially marketing attribution is meant to provide structure and guidance for future marketing operations. Without it, marketing efforts are a shot in the dark.

Marketing attribution: Easier said than done

Why might a company be tempted to forego investing in marketing attribution? Let’s face it: customer journeys and decision-making processes are becoming longer, more complex and ultimately, multi-touch in nature. With each added layer of complexity, doing accurate marketing attribution becomes more challenging and requires more expertise. The non-linear, multi-device, multi-touch paths prospects take before finally converting are unpredictable and can be a bit all over the place. How do you even start to track and sort all of this disparate data?

Making sense of marketing touchpoint interactions: Marketing attribution models

Earlier, when we mentioned assigning credit to different touchpoints in the customer journey, we were beginning to paint a picture of how attribution modeling can be adopted to help analyze the effectiveness of your marketing channels and efforts. 

What is attribution modeling? At the most basic level, it’s a way of distributing and weighting the credit for each conversion. What are marketing attribution models? Attribution modeling is a framework for analyzing which touchpoints, or marketing channels, receive credit for a conversion. Each attribution model distributes the value of a conversion across each touchpoint differently.

Both single-touch attribution and multi-touch attribution models exist, which do exactly what they claim. A single-touch attribution model will assign 100% of the conversion credit to one single touchpoint. If your model favors a customer’s first-click model, all of the credit goes to the first touchpoint with which a customer interacted in their journey. The same is true in reverse for last-click attribution. While these can serve as indicators, a single-touch model tells you only about a limited snapshot of a journey (in this case, the beginning or the end), but nothing about the entire process and what touchpoints played roles in between. Multi-touch attribution, although considerably more difficult to do well, aims to deliver a fuller picture of the customer journey and the most valuable interactions within it.

Understanding the customer journey

Another reason why single-source/single-touch attribution isn’t adequate in a multi-touch world is that it rarely reflects the nuance of the customer’s stage in the journey coupled with their informational needs. 

Let’s look at the customer journey in more detail. If we assume there are five key stages of the journey, i.e.:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

We know we need to create content and campaigns that will target users at all stages of this journey. We don’t necessarily think that potential customers will follow this exact path in a linear fashion, and many multi-touch attribution exercises end up showing a surprising path indeed. A prospective customer moves through the stages of the journey at an unpredictable pace, and the interactions along the way can range from PPC and email marketing, to phone center contacts or word-of-mouth referrals. How can you capture data from the entire marketing mix, channels, platforms and offline? 

The key here is to recognize that the marketing activities at each stage of the journey all have value, and understanding what you spend compared to what you get, though, complicated, is essential. More complex multi-touch marketing attribution models can help, and what model you choose depends a lot on what you want to measure, what your marketing and business goals are, what your buying cycle looks like and how important granularity is in your attribution data. 

Attributing your benefit

What can marketing attribution give you?

  • In-depth insight into the complete customer conversion and buying journey
  • Insight for adjusting and optimizing marketing strategy and tactics, e.g. channels, distribution, content, budget, frequency, target audiences
  • Pinpoint where a conversion or sale happens in the journey, particularly in long/complex processes where the attribution flow is likeliest to get lost
  • More accurate revenue attribution by channel, opportunity to improve ROAS/ROI figures
  • Better insight for predictive marketing and justifications for future spend and budgetary planning
  • Opportunity, in complex cases, to stitch together past and present multi-source data for much more accurate conversion and revenue tracking

Are you ready for better marketing attribution? 

Have you been thinking about how you can understand what happens when prospects visit your site, what journey they take, and how they convert? We’d like to hear about what you have in mind and help you with your marketing attribution journey.

Let us help you start your marketing attribution journey for better long-term marketing results.

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