Every marketer knows that measuring campaign success is the key to continuous improvement, but with myriad touchpoints and channels through which consumers interact with brands today, pinpointing the touchpoints, marketing collateral, and other experiences that generate the most results is anything but simple. Attribution marketing aims to solve this challenge by enabling marketers to analyze effectiveness on an individual campaign and touchpoint level, but there are multiple marketing attribution models to choose from.
How should you evaluate various media and touchpoints to assign dollar values to those interactions? Is there a one-size-fits-all, gold standard attribution model that you should be using? To clear up some of the confusion surrounding marketing attribution and find out what attribution models are best-suited for measuring campaign success, we reached out to a panel of marketing and analytics pros and asked them to weigh in on this question:
Marty Spargo is the Co-Founder of REIZE Energy Drink.
“Personally, I like last non-direct link because…”
In my opinion, this is the touch that got someone across the line and caused them to convert. The truth is much more complicated than that though, so we can’t discount any touch as playing a part in assisting the conversion process.
Sam Warren is the manager of marketing and partnerships at RankPay, a top-rated SEO service that helps thousands of small businesses earn higher search rankings.
“While there are any number of ways to model attribution…”
One stands a cut above the rest in today’s world where MCFs (multi-channel-funnels) are the norm.
It’s hard enough to track visitors across multiple devices and channels, but it’s especially difficult to know how much credit to give each touch-point along the customer journey. Unless you have advanced data tracking and strong analysts able to create a custom model, I’d easily recommend position-based attribution.
In position-based attribution, the first and last touch-points are worth 40% each, and anything else in between shares evenly of the remaining 20%. This allows for an in-depth understanding of what your customer journey really looks like. It also gives you a clear overview of where the most important and common touch-points are that lead to conversions.
As the Executive Solutions & Business Development Manager at C3 Metrics, Matt Matejik has the pleasure of working with marketing professionals daily to solve some of their biggest headaches such as: no single source of truth, inability to prove demand creation, too much time spent on reporting, and decreased ROI.
“There are many different models to choose from, and in most cases it comes down to which is best for the client…”
C3 settled upon a machine learning bayesian approach because of its adaptability. The model learns how consumers interact with client assets and applies these learnings to better predict the causality of marketing stimuli.
Earl Choate is CEO of Concrete Camouflage, a company that designs and manufacturers artist concrete stains, sealers, and floor waxes.
“I’m a fan of first touch lead conversion attribution…”
It allows you to see which channels (paid search, organic search, social, referral, direct, etc.) drive the most leads to your site. Ultimately, that’s the goal of any marketing campaign: driving leads which you can convert to customers. Even though the customer journey includes multiple touch points, I believe the first point is the most important.
Oli Russell-Cowan is the Founding Director of Rad Season, the world’s first platform bridging the industry gap between online travel agent, event directory, and media. He has over 15 years’ experience in international business development, spanning multiple industries including Events, Media, Digital, Action Sports, Travel, and Tourism.
“As a startup founder, it’s important to understand all facets of my business, including return on marketing investment and analytics to track campaigns we run throughout the year…”
With a business based on cyclical events and seasons, it’s important to understand tipping points (what’s converting and what’s not).
As a company that runs campaigns across email, social, guest posting, and content syndication, it’s important for me to understand what touch points are tipping points for conversions, which is why I defer to the Custom Model for assigning attribution.
With the Custom Model, a.k.a. the Rockstar, you can identify specific business questions/objectives, all while comparing the custom model to other models side-by-side. This model is ideal for customizing factors based on what best fits your business and is customizable over time.
Nikki Hallgrimsdottir is a Vice President of Growth at Algomus, an Enterprise AI company offering hosted business intelligence solutions that deliver domain-specific insights from data by leveraging the power of AI and predictive analytics.
“Identifying which path your prospects traveled…”
Before converting to a customer and then assigning a value to each channel can assist in calculating the return on your marketing investment. However, the path is very rarely a linear journey. Several models are available for determining the touch points responsible for conversions and assigning credit for the touch points that have tipped the conversion, but my go-to model is the Time Decay Model.
In the Time Decay Model, the touch points closest to the time of conversion receive the most credit and the touch points farthest away from the conversion receive less credit. Time decay is an appropriate model to use that imitates prospect behavior, because the more acquainted prospects become with your brand, the more likely they are to consider purchasing your goods or services.
Donald Gallant is the Vice President of Analytics and Innovation for i.Predictus, a Marketsmith, Inc. company, where he leads the Analytics team in driving innovation and instant insights for clients based on historical data trends and predictive modeling. Named to DM News “Top 40 Under 40,” Donald is an industry rising star.
“Advertise like you don’t need the money…”
For marketers, today’s attribution paradox is doing just that. Old attribution models employed to see which media are driving purchases are leaving vast amounts of money on the table. So, how does a savvy marketer get the most bang for the buck by redefining the model?
Let’s start by looking at the current attribution landscape. Determining the conversion value assigned to each step in the customer journey has evolved at an incredible pace. Marketers are continually faced with better tools and technologies that track and measure the efficacy of these touch points.
Yet, with all the advancements in attribution, it’s surprising to note that the most commonly used models still only offer a partial view, typically focusing solely on online events.
Existing Marketing Attribution Models Scratch the Surface
The evolution of your attribution maturity model differs based on how you drive your business. The first level, regardless of your sales or marketing channels, is having no attribution at all. Shockingly, this accounts for about 25% of advertisers. This lack of attribution creates an environment in which every channel is fending for itself (single source attribution). A CMO may be using search, display and email, but still has no inkling of which tactic is most effective or if the budget is effectively allocated to drive the desired return.
It’s no surprise, then, that the average tenure for CMOs of leading U.S. consumer brand companies dropped from 48 months to 44 months (this according to the 12th annual CMO tenure study by executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart).
The next level in maturing attribution is what we call “whole order” attribution. This is where the marketer considers the conversion path, but usually it focuses on last or first touch. One example would be direct mail match back.
The benefit is that it eliminates the accuracy challenge of analyzing data from siloed channels, but since the frequency of communications can vary, you may land with a skewed view of the business.
For example, you may blast emails daily but only send direct mail monthly. This means email would show a much higher rate of response. However, we know from hundreds of test panels across dozens of categories of marketers that customers respond best when they are touched across both online and offline channels, like direct mail and email.
Moreover, whole order attribution typically uses the simple “last click/first click” model, which assigns all the credit of a desired outcome to a single event like the first or last click or ad shown. These models provide little insight into the customer’s real journey or touch points that had the greatest impact. By assigning all credit to either the first or last touch point, you choose to ignore the impact of crucial interactions in the midst of the customer’s journey. This lack of accurate quantitative measurement could lead to decisions that adversely affect the brand.
Moving Up the Attribution Continuum
Newer models such as segment-level fractional attribution and customer-level attribution are a big leap from whole order attribution, and tend to be used by a more sophisticated level of marketer because they allow for smarter optimization of the media spend.
Segment-level fractional attribution applies weight to every touch point in a customer’s journey, from first touch point to outcome, and every interaction in-between. With buyer journeys now being more multichannel, marketers need a clear understanding of the tactics and circumstances that lead to the final outcome. While many marketers are now focused on digital click path [DCP], it overlooks everything else they do offline. While DCP may be all the rage right now, it ignores the impact of broader advertising.
According to eMarketer’s newest quarterly ad spending forecast, “Next year will mark a major milestone for ad spending…total digital ad spending will equal $77.37 billion, or 38.4% of total ad spending.”
The use of segmentation in the fractional attribution model provides better insights into who your best customers are. It can highlight the marketing tactics that work best for different segments over time, allowing you to optimize your media spend. For example, you may want to better engage younger consumers or millennials. This type of attribution could show you which digital media is most effective for that specific segment.
With more data, more advanced digital attribution models can be employed, such as time-decay, position-based and linear. However, the complexity in the algorithm means you may need to employ some statistical heavyweights who specialize in marketing data science. Also, while this model is more sophisticated, it can still end up assigning arbitrary values and leaving large gaps when customers switch between channels, especially when going from online to offline.
Marketers looking for the elusive 1:1 customer relationship may turn to a customer-level attribution model. This model focuses on an ability to understand the touch points used for each specific customer profile and how they drive response. The ultimate goal is to drive the right content with the right vehicle and the right time.
In this model, the algorithm and the data are more complex, but the larger challenge for a marketer may be exactly how to employ the intelligence it creates. Marketing automation and the use of persona groupings can help empower not only this attribution logic, but marketing intelligence at a much deeper level.
Discovering the Holy Grail: Marketing Mix Modeling
Marketing Mix Modeling; the most sophisticated approach thus far, has incredible potential and is the next logical step in marketing measurement and open the door to predictive analytics. Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) shows how sales or other outcomes are dependent on various media, marketing and non-marketing tactics.
Using statistical and data-science techniques and technologies, MMM synthesizes data and estimates the impact media and marketing activities have on outcomes (e.g. sales, traffic). MMM ingests months or years of media spend data from both digital and offline channels, as well as data from non-media or external sources that might influence sales outcomes (for example: consumer sentiment, seasonality, promotions, etc.).
The MMM is, by far, the most advanced and sophisticated form of marketing measurement. In quantifying each marketing element in terms of incremental sales volume, revenue, new customers or other desired outcomes – rather than standard click metrics – CMOs finally have the insights they need to make decisions that will drive their business.
A View of the Future
Moreover, the beauty of MMM is that it is not limited to hindsight, but can show future outcomes. CEOs and boards tend to focus on revenue, growth and profit. Much of today’s marketing metrics are just noise to them. The accurate and predictive nature of MMM allows a CMO to know the potential impact of each marketing investment, which engenders respect and accountability at the “C” level.
Clearly, the time is right for the implementation of MMM. New media, new markets and new demographics continue to create new challenges for marketers. At the same time, the C-suite is demanding greater accountability on the marketing spend. As a result, marketers must make better, defensible, choices regarding the allocation of scarce resources to maximize sales, return and profitability.
Veronica Romney is the President/Co-Founder of LoSoMo, an online marketing agency with a specialty in location-based marketing services, servicing clients all across the country.
“Gone are the days of last click attribution…”
It’s not true. Users are often touched by a brand 6-7x before conducting business with that entity. It’s the effectiveness of your overall marketing campaign that layers those 6-7 touch points that should receive the credit. We give a lot of weight to assisted conversion tracking in Google Analytics. For example, we can see if Facebook ads (though often not the last direct conversion medium) is an effective marketing strategy if we find it to be the same assisted conversion medium in most sales.
Jitesh Keswani is the CEO of e-Intelligence.in.
“The most critical part of any marketing is…”
Knowing which efforts and channels are bringing the most ROI. It’s a very critical information that every marketing professional needs to know for finding new customers and retaining the existing ones at the lowest costs.
Measuring ROI on marketing efforts gets trickier as more number of channels are introduced into the funnel. From my experience of over a decade in managing online marketing campaigns of business of all sizes and shapes across the globe, I would say that there is no right or wrong attribution marketing model. It really depends upon your business model, digital marketing strategies deployed, and types of consumers you are after.
Regardless of the model you choose, it must be mid-to-long run as you don’t want to be switching models every now and then. While a linear model lets you give equal credit to every touch point along the conversion funnel, if you follow a relatively longer sales cycle then the time decay model works better.
A model that has proven to be quite effective for my agency as well as clients is the custom attribution marketing model. In the age of A/B split testing and AI, such a flexible model provides you with deeper and better insights of the campaign over a period. Especially when it comes to content marketing campaigns, it’s important to see what type of content has driven the most significant traffic to your site in the past. With the increasing number of channels and devices being introduced into the marketing funnel continuously, a custom attribution marketing model is the best in the long run.
Based in Silicon Slopes, Utah, Brandon Wright is proud to lead the digital marketing efforts of ThoughtLab, a digital creative & marketing agency. A true generalist at heart who believes the answers are always in the data, he specializes in CRO, SEO, and lead nurturing.
“There is no perfect marketing attribution model that fits all businesses…”
When starting a new project I prefer to export my data into an Excel template that will weight attribution using linear, last interaction, and position-based models. I’ll use a combination of these methods to make decisions in the early days. Once I have a few months of data (depending on sales cycle length) I’ll interview as many customers as I possibly can. Typically, once armed with this real-world data, the choice becomes clear and I’ll be able to choose the attribution model that works best.
Leslie Osman is the Marketing Director at one of the Midwest’s fastest growing insurance agencies, Hausmann-Johnson Insurance.
“There are so many different marketing attribution models, and no right or wrong choice…”
You have to align your choice with your own digital strategy. The most effective for us has been position based (U-shaped) attribution. The first touch to our website and the last touch before conversation are treated equally. A visitor’s first click helps us understand what brings people to our brand, while last touch attribution gives us an understanding of what content converts most effectively.
Eagan Heath runs Get Found Madison, a digital marketing agency in Madison, WI that specializes in SEO, AdWords, Website Analytics, and Social Media Marketing.
“With digital analytics, marketing campaign attribution has come a long way since the old days…”
That said, it’s still never perfect. Here are some methods I’ve found that provide the fullest picture:
Brannan Glessner is the Director of Marketing at Express Homebuyers. Brannan oversees all marketing initiatives for Express Homebuyers, from traditional advertising to digital and content marketing. Express Homebuyer’s marketing promotes a unique, easy and stress-free way to sell a home. Brannan has over seven years of B2C marketing experience, with a focus on digital marketing.
“The most effective marketing attribution model is…”
A type of multi-funnel attribution model. Each company is different, so you need to take your business model and tweak the multi-attribution model based on your sales cycle. If you are a lead generation B2C sales organization, it is extremely important to give proper credit to the correct marketing sources. This way, you are accurately attributing the correct sources with profit numbers.
The mistake most sales organizations make is that they complete last click attribution, which attaches profit dollars to one source. If you have invested a lot in traditional advertising (TV, radio, print), chances are your potential customers have heard of you elsewhere. With the amount of money that it costs for top of the funnel activities (traditional media), it is negligent not to attach proper profit numbers to those sources.
My recommendation to any sales or marketing organization is to come up with a robust multi-funnel attribution model. Then, invest marketing dollars into marketing attribution technology to decipher where you are spending your marketing dollars and where you are receiving your profit.
Sam Ruchlewicz is the Director of Digital Strategy and Data Analytics at Warschawski, a full-service marketing communications agency, where he leads integrated digital marketing and data analytics efforts for clients and the agency. He is also a member of the faculty at Betamore, a start-up incubator and education non-profit in the Baltimore area, and frequent speaker and guest lecturer on topics related to digital marketing and analytics.
“The short answer is it depends on the business, the customer, the product, and the goal…”
The most effective model is one that has been custom-built for a specific business or organization using a substantial amount of statistical analysis and validated over a robust sample. The best-performing organizations often have different attribution models for different goals and customer segments, all of which have been designed using the above process and all of which are continually refined.
So, while I can’t provide you a perfect, one-size-fits-all attribution model, I can provide some guidance on what models tend to be the least effective:
Aaron Watts is an SEO professional who specializes in growing a site’s traffic and conversion rate.
“When it comes to attribution marketing…”
A well-structured sales funnel can play a huge part in tracking the success of your campaigns. The key goal of any campaign is getting the conversion, whatever that may be, so when your campaigns generate interaction, that should be the focus. If your sales funnel works well and is integrated with your CRM, you should be able to easily attribute each conversions, or drop-off, to a certain piece of marketing activity.
Sarah is an award winning digital and affiliate marketing expert ranked in the Top 40 Digital Marketing Strategists of 2012, Top 100 Female Entrepreneur in Canada (#55), and PROFIT 500 list for fastest growing companies in Canada (#90). She is also recognized by The New York Times as an expert in performance marketing.
“Attribution modelling varies from…”
Company to company and campaign to campaign, and testing is recommended in most instances to determine the best model for each individual brand. We find that there are differences in best-practice attribution depending on the vertical a company is in, such as B2C e-commerce versus B2B subscription versus Travel and Hospitality brands (where the real conversion takes place after the booking is redeemed).
In the case of performance marketing, which is our area of expertise, we often see clients coming in already set up with a last-click model, which rewards and benefits the partners who close the sale. This generally benefits the coupon, browser extension, and loyalty partners most, who often come in later in the click-to-consume path (once the product is already in the shopping cart). Different models such as first click, commission splitting, or last-to-cart (the first partner to get a customer into the shopping cart) could be effective alternatives to last-click if top of funnel sales and KPIs are more heavily valued.
In any case, attribution needs to be explored on a case by case basis, taking into consideration all marketing channels, consumer touch points, offline and device tracking (omni-channel tracking), and the determined value of particular actions, then tied to overall goals, objectives, and desired KPIs.
Davide is a serial entrepreneur who has been working in technology for over 20 years. He’s the CEO of ClickMeter and the Founder of Rebrandly, a link management tool that empowers users to put their brands on their links.
“The most effective and reliable model for measuring campaign success is…”
To use conversion tracking tools. Basically, you create a tracking link which includes a conversion tracking option. There are a number of tools available online that have this capability.
When the link is clicked it drops a cookie on the page visitor’s browser. When they then convert, whether it’s filling out a form, subscribing, or making a purchase, the cookie is detected by the link tracking service and the conversion is associated with this user. These tools make it easy to create a tracking link for every campaign that you’re running to understand which one receives the most conversions. It can even track ads and messages. These tools also make it easy to AB test different messages and landing pages. The thing that makes tracking links so useful is that they can be embedded on any page, social media message, video, or advertisement of any kind you like, just like a normal URL.
In our business we find that this is the most effective, easy to use, and reliable way to measure the success of our marketing campaigns. You can even increase your brand exposure by using your own domain on the links you’re sharing rather than a generic link shortening domain. These are known as vanity URLs or branded links.
Dan Harmon is the Director of Sales at Otium Boutique. He is a specialist in business development, market research, and analysis with a passion for adventure. He especially enjoys working in the mountains and meeting intelligent people with thought-provoking ideas for how they can make marketing more relevant, engaging, and timely.
“If a marketer wants to correctly measure the success of a campaign using an attribution model…”
There is an in-built assumption that they have access to good data on each aspect of every customer event. Therefore, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that there is no such thing as perfect data for most businesses, because more often than not they are unable to successfully solve the question of tracking a unique person across multiple platforms, devices, and even into the offline world. Consequently, we need a model that does not overtly favor a single event (immediately discounting first-click and last-click attribution models) but rather divides credit between all known events and includes some acknowledgement of the unknown. This leaves us with a few options:
The choice is up to the marketer and could be considered part of the strategy. In boutique hotel marketing, for example, we advocate the time decay model provided that the applied calculation takes into account the booking cycle evident in the existing sales data from the hotel. In many instances of choosing a boutique hotel for a vacation, there is a considerable amount of time spent in the dreaming/planning stages and multiple touch points therein. Consequently, we advise on a long time window to capture these events and give appropriate credit.
We’re now developing tools to take this into the offline conversion world so that hotels can get a more complete understanding of the customer journey to purchase and use data from customer’s previous events (content viewed online, purchases made in person or on the phone, etc.) to personalize the experience during and after their stay. What we’re beginning to see is that by developing a strong attribution model for boutique hotel marketing, we’re able to demonstrate the value of high quality content as part of an marketing campaign. In summary, an attribution model that gives credit to all aspects of the customer journey is the most effective for marketers to measure campaign success because the result is most likely to improve the overall experience for the customer.
Formerly a marketer for Fortune 10 companies, Ajay Prasad now owns the digital marketing agency GMR Web Team, a seven-figure transcription services company.
“Marketing attribution is defined as the credit or value you assign to a given marketing touchpoint…”
It may seem like a simple concept, but it’s actually quite difficult to grasp. Three pieces of advice that I can give to you are: there is no right or wrong attribution model, keep it simple, and stick with it.
When you first choose your model, be sure that it’s made for the mid-to-long run. If you choose something that is only a fit for the short-term, then you will have to switch your model in a short amount of time. And bouncing around from model to model is definitely a negative for your company, because everyone, including yourself, will get confused and frustrated with the changes in models.
One attribution model I recommend is the first-click attribution. This allows us to understand what brings customers to us. Last touch will help with seeing which channels and assets convert the best, but we ultimately want to get people to us, and first click is the way to go. This method allows us to stay on top of PPC while also staying on top of where our conversions are.
“There isn’t one best model to measure campaign success…”
Instead, success comes from looking at a mixture of models so that you can get a better understanding of how all of your campaigns perform and influence customers. A first-click model helps you understand how campaigns drive customers indirectly toward a sale but doesn’t give enough credit to the campaigns that drove sales directly. Time decay and linear models can be helpful to see everything in perspective, but the credit weighting can skew your perception of reality since customers rarely behave in such a logical fashion when deciding to make a purchase. However, by looking at a variety of attribution models, alongside other metrics, you can get an idea of how your various marketing campaigns influence the customer journey.
Roger Wu is the co-founder of Cooperatize, a travel-focused sponsored content marketplace.
“We’ve found the best attribution model to be…”
Does this advertisement lead to a prospect doing a Google Search? With the ubiquity of Google and the neutral view that Google provides (or people think that it provides), people would rather do a Google search and see the good, bad, and ugly rather than just the good that clicking on the given link provides.
Pierre is a content strategist at Spiralytics, a full-service performance marketing company. His life goal is to make the online world a better place, one piece of content at a time. In his free time, Pierre pines for a faster Internet connection so he can watch cat videos in high-definition.
“The difficulty with various attribution models is…”
That they place importance on specific channels and lifecycle stages. The issue with that is every sales funnel is different, and channels vary in effectiveness depending on the industry/business.
For example, a B2C company might use the First-Touch Attribution Model when their product is relatively low-value and prospects probably don’t need to be nurtured much. A B2B company with a higher-value product and a longer sales cycle, on the other hand, might focus on Lead Conversion-Touch Attribution or Last-Touch Attribution because of their extensive nurturing efforts.
So, there are essentially two major areas of focus when it comes to attribution:
We put slightly more emphasis on sales converted because we’re a B2B services company looking to nurture leads into long-term customers. This being the case, the main stages we focus on are Lead Conversion and Opportunity Creation.
We use what’s pretty much a Linear Attribution Model that’s weighted more heavily on the later stages in the lifecycle (apparently, this is called a Time Decay Attribution Model). It’s critical that we take each touchpoint into consideration, but we know that the sales conversion stage is where most of the convincing work is done.
The bottom line is that every organization will have a slightly different customer lifecycle depending on how they operate. What’s important is that marketers understand that there are multiple touchpoints within their sales funnel, each with varying degrees of contribution towards turning visitors into customers.
The key to successful marketing attribution is figuring out in which stage of your sales funnel most of the convincing work is getting done. Then, customize a generic attribution model to fit your channel weighting scheme.
Jameson Slattery is the VP of Global Marketing for Colorescience.
“In today’s complex marketing environment, attribution is one of the biggest pain points among all marketers…”
This is especially evident when it comes to print advertising with its lack of cookies and other analytics software integration. There are a few different strategies, however, that can assist in measuring the success of print marketing campaigns:
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