Marketing initiatives are complex and never perfect. Some efforts will effectively keep leads in the funnel and drive conversions, while others might not move the needle at all (or even worse, may cause leads to fall out of the funnel entirely). And the only way you can really know which of your marketing elements are effective is by effectively using marketing attribution.

What is Marketing Attribution

Marketing attribution is a way of measuring the value of different steps in the customer journey so you know which marketing initiatives and collateral are the most valuable for your business. Understanding this can help you make key changes to optimize your sales funnel and drive even more revenue for your business.

But there’s no “right” way to attribute value to your marketing collateral. You have to choose an attribution model that works for your business in order to get the best insights. Check out these 5 popular models to see which one might work for you.

1. Single-Touch Attribution

Single-touch attribution is the simplest marketing attribution model. Many marketers knock it because it lacks complexity compared to other models, but every new business marketer has to start somewhere – and single-touch attribution can tell you a lot about the performance of your sales pipeline.

There are two ways to approach single-touch attribution:

  • First touch — 100% of the credit goes to the campaign that initiated the first interaction with your business.
  • Last touch — 100% of the credit goes to the last interaction with your business before converting into a paying customer.

Both strategies have their merits and unique insights. First-touch attribution tells you a lot about what’s driving the top of your funnel — namely what kind of content is attracting viable leads before they’re ready to buy. Last-touch attribution, on the other hand, tells you more about what critical content finally turned a lead into a customer at the bottom of the sales funnel.

Single-touch attribution is affordable and easy to implement for businesses that are just getting started with marketing attribution, but it’s too simplistic for businesses that want to get more than the most basic insights from their data. And having a simplistic attribution strategy can have negative impacts as well — you don’t get a complete picture of the value of your sales funnel elements. So you might end up overly investing in certain marketing strategies while overlooking other potential opportunities for improvement.

2. Linear Attribution

The next step up from single-touch attribution is linear attribution. Instead of giving all the credit to one touchpoint in the funnel, linear attribution distributes credit equally to all potential touchpoints.

Say a lead (1) visits your website, (2) signs up for a free e-course, (3) attends a conference, then (4) converts after a sales call. Linear attribution would assign 25% credit for the conversion to each of those touchpoints.

The only real problem with linear attribution is that not all touchpoints have equal value in reality. Attending a conference likely has a much larger impact on a person’s decision to buy than visiting your website or signing up for an e-course.

3. Time-Decay Attribution

Time-decay attribution is one potential solution to the downsides of linear attribution. The time-decay model assigns more credit to the touchpoints closest to the conversion. Using the same example as above, time-decay attribution might work like this:

  • Visits your website (10%)
  • Signs up for a free e-course (20%)
  • Attends a conference (30%)
  • Converts after a sales call (40%)

Just like every attribution model, time decay also has its cons. Namely it tends to undervalue touchpoints from the beginning of the sales funnel. For example, maybe the lead decided to purchase after attending the conference, and the sales call was only a formality to close the deal. In that case, attributing 40% of the credit to the sales call would be inaccurate.

4. Position-Based Attribution

The U-Shaped (or Position-Based) attribution model is another multi-touch strategy that gives more credit for 2 key touchpoints: first touch and lead-conversion touch. This attribution model is a valuable option for businesses that have a heavy focus on lead generation to drive ROI.

The U-Shaped attribution model gives each of these 2 touchpoints 40% of the credit, leaving the remaining 20% to be split between all other touchpoints.

Another alternative to the U-Shaped attribution model is W-Shaped attribution. It’s based on the same concept, but includes opportunity creation as a third valuable touchpoint. In this setup, you’d credit the first, lead-conversion, and opportunity-creation touchpoints with 30% of the credit each, leaving the remaining 10% for the other touchpoints.

5. Custom Attribution

The last and often most accurate way to measure marketing attribution is creating a custom model. Custom attribution allows you to attribute different amounts of credit to touchpoints based on which analytics are most important to you. For example, if a marketer already knows a certain webinar drives a lot of conversions, they could assign more value to it in the attribution model.

Custom attribution is a strategy reserved for advanced marketers who already have a deep understanding of the inherent value of different touchpoints. Beginner marketers attempting to create a custom attribution model based on assumptions instead of data could end up inaccurately attributing value where it isn’t due. Still, a custom attribution model is one all marketers should strive to create in the long run. Because an attribution model tailored to your unique content and sales pipeline is bound to be more accurate than any of the other standard models we’ve discussed.

Which Strategy Is Right for You?

Some marketers seriously dislike one or more of these attribution models. But in reality, there’s no “wrong way” to approach marketing attribution. Some of these models will provide more or less insight for you, depending on your business model and unique sales funnel.

So the best strategy is to test out a variety of models and see what insights each one brings you. Over time, you’ll identify which touchpoints are the most important for driving marketing ROI – and you can use this information to build and optimize your own custom attribution model.