Marketing Attribution Modeling: Pros and Cons of the Top 5 Techniques

min read
Marketing Attribution Modeling: Pros and Cons of the Top 5 Techniques

Attribution has been the foundation of marketing analytics since the dawn of marketing. Every marketing team worth their salt has some variation of an attribution model in place so they can optimize and prove the ROI of their campaigns. 

What Is Marketing Attribution?

The goal of marketing attribution is to determine which of your channels, campaigns, or messages contributed to sales or conversions. You can then use this data to optimize your campaigns and increase the ROI of your marketing.

What Is Marketing Attribution Modeling and Why Is It Important?

Attribution modeling is a way of ranking the marketing channels and the associated touchpoints you’re utilizing for your campaigns. As potential customers are “traveling” towards conversion, it’s important to see what motivated them to continue on their journey. This allows you to invest more into what is working well, but also gives you the opportunity to investigate why other avenues may be underperforming. It also gives you insight into how much budget you should allocate to each channel to get the most return on your investments. 

What Are Common Attribution Modeling Mistakes and Pitfalls?

Marketing attribution is no easy undertaking. It requires a keen eye and a strategic mindset. Having the right tools and systems to organize and automate data collection is important as well. Here are some suggestions for what NOT to do when it comes to your marketing attribution processes and strategies: 

  • Not Aligning Attribution Modeling to Your Company Goals: Your attribution modeling strategy should ladder up to your overall company goals. Make sure you're creating an attribution model that links your marketing efforts to your company's biggest objectives — revenue generation, new patients, or repeat customers. If you don't align your attribution this way, you may start optimizing your campaigns for the wrong outcomes and conversion types. This can result in wasted ad spend and a failure to meet quarterly goals.
  • Not Using All Available Data: Attribution modeling is all about taking a data-driven approach to your customer acquisition strategy. Before you make a change to your campaigns, ensure that your attribution model is informed by all the available data at your fingertips — otherwise, you may not be accounting for the full-funnel experience. Pro tip: don't forget about phone call conversions!
  • Relying on Confirmation Bias to Make Decisions: When you want to believe something to be true, confirmation bias can take over. Confirmation bias will put blinders on you, as you look for evidence to support your beliefs while dismissing contrary facts. Setting aside personal biases and adopting a logical approach to decision-making are prerequisites for achieving a sound attribution strategy.
  • Sole Focus on Last-Click Attribution: Keep Ralph Waldo Emerson in mind when it comes to last-click attribution: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” While tracking which touchpoint converted a potential customer to an actual one is an important piece of data, the journey they took to get there needs to be considered as well. Backtracking to see what led them to conversion can help you replicate your results. You can learn more about the cons of last-click attribution here

Multi-Touch Marketing Attribution Is Critical in Today’s Omnichannel World

The modern omnichannel world has driven an evolution of the customer journey. The legacy attribution models marketers have in place may be ill-suited for this new customer journey that has expanded in both length and number of interactions. 

A typical digital journey today could start with a consumer researching a purchase on their smartphone, then continuing later on a laptop or tablet. They might visit your site after engaging with your search ad and begin a chat session with a rep. They might call your business a few days later after getting one of your emails and finalize their purchase in person at your closest brick-and-mortar location. In fact, a recent study from Google found that today’s consumer journey can have between 20-500 touchpoints, depending on the complexity of the purchase.

Single-touch marketing attribution models still have their place, but marketers are embracing multi-touch attribution to effectively report and optimize campaigns. Here are the pros and cons of the 5 most popular attribution models.

Model 1: First-Touch Attribution

The first-touch attribution model assigns 100% of the credit to the campaign that initiated the very first interaction somebody had with your business. This model ignores the campaign that ultimately drove the conversion as well as each interaction after the initial touch.

Pros: Marketers who are solely focused on demand generation and don’t rely on conversions may find the first interaction model useful. This model highlights the campaigns that first introduced a customer to your brand, regardless of the outcome.

Cons: Using a first-touch attribution model offers very limited optimization ability to marketers. Without the ability to determine what ultimately drove conversions and revenue, marketers will have a hard time justifying their impact on the company’s bottom line.

Model 2: Last-Touch Attribution

100% of the credit goes to the marketing interaction that drove the conversion in a last-touch model. Marketers using this model will gain insight on campaigns that have the highest conversion rate, but lose sight of any influences leading up to the conversion.

Pros: This marketing attribution model can be powerful for marketers who are solely focused on driving conversions. If non-converting actions hold no value at all for your business, a last-touch model can be an effective attribution strategy.

Cons: The last-touch model ignores influences on the path to conversion. A lead may interact with your company a dozen times before converting and a last-touch model provides zero visibility into what can be very influential interactions.

Model 3: Linear Attribution

The linear attribution model is the first step towards multi-touch attribution. This model assigns credit evenly to every marketing touch throughout the customer journey. If there are 10 touches, each will receive 10% of the credit. When there are 5 campaigns, each will receive 20%.

Pros: This model offers an easy way to start analyzing your marketing campaigns with multi-touch attribution. By assigning even credit to each marketing interaction, you can start optimizing for the customer journey instead of a single activity.

Cons: Linear attribution moves you past a single-touch attribution model, but still has many limits. Because every touch receives equal credit, you lose the ability to optimize for specific outcomes. Linear attribution assigns the same amount of credit to low-value touches like email clicks as it does to high-value conversion activities like demo requests, making it difficult to optimize for the demo request conversion.

Model 4: Time Decay Attribution

The time decay model is another big step forward in multi-touch attribution analysis. Time decay assigns the most credit to the interaction that resulted in a conversion. Touches leading up to the conversion event receive less value the further back they are from the conversion.

Pros: Now we have the ability to truly optimize. This model recognizes the significance of every interaction leading up to a conversion while still placing the most value on the activity that actually drove the conversion. The touches closest to the conversion become more valuable as each increases the likelihood of a conversion. Marketers can use this model to optimize for touches that drive conversions as well as the touches which increase the likelihood of a conversion in the near future.

Cons: While providing excellent attribution for conversion optimization, this marketing attribution model lacks the ability to recognize the interaction which originally introduced the customer to your brand. The linear model may also result in a low amount of credit for highly influential touches (like a trade show visit) if it happened too early in the customer journey.

Model 5: Position-Based Attribution

The position-based attribution model combines the best features of the linear and time decay models. Position–based will assign 40% of the credit to the first and last touch with the remaining 20% being divvied out evenly to every touch in between.

Pros: This marketing attribution model ensures that every touchpoint in the customer journey receives a portion of the credit while still allowing you to optimize for the first and last touches. This means you can assign significant credit to the campaign that introduced your brand to the customer as well as the campaign that eventually drove them to convert. Bonus points for adjusting the weighting in your position-based model to reflect your business needs.

Cons: Blindly assigning so much credit to the first and last interactions can be dangerous. This could easily result in two very low-value touches being given too much credit. Think about this: does it make sense for a first touch email blast to get the same amount of credit as the paid search ad that resulted in a conversion?

Bonus: Custom Attribution Models

While it may be easier to simply rely on the readily available pre-built attribution models, you can vastly improve your marketing attribution by building your own custom model. With a custom model, you can make adjustments to the weight for each position-based interaction, assign more credit to higher value touches, and optimize for the outcomes which hold the most value for your business.

Where to Find Attribution Modeling Reports in Google Analytics?

Follow these steps to get to the attribution modeling reports in Google Analytics: 

  1. Go to your Google Analytics Dashboard
  2. Navigate to the sidebar menu on the left. You should see a Conversion option with a flag icon next to it. One of the dropdown options is Attribution.
  3. Click or hover over Attribution and the Model Comparison Tool option will pop up, and you’re on your way! 

Check out this quick video to learn more about Google Analytics attribution modeling:

The Importance of Call Attribution

While most marketers are capturing attribution data for their online campaigns and touchpoints, many are overlooking a critical part of the customer journey: inbound phone calls to their business. Call attribution allows you to tie inbound phone calls into your attribution models. With this solution, you can track which of your marketing channels, campaigns, keywords, and webpages are driving calls — and how those calls are contributing to conversions.

At the end of the day, marketers who rely on single-touch attribution models cannot effectively optimize their marketing mix or accurately attribute revenue to the right campaigns. Leading marketers capture data from every marketing touchpoint, track both online and call conversions, and connect all of the dots. This allows them to make smarter optimizations that boost their ROI.

How Rogers Communications Decreased Cost Per Acquisition by 82% with Invoca Call Attribution

Rogers uses Invoca’s AI to understand not just which customers convert over the phone, but the average value of the conversion for each customer type. They then feed this revenue data into Google Ads to inform Smart Bidding. Smart Bidding weighs their bids in proportion to their returns, decreasing their cost per acquisition by 82% in a two-year period. They also use Invoca’s call conversion data to inform lookalike targeting and suppression across their entire martech stack, so the right prospects get the right ads at the right time.

Read the full Rogers Communications case study here

To learn tips for attributing phone calls to the marketing source that drove them, check out our Ultimate Guide to Conversation Intelligence for Marketers.


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