The Art and Science of Choosing the Right Attribution Model


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Delve into marketing attribution models and you’ll find there are several models to choose from.  Some businesses and advertisers primarily use one model while others use multiple models.  As detailed below, there are two primary types of attribution models in multi-touch and single-touch attribution models.

Single-touch Models

Single-touch models attribute the entirety of credit to a single interaction, be it the first or last click.  Multi-touch models attribute credit across several interactions, be it in the form of time decay, linear, position-based and other models.  

In general, businesses tend to favor single-touch attribution models as they are more straightforward and take less time to implement.  However, single-touch attribution models are a bit limited in that they ignore the fact that customers typically progress through several touchpoints throughout what is sometimes a complicated customer journey.

Multi-touch models are more holistic, as they have more information and analysis to parse through.  But there might also be some relatively arbitrary guesswork made when using this type of model.

First Vs. Last-Touch Models

There is plenty of debate as to whether first-touch or last-touch attribution models are superior.  Ideally, a business or advertiser will employ both approaches.  Last-touch attribution models are insightful, providing a look at the final touchpoint made before conversion.  

First-touch attribution models reveal where growth initially comes from or pinpoint opportunities for growth.  If your primary concern is figuring out what pulls new leads toward the business for eventual conversion, employ the first-touch attribution model and you’ll find out where those individuals initially heard about the service or product.  

The caveat is that the first interaction does not always tell the entirety of the story.  The model is a bit myopic to credit the initial touchpoint and overlook other factors.

The ”Letter” Attribution Models Every Business and Advertiser Should Know About

Expand your attribution model research and you’ll find there are some oddly named models.  In particular, the U-shaped and W-shaped models are especially popular.  Such “letter” models attribute a specific percentage of credit to individual touchpoints that typically play a major role in driving decision-making. For U, it’s the first and last interactions, and for W, it’s first, last, and middle.

The U-shaped attribution model credits 40% of the initial interaction someone has with the business’s marketing material or other brand elements for conversion.  The last interaction gets another 40% of the attribution. 

The final 20% of attribution in the U-shaped model is split between the two touchpoints that preceded the final one.  There is also the option of distributing the final 20% of credit throughout the entirety of interactions that occurred between the initial point of contact and the final touchpoint.

The U-shaped attribution model is ideal for businesses looking for a fair means of gauging touchpoint influence.  The U-shaped attribution model is also helpful when attempting to identify the specific stages of decision-making that had the most influence on the customer’s decision.

Some businesses and advertisers use the W-shaped attribution model as it provides disproportionately more credit to the middle touchpoint where there is the potential for lead conversion.  The W-shaped model evenly distributes credit across the remaining touchpoints.  

The W-shaped model ultimately takes the extra step of highlighting the specific touchpoints that made the most impact to pull in those all-important leads for eventual conversion.  

The Temporal Attribution Model: Time-decay

The temporal attribution model is referred to as the time-decay model.  This approach to advertising places more importance on the touchpoints that occur as leads move closer to converting.  The time-decay model essentially amounts to an admission that multiple interactions have different degrees of influence on potential buyers.  

The time-decay model is especially important for advertisers willing to zero in on touchpoints that make a direct impact on conversions.  Critics of the time-decay model argue it is shortsighted in that it unfairly shines the spotlight on the touchpoints that occur throughout the customer journey instead of gauging touchpoint impact on consumers.

The Socialist Approach to Attribution: Linear Modeling

The linear attribution model assigns the same amount of credit to each stage of the sales journey.  The linear attribution model makes it easier for marketers to gauge how customers proceed through the buyer journey, providing a macro view of digital marketing efforts.  

There is a caveat to linear modeling in that some steps in the buyer journey are less important than others.  Though the linear model does not identify the specific stages that are most important in generating profit, it reveals where potential buyers engage with a company’s marketing material.  It is those points of engagement that ultimately drive sales.

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