Unpacking Marketing Attribution: Definition and Insights

Apr 29, 2024
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Learn how you can use marketing attribution to assign credit for sales and conversions to individual touchpoints across your typical buyer’s journey.

How marketers can assign credit to the touchpoints, channels, and campaigns that turn their efforts into measurable business results

Marketers work hard to deliver business results; their efforts have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line. But knowing which efforts led to success can be tricky. That’s where marketing attribution comes into play; developing an understanding of which campaigns, channels, and touchpoints moved the needle can help marketers more effectively iterate and adapt their strategies. In this article, we’ll look at today’s most common attribution models and answer the core question: “What is attribution in marketing?”

Ready to explore more angles of attribution? Check out The Modern Marketer's Guide to Attribution.

What Is Marketing Attribution 

Marketing attribution is the practice of connecting sales or conversions to the marketing touchpoints that led to them. Attribution helps marketers understand how, where, and when the consumer interacted with the brand on the way toward making a purchase or completing the desired action. Understanding the role each touchpoint plays along the way empowers marketers to design more precise campaigns that nurture real customer journeys and improve return on investment (ROI) and return on ad spend (ROAS).

In today’s digital world, consumers typically interact with a brand multiple times before they complete a single transaction. From email marketing to social media campaigns and paid CTV ads to organic content, most brands take an omni-channel approach to driving conversions and sales. Ideally, marketing attribution provides a full picture of how all of those interactions work together. The practice can help answer questions like:

  • Which individual channels or creative messages were most effective in inspiring consumers to take action?
  • Did one touchpoint have a more significant impact than others on the buyer journey or conversion process?
  • Was there a winning combination of touchpoints that the majority of conversions or sales have in common?
  • Did the order of those touchpoints influence the consumer’s propensity to purchase or complete the desired action?

Benefits of Marketing Attribution

While many businesses' end goal is to improve conversion rate or increase sales, reverse engineering how that goal gets achieved is important for those results to be replicable. In other words, businesses need to understand which of their efforts are driving results to appropriately allocate budget, time, and effort. The response to marketing attribution metrics might be to double down on a strategy that worked well, iterate on a concept that fell short of expectations, test new channels, or some combination of those three.

Here are some of the main benefits of tracking and analyzing marketing attribution:

  • Better allocation of marketing spend: Diversifying across an omni-channel marketing strategy is common practice today, but optimizing spend toward proven channels and systems has to be part of that approach for businesses to stay profitable.
  • Deliver personalization: Beyond identifying overall trends in channel and messaging success across the buyer journey, marketing attribution also allows companies to deliver highly personalized touchpoints tailored for individual customers.
  • Optimize creative: Attribution can also help marketers drill down into campaign performance details. It’s incredibly valuable for marketers to know which creative works, from visual elements to verbal messaging.
  • Increase ROAS/ROI: While driving sales and conversions is always a clear goal for every business team, marketing teams in particular need to keep an eye on ROAS to ensure that their investment doesn’t outweigh their results.

Download our free CTV Advertising Playbook to learn more about maximizing ROAS from your next CTV campaign.

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7 Popular Marketing Attribution Models

There are many ways to measure attribution, and finding the right model will depend on a variety of factors. Businesses need to consider the length of their typical sales cycle, how touchpoints are most often spread across the customer journey, and what specific campaign goals they are targeting. Choosing the right model will also depend on whether a company’s efforts are focused on digital marketing, offline marketing, or some combination. 

These marketing attribution models can all be divided into two categories: single-touch or multi-touch. As their names suggest, single-touch attribution models attribute credit for the conversion or sale to one marketing touchpoint, while multi-touch models distribute credit across multiple touchpoints throughout the journey. With that distinction in mind, here are the 7 most popular marketing attribution models in play today:

#1: First-Touch Attribution

This single-touch model attributes the successful outcome to the first interaction a consumer has with the business. If they read multiple emails and clicked on several social media ads along the way, but their first exposure to the business was a CTV ad, that CTV ad would get credit for the conversion in a first-touch attribution model. This strategy is beneficial for organizations focused on lead generation, demand generation, etc.

#2: Last-Touch Attribution

Just like first-touch attribution, last-touch attribution is another single-touch model. Instead of giving credit to the consumer’s first interaction with a business, last-touch attribution credits the last touchpoint before the action is completed. This is a conversion-minded strategy that can help organizations drill down on outcomes but isn’t useful when it comes to tracking the full picture of the customer journey.

#3: Linear Attribution

Linear attribution is a multi-touch model that takes all the touchpoints that make up the customer journey into consideration. The factor that distinguishes most multi-touch models is how each touchpoint is weighted; linear attribution gives every touchpoint equal credit for the conversion or sale. It’s a helpful model for analyzing the full consumer journey and all the steps it comprises, but for most businesses, assigning every touchpoint the same weight limits the accuracy of reporting.

#4: Lead Conversion Touch Attribution

This model gives credit to the individual touchpoint that flips consumers’ passive interest into a clear intention to complete a purchase or take the desired action. Identifying the precise moment in the buyer’s journey where this transition occurs is a great way for sales-driven marketers to focus on the most impactful touchpoints that help them realize their goals.

#5: Time Decay Attribution

Time decay attribution weights touchpoints along the customer journey in a more interesting way. This model gives more credit to interactions that happen closer chronologically to the completed sale or desired action. Time decay is a good approach for marketers tackling longer sales cycles, who can more safely assume that later touchpoints have a larger impact on the final decision than earlier ones.

#6: Position-Based Attribution

Position-based attribution uses a pre-defined strategy to assign weight and credit to each type of touchpoint. This model gives 40% of the credit for a sale to the first touchpoint, 40% to the final touchpoint, and 20% to all the other touchpoints along the journey. It’s no surprise that the structure is also sometimes called U-shaped attribution.

#7: W-Shaped Attribution

Just like the U-shaped model, this model distributes credit for sales or actions across a big-picture attribution window. The first touch, final touch, and lead conversion moment each get 30% of the credit, while all the other touchpoints along the journey share a combined 10% of the credit. In that sense, W-shaped attribution combines the position-based model and lead conversion attribution since that third point in the “W” shape comes from the moment of transition from potential customer to verified lead.

An Attribution-Focused Platform for CTV Marketers

For most businesses asking, “What is attribution marketing and how do I make it work for me?” a custom model will work best. Determining how to weigh each marketing touchpoint for your unique business model, customer, and industry is the most accurate way to measure attribution. With that said, it takes an incredible amount of sophistication and expertise to get a custom attribution model up and running successfully.

That’s where marketing attribution tools can help. tvScientific’s sophisticated CTV advertising platform offers real-time insights, precise targeting, and accurate attribution models to help marketers better understand their performance. tvScientific’s CTV measurement and attribution features deliver radical data transparency to help you track the customer journey from ad exposure to successful outcome, measure brand lift, and calculate incremental performance metrics. Get in touch today to learn more about how tvScientific can help you grow your business with powerful and accurate CTV attribution.