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How to Make Marketing Attribution Work for Your Business

July 24, 2020

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As technology continues to connect us, the crossover between departments deepens as well.

Teams are no longer working in silos and many companies are choosing to embrace radical cross-functional collaboration. But among the many benefits of collaboration come problems lurking in the shadows.

There are more account holders, touchpoints, and programs than ever. Each a critical part in leading potential customers through the buyer's journey. How can you accurately track which touchpoints drive the most value? How can you ensure proper credit is delegated?

Why does your organization need marketing attribution?

Attribution allows you to pinpoint which programs drive value. This allows you to adjust your marketing budget to spend more money on marketing that supports your revenue. It also allows you to give credit to the members of your team for their hard work.

As a marketing leader, nothing is more important than having the data to back your team's projects. A marketing attribution model allows you to tie exact numbers to how much influenced revenue your team generates.

Marketing attribution helps you prove the value of your marketing to your c-suite and sales team, which leads to more trust and opportunities. If you haven’t already built your own marketing attribution process, it’s time to get going.

Not only that, but it’s getting harder than ever to track marketing success. Our multi-device world makes the buyer's journey more complicated than ever. Leads will often research your business on multiple devices (smart phones, work computers, tablets, etc.). If you’re not tracking these potential customers with a sophisticated analytics software, these interactions might seem unrelated, when in reality they’re the same potential customer.

Multiple devices, numerous touchpoints, and growing regulations on data privacy and tracking make marketing attribution more important than ever. If you want to build a data-compliant way to understand your customers, building a marketing attribution process is your best bet.

How to choose the right attribution model for your organization

Marketing attribution will look different depending on your organization. The larger your marketing team and organization overall, the more complex your attribution model will need to be. Smaller businesses on the other hand can get away with smaller, less complex attribution models.

Below is an overview of the different marketing attribution models and examples of when you would want to use each one. The models have been split between single-channel attribution and multi-channel attribution.

Single-channel attribution models

The single-channel attribution model works by assigning 100% of credit for a sales conversion to a single marketing touchpoint. This attribution model is ideal for teams with simplistic marketing funnels and only a few marketing programs.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses often see success with single channel attribution as they scale their businesses. Single channel attribution credit can be assigned in one of two ways: first-touch attribution and last-touch attribution.

First-touch attribution

First-touch attribution assigns full credit for a conversion to the first touchpoint a customer encountered during the buyer's journey.

First Touch Attribution

This model assumes that the customer decided to do business with your company after the first touchpoint they encountered. For example, if the first thing your customer did was sign up for your newsletter, your email marketing efforts would get all the credit for the conversion.

Use the first-touch attribution model to discover which channels bring in the most new leads or if you’re just beginning to build your marketing funnel. This model works best for simple marketing funnels with few touchpoints.

 

Avoid the first-touch attribution model if your customer journey takes longer than 90 days. A sale cycle of this length means there are likely multiple touchpoints that factor into the buying decision. You’re better off using last touch attribution or multi-channel attribution.

Last-touch attribution

Last-touch attribution gives full credit to the last touchpoint the consumer interacts with before finalizing their purchasing decision. This model does not give credit to any previous touchpoints, no matter how long the buyer's journey takes. Sole credit is awarded to the person who closed the deal.

Use the last touch attribution mode: to understand high-impact touchpoints at the bottom of your funnel. It helps you find channels that are driving the most conversions.

 

Avoid the last click attribution model if your customer journey is complicated and involves a lot of research before purchasing. Use an attribution model that covers all relevant touchpoints instead.

Single channel attribution is for simplistic marketing funnels. There’s nothing wrong with having a simplistic marketing strategy. Many small businesses and startups begin with single channel attribution before moving onto a more complex multi-channel approach.

Multi-channel attribution models

The multi-channel attribution model works by assigning credit based on a weighted scale. Using one of the many multi-channel attribution models, every touchpoint the customer interacts with during the buyer's journey is assigned a percent of credit. This gives your team a more robust look at which programs drive conversions.

Multi Touch Attribution
Most teams choose to use multi-channel attribution models because it allows for a more detailed way to assign credit. Larger marketing teams with many programs or companies with long buying cycles should use multi-channel attribution to get the most accurate information.

Linear attribution model

The linear attribution model assigns credit to any touchpoint the customer engaged with before converting. This model weighs each touchpoint equally and assigns credit evenly across the board. Some companies choose to add a weighted touchpoint model to the linear model to allow them to give extra credit to programs that did heavy lifting.

Use the linear attribution model to understand which channels are consistent across the buyer's journey and to determine which channels drive direct conversions.

 

Avoid the linear attribution model if you already understand the buyer's journey and you’re instead looking to determine which of your marketing touchpoints are the most critical.

U-shaped attribution model

If you’re looking for an attribution model that scores touchpoints separately, the U-shaped model might work for you. This model scores engagements on a weighted scale, with the first touch and lead conversion touch both, getting 40% of credit for the lead. The remaining 20% is divided between all the remaining touchpoints between the first and lead conversion touch.

Use the U-shaped attribution model to discover which channel is best for acquiring an audience or if you rely heavily on nurturing campaigns in your marketing strategy.

 

Avoid the U-shaped attribution model if you use Google Analytics to track conversions. A longer decision-making cycle outside of the Google Analytics tagging window (30-90 days) means your data could get lost or corrupted.

W-shaped attribution model

The W-shaped attribution model uses the same methodology as the U-shaped model, but adds one additional touchpoint – the opportunity stage. This model divides 90% of the credit equally between the first touch, lead conversion, and opportunity stage. The remaining 10% gets divided between any other engagements.

Use the W-shaped attribution model if you’re looking to identify which touchpoints directly link to audience building, lead generator, and conversion channels.

 

Avoid the W-shaped attribution model if you use Google Analytics to track conversions. A longer decision-making cycle outside of the Google Analytics tagging window (30-90 days) means your data could get lost or corrupted.

Full path

Taking the W-shaped model one step further, the full path model splits the credit between all the major touchpoints, as well as a lower-weighted credit to any engagements in between. This model allows for any touchpoints coming from your sales team to receive credit for their help closing deals.

Use the full-path attribution model to figure out which marketing channels drive direct action to closed/won deals. This is also a great model if your team is measured on influenced revenue.

 

Avoid the full-path attribution model if you do not have a close relationship with your sales team. If that’s the case, the W-shaped attribution model will work better.

Time decay

Like many of the models above, the time decay attribution model weighs each touchpoint differently. Time decay prioritizes touchpoints closer to the conversion and assigns them more weight, assuming they had a greater impact on the sale. The further away a touchpoint is from the close of a deal, the less significance it’s given.

Use the time decay attribution model if you have a short customer journey (fewer than 90 days) and you want to determine which touchpoints drive conversions.

 

Avoid the time decay attribution model if you have a long B2B sales cycle. Oftentimes, the customer has made a decision long before the final touchpoint or before signing any paperwork.

Custom model

The custom marketing attribution model is used when components of the models listed above are used to create a totally unique attribution model tailored to your business needs. This is the ideal scenario for any marketing team that needs to dig into the numbers.

Use the custom attribution model if you are looking for hyper-personalized data to fine-tune your marketing strategy.

 

Avoid the custom attribution model if you don’t have the time, resources, or personnel to build and closely monitor this process. Ideally, your team would have a full-time employee on your marketing operations team working on this.

How to track your attribution marketing efforts

Choosing which marketing attribution model suits your business needs is just the start. Once you figure out what you want to track, you need a process for actually tracking things. Even small marketing teams should think twice before thinking these things can be tracked manually.

Many customer touchpoints happen online and oftentimes, a lead will revisit multiple touchpoints during different phases of the buyer's journey. The best way to get a complete picture of marketing attribution, you’ll want to use technology.

Attribution software

The easiest way to track marketing attribution is by investing in software. Attribution software is designed for the sole purpose of tracking your digital and non-digital attribution channels and their impact on revenue. Hours of spreadsheet tracking and data collecting are easily replaced by a fully automated, fully compatible piece of software.

Attribution software allows your team to:

  • Track multiple marketing and communication channels (social media, phone, email, digital ads, and more), capturing data on the buyer's journey
  • Allows for use of multiple attribution models, including both single and multi-touch models
  • Build dashboards and visualizations of all your attribution data, including personalized KPIs and performance metrics
  • Integrates easily with software tools used by sales, marketing, or public relations departments, like CRM, email tracking, demand generation, or sales analytics

Marketing attribution software is usually a hub software pulling in data from other marketing and software tools. This makes it popular with teams that use a variety of SaaS products for CRM, marketing automation, emailing marketing, and more. Attribution software pulls data in from these sources and makes sense of the entanglements. 

Of course, attribution software is not cheap. There’s a chance your marketing strategy is still a bit too green to make such a big investment. If you’re already investing a lot in your tech stack, attribution software is a must-have solution. That said, it’s important to do your research before purchasing.

Though these tools all have similar functionality, there are some key differences between them. Be sure you’re asking the right questions as you venture into your own buyer's journey.

Here are some questions to ask before buying attribution software:

  • Can offline efforts, such as cold-calling, be included in the insights and tracking?
  • Does this software allow you to see the impact of branding and creative elements on the buyer's journey?
  • Does this software deliver optimization insights during the campaign, or only at the end once the deal has closed?

Google Analytics

If you use a Google Analytics business account, you also have access to their built-in attribution tracking model. Google Analytics allows you to pull data from your existing account and report on conversion totals, build reports, and see a singular view of your company’s digital marketing footprint.

One thing to note is that Google analytics uses a last, non-direct click attribution model and only pulls data back for the last six months. This means their model assigns 100% of credit to the last known source, looking back over the last six months. Even the multi-channel function limits your data to the last 90 days. If you have an extended buying cycle longer than three months, Google Analytics cannot provide you with full, accurate data.

UTM codes

Another popular way to track marketing attribution is utilizing UTM codes. By attaching a UTM code to the end of a custom URL, marketers can track allows marketers to track the success of campaigns. Creating a UTM code requires three tags that are mandatory and two that are optional, but good to have for tracking.

Here’s a quick overview of the five different tags you should include in your UTM code:

Campaign source (utm_source)

The campaign source describes the channel the action is taking place on. Channels include things like social media channels, websites, email newsletters, and more. For example, if you were to track something from Instagram, your campaign source would look something like this:

&utm_source=instagram

Campaign medium

The campaign medium describes the action that took place. Again using the Instagram example. If you were tracking your paid social efforts, your campaign medium would look something like this:

&utm_medium=paidsocial

Campaign name

The campaign name allows you to link certain marketing actions to specific campaigns you’re running. If you were running a campaign on Instagram to give customers 30% off their next order, your campaign name would look something like this:

&utm_medium=branded%30social

Campaign term

Campaign term tags are great for campaigns where you’re running Google Ads to target specific keywords. This tag is optional because not all campaigns involve keyword targeting. If you decide to use campaign term tags, your tag would look something like this:

&utm_term=marketing-targetkeyword.

Campaign content

Campaign content tags work best for split-testing ads. This allows you to track which marketing function is converting the most leads. This tag can be used for tracking different CTAs, A/B testing, or buttons. If you decide to use campaign content tags, you’ll want to build two separate UTM codes. Be sure they have very similar names for tracking purposes.

Your duo of campaign tags would look something like this: &utm_content=copy-v1 and &utm_content=copy-v2.

Benefits of marketing attribution

Understanding which of your marketing efforts drive revenue is your most important job as a marketing leader. Everything marketing builds is with the goal to increase profitability and sales. Blindly investing in marketing programs with no proof of value is a losing game.

Marketing attribution allows marketing leaders to:

  • Optimize their marketing budget spend
  • Invest in projects and functions that drive results
  • Prove the ROI and value of marketing efforts to leaders and other teams
  • Provide valuable customer insights for long-term strategy
  • Decrease the length of time prospects spend in the sales cycle

If your marketing team relies on multiple marketing functions (brand, creative, content, SEO, etc.), investing in marketing attribution will help move all your marketing efforts in the same direction. It helps eliminate communication silos and helps you get the most bang for your buck.

Challenges of marketing attribution

There are few drawbacks to building an attribution model for your marketing team. The only way you can mess up is not giving your attribution process the necessary resources and priority. A half-baked attribution model will only deliver half-baked results. In order to avoid making more of a mess for yourself, look out for these common attribution mistakes.

Trusting the data too much

While marketing attribution is an incredible wealth of information, it will never be a complete snapshot. Marketing attribution can’t account for any influences outside of your own marketing funnel. Everytime a customer talks to a peer about your product or reads reviews, those interactions are not tracked.

That’s why many companies employ the use of survey software to poll customers once they make a purchase decision. Post-purchase surveys allow marketing teams to collect information that might’ve been missed by attribution. This allows marketers to get the complete picture of why a lead decided to convert.

Ignoring the impact of creative elements

Tracking the effectiveness of your branding elements are crucial to deciding which marketing touchpoints convert successfully. The design of your ads are just as important as choosing the right channels to promote them. Some attribution software solutions include creative asset testing that allow A/B testing and tracking.

If you’re a business that frequently tests creative elements and you’re in the market for attribution software, don’t forget this important piece!

Not accounting for in-market bias

In some cases, your ad happens upon someone who was already in the market to buy your product. A sloppily built attribution model might credit that touchpoint to closing the deal when the consumer was already planning on making a purchase.

Again, this is why talking to your customers after purchases about what influenced their buying decisions is crucial. It allows you to pinpoint and eliminate outlier data.

Give credit where credit is due

Understanding the full picture of your marketing team is the first step to truly becoming customer obsessed. In an increasingly competitive marketing landscape, every little effort helps close deals. Don’t miss your chance to take credit for your work and invest in marketing attribution.

Tracking your marketing efforts is a matter of choosing the right metrics. Discover the most popular marketing KPIs your CMO secretly wishes you were tracking.

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