What Is Attribution?

Attribution is the identification of a set of user actions (“events” or “touchpoints”) that contribute to a desired outcome (“conversion”) and the assignment of value to each of these actions. Attribution reflects the touchpoints along the customer journey that may have impacted purchase and is correlative rather than causal. It answers the question: “What touchpoints were associated with a consumer conversion?”

In marketing, attribution is a strategy used to understand how an ad impacts sales, allowing a company to see which marketing channel encouraged a customer to purchase a specific product or service.

Why is marketing attribution important?

Marketing attribution allows organizations to see if their ad was successful, analyze current marketing strategies, and make necessary changes to ensure the marketing budget is used effectively. Efficient attribution allows a marketing team to reach desired customers with a tailored message at a time that will push the consumer to action. This will increase conversion rates and result in a higher return on investment (ROI). 

Marketers can use data from attribution to better understand the consumer and personalize the ads to be more effective throughout the consumer’s conversion process. Additionally, insights gained from the data can be used when making changes to a product to ensure it is aligned with what the customer is looking for.

Marketing attribution models

The complexity of marketing attribution requires organizations to find a model or strategy that fits their brand. Single and multi-touch attribution are the two main groups of attribution models, and each has its own core models. 

Single-touch attribution model:

With single-touch attribution models, 100% of the credit of a sale is given to a single touchpoint, which is when a customer comes in contact with a brand. There are two kinds of single-touch attribution models. They are: 

First-touch attribution – First-touch attribution assumes that a customer interacted with one advertisement and converted, regardless of subsequent messages that may have been seen, thus giving full attribution to the first touchpoint.

Last-touch attribution – Last-touch attribution does not account for prior interactions. Instead, it gives full attribution credit to the last touchpoint a consumer encountered before making a purchase.

Multi-touch attribution models:

Multi-touch attribution models are a more accurate way of tracking touchpoints that consumers interact with leading up to a purchase. The difference between multi-touch and single-touch attribution is how credit is divided between touchpoints leading up to a purchase. 

Linear attribution – Linear attribution gives equal credit to each touchpoint. This motivates the conversion or purchase, and records the interactions by the consumer that lead to a purchase, also called lead conversion.

U-shaped attribution – The U-shaped attribution model records interactions separately, giving credit to the touchpoints that are more impactful in leading the consumer to purchase. For example, with this model, the first touch and lead conversion touch are equally credited with 40% of the responsibility for the lead. The remaining 20% are divided between touchpoints encountered between the first and lead conversion touch.

Time decay attribution – Time decay attribution gives credit to each touchpoint, with more credit given to the touchpoints closer to the purchase. Time decay assumes the more recent interactions had a more significant impact on the sale.

W-shaped attribution – W-shaped attribution is similar to the U-shaped model but has one more touchpoint called the opportunity stage. The W-shaped model credits the first touch, lead conversion, and opportunity creation with 30% each, and the remaining 10% is divided among other interactions.