All Things Digital


What is Marketing Attribution, And How Can It Take Your Marketing Campaigns to the Next Level?

You’re probably familiar with HubSpot’s Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2019, or at least with some of the more referenced metrics from that tome.  One that gets used a lot is the “47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.”

So, that metric supports the argument for a smart content marketing strategy.  But it also does something else.  It begs an important question—if half of the consumers need 5 blogs (or whatever) to talk sales, which blog was the one that hit the sweet spot?  Which one made that consumer go from, “Hmm, interesting” to “OK—time to talk a new CRM for my business,” or to talk about anything else he needs to buy.

Said differently, with all the marketing channels available to them, isn’t it important for marketers to home in on which one (more than any other) generated a purchase decision and, if it is important, what’s the best way to do that?


Marketing attribution is more science than art, a deep data dive the goal of which is to determine with some degree of accuracy what piece (or pieces) of your marketing makes consumers take the actions you wanted them to take, like downloading a piece of content, visiting a product page or (Hallelujah) making a purchase.  With the increasing number of marketing channels available to them, marketers need a smart attribution strategy to increase the odds their marketing campaigns will be successful:

As Salesforce notes, for example:“Marketing attribution is the way in which marketers assess the value or ROI of the channels that connect them to potential customers. In other words, it’s the means by which the customer came to know and buy your product or service…Multiple channels and messages were responsible for the final buying decision, including the Facebook ad they initially clicked on or the email they received when they signed up for the newsletter. In an ideal world, you’d be able to track the entire customer journey from start to finish with personal anecdotes from each customer about why they made the decisions they did along the way. But that’s not realistic, or scalable.”


“Assumption” is a dangerous word in marketing.  For one thing, assumptions are usually tainted with some form of bias—like the bias of assuming the display ad you pulled an all-nighter to get in by deadline was the silver bullet that pushed conversions up by 10%.  For another, assumptions don’t help you improve the effectiveness of your marketing.

Attribution shouldn’t be about assumptions or guesswork or eyeballing.  It’s about gaining real insight into what in your marketing campaigns works, and what doesn’t—and nothing could be more important to the success of those campaigns.

Consider for example these attribution metrics from Leads RX:

  • Almost 70% of shoppers use more than one channel to make purchase decisions
  • Almost 80% of marketers say they don’t know if they’re using the right attribution model
  • Almost 40% of marketers lack insight into the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns
  • Effectively leveraging attribution increases marketing efficiency on average by up to 30%
  • More than 25% of companies say their top reason for using attribution is to give revenue credit to their marketing team


Every business—and every marketing team—is different, with different target audiences, different marketing challenges, and different goals.  As it turns out, there are multiple approaches to attribution and several attribution models from which to choose. That, of course, can be complicated and a bit confusing.  Your best bet if the nuances of attribution create a boondoggle for your business is to work with an experienced digital agency who can give you the advice and guidance you need to choose the best attribution model for your needs and to increase the odds of success.

That said, the most typically leveraged attribution models include the following 4:

  1. First-click attribution:  this model assigns primary attribution to the first action a customer took, with later actions given little or no significance.  In other words, if the first thing a customer did was click on a Google Ad, that ad is considered the “reason” he or she made a purchase.  This “prima facie” approach assumes that, had that first action never occurred, the purchase would not have been possible.  That’s true, but it’s also possible that the first click, as it were, was based on little more than idle curiosity, or even accidental.  It’s also possible that whereas the first action was relatively insignificant, a subsequent touch point (perhaps a persuasive blog or social media post) is the one that actually “made the sale.”
  2. Last-click attribution:  this is the flip side of first click, and it’s potentially fraught with similar inaccurate assumptions.  Say, for example, a customer is looking for a new refrigerator. He starts with a Google search that takes him by turns to a PPC ad, a customized landing page, a contact form, a series of lead nurturing emails and a blog, “How to get an affordable refrigerator that meets all your needs.”  The blog seals the deal, so he calls the store, mainly to find out when it’s open. Using the last click, the marketer assumes (incorrectly) the phone call was the revenue source, so the company invests a lot of money in more customer service agents. Not a smart move.
  3. Multi-source attribution:  this is the “all men are created equal” attribution model.  Using this model, if a customer reads 5 blogs (and does nothing else) before making a purchase, each would be considered of equal value and assigned 20% of ” the reward” (read revenue attribution) for the sale.  This would be the conclusion even if one of those blogs were from Neil Patel and another from the checkout guy at Walmart.  There are several types of multi-source attribution, including linear, time-decay, U-shaped, W-shaped, custom and full path.   Each of these egalitarian approaches simplifies the attribution Rubik’s cube but provides little insight because of course contributing marketing channels are not weighted. 

Weighted multi-source attribution:  this is arguably the most reasonable and accurate model—unfortunately, it’s also the most challenging to implement effectively since doing so necessitates accurately assigning weight to every marketing channel and touchpoint along the buyer’s journey.  Said differently, unless you have some real analytics heft in your marketing team, weighted multi-source attribution is not a do-it-yourselfer.


Ever had a seemingly impossible job you had to do or an intractable marketing problem the solution of which was critical to your company’s success? That’s not overstating the importance of effective marketing attribution, or for that matter of any other marketing, activity grounded in incisive, accurate data analysis.  Here’s the thing: when you see something that can measurably enhance your return on marketing investment and improve your business, but that’s also really hard to do—those are the times it’s smart to get the expert guidance and advice you need to succeed. To learn more about the ways our digital marketing services—from analytics to creative design, SEO, content creation, marketing automation, and social optimization—will help you drive sales and grow your business, contact us today.