Marketing - Article | 2-min. read

Understanding Multi-touch Attribution: The Pros and Cons

Attribution means assigning the right amount of credit to each channel or touchpoint in an advertising campaign. It helps marketers better understand how channels are interconnected and how they perform and influence each other.

In companies where there’s pressure to track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and channels, multi-touch attribution can also help you justify your marketing activities and budget. It provides actual marketing performance metrics for business decision makers who are highly focused on return on investment (ROI).1 Read on to learn about multi-touch attribution and six different attribution models.

Defining Multi-touch Attribution

Multi-touch attribution—which assigns attribution to each channel—provides a more complete view of how marketing channels work together. In each of the many multi-touch models out there, a fraction of the conversion credit is assigned to each touch.

It’s important to note that multi-touch attribution requires the ability to track individual consumers across multiple channels. In this case, you would need to know for certain that the person who received the direct mail is the same person who received the email—and who also made the purchase.

Let’s look at a few of the different multi-touch techniques, evaluating the pros and cons of each.2

Linear Attribution

In this model, each touchpoint in the direct mail journey is awarded equal credit for the end result. It gives the same weight to a follow-up email sent to a customer as it would to a customer coming in-store to make a purchase.

Pros

Simple to set up and follow.

Cons

Doesn’t consider that different types of interactions are more or less important to the end result.

Time Decay Attribution

Here, credit grows as time passes, meaning the touchpoints closest to the result have more weight than those toward the beginning of the campaign. A click on a banner ad is considered less important than your direct mailpiece, which is in turn less important than the customer making a purchase.

Pros

Acknowledges that not every touchpoint should be considered equally.

Cons

Doesn’t measure the true importance of an early-stage interaction in an end result.

U-Shaped Attribution

In this model, two key touchpoints are given equal credit. The time between the two points is also weighted, but is less valuable than either of the key points.

Pros

Good for accurately looking at and reporting on early-stage leads.

Cons

Doesn’t measure any interaction after the second touchpoint.

U-Shaped Attribution infographic

W-Shaped Attribution

This model is similar to the U-shaped, but hits three key touchpoints instead of two. The remaining attribution accounts for the time and micro-touchpoints between the first and third interactions.

Pros

Accurately tracks the early-stage marketing side of an interaction.

Cons

Distribution isn’t flexible. Each key touchpoint must have the same weight.

W-Shaped Attribution infographic

Full-Path Attribution

One step beyond the W-shaped is the full-path attribution, which goes from first touchpoint to customer close.

Pros

Most thorough, taking into account that important interactions take place between the creation of an opportunity and the end result of a campaign.

Cons

Distribution isn’t flexible. All touchpoints have the same weight.

Full-Path Attribution infographic

Custom Attribution

Just as it sounds, this attribution is put together based on your business’ specific ideas. Each key touchpoint is weighted by you: how valuable do you think each touchpoint is to your process? Rank and value them, then apply those attributions to your specific model.

Pros

Entirely customizable to your needs.

Cons

Provides little guidance about what is most important, and can be difficult to start with if you haven’t measured with other models before.

Is Your Competition Using Attribution?

If your organization is just starting out with attribution, or hasn’t yet started, you’re not alone. Omni-channel attribution, in particular, is still a developing science.

The graphic below depicts the current state of attribution used by companies, according to a recent survey from Wpromote.3

28%

We don’t have an attribution model.

25%

Multi-channel (All Influencing Touchpoints)

16%

First and Last Touch

15%

First Touch

12%

Last Touch

3%

Not Sure

Make Your Marketing Smarter

If your company isn’t utilizing multi-touch attribution, consider starting an attribution program based on direct mail. That way you’ll be able to track how much direct mail contributes to the buying journey. A mature cross-channel attribution program can also help you:

  • Optimize your marketing mix.
  • Increase ROI.
  • Expand your understanding of the various marketing channels and how they work together.
  • Shorten the decision-making process.

In Conclusion

Multi-touch attribution is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can start small and work your way up. Every additional insight adds value, helping you distribute your marketing budget more strategically across channels, for more effective campaigns.

1Jon Buss, “Demystifying Attribution: The Importance of Attribution Models in Measuring Campaign Impact,” The Warc Blog, September 23, 2015.

2Lauren Frye, “Multi-Touch Attribution, A Full User Debrief,” Bizible, September 14, 2016.

32017 State of B2B Digital Marketing, Wpromote.

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