The Evolution of Marketing Attribution is Experience Performance Measurement

August 11, 2020 Cameron Cowan

To run a successful business you need to deliver exceptional experiences to your customers on an ongoing basis. And effectively doing so requires you to have a solid understanding of those customers—the channels through which they most commonly interact with your brand, the messages and promotions in which they show the most interest, and the devices and environments through which they prefer to engage with you. Currently, the primary method of gaining this critical customer understanding is through attribution, which is the practice of collecting and analyzing data on customer touchpoints to determine what’s working, what isn’t, and why. 

There are varying levels of attribution that correspond to the breadth of data which a company is able to collect and unify about touchpoints across the customer journey. These levels of attribution include basic advertising and marketing attribution, transactional attribution (consisting of marketing and sales), and holistic customer performance measurement across the entire end-to-end customer journey. 

We’ll get into the details regarding different levels of attribution; but first, we need to define a critical yet sometimes ambiguous term central to the attribution discussion: touchpoints

A touchpoint is any unique combination of a message and a medium through which customers have the opportunity to interact with your business. Touchpoints can be part of both online and offline experiences, are comprised of a vast array of possible content attributes—headline, description, promotion, asset type, destination URL, promoted product, targeted persona, call to action, etc.—and can take place on any channel or medium related to your business.

When you define a touchpoint in this way, you realize that thinking about touchpoints only in terms of specific channels or paid advertising is self-limiting. Touchpoints exist throughout the entire customer journey, including long after a conversion event has taken place—not just in the marketing and sales pipeline. 

Now that we’ve laid some groundwork, let’s jump into a common level of attribution that many organizations invest in today—marketing attribution.

Marketing Attribution—Is It Enough?

Marketing attribution is the practice of collecting and analyzing data on customer touchpoints in the marketing pipeline, so that you can see which experiences are leading to conversions and which aren’t. Marketing attribution touchpoints include the following:

  • Paid experiences (e.g. paid search and display retargeting) 
  • Owned experiences (e.g. email and owned social)
  • Earned experiences (e.g. organic search and referral traffic) 

Now, the majority of attribution tools available today only focus on the small segment of customer touchpoints involved with paid experiences. Due to this limitation, these platforms should actually be called advertising attribution solutions, as they are only focused on the return on ad spend (ROAS). 

Most of the remaining platforms offering attribution functionality target paid, owned, and earned experiences, but only in the context of marketing campaigns and programs, leaving significant gaps in knowledge about how customers experience longer consideration cycles and sales processes.

While obtaining insights into advertising and other marketing touchpoints is critically important to understanding how to optimize customer interactions, these touchpoints only tell a portion of the story when it comes to a customer’s overall experience with your brand. In order to fully understand your customers, you need accurate attribution on the end-to-end customer experience by engaging in holistic customer performance measurement. 

Customer Performance Measurement—The Whole Story 

As mentioned previously, advertising and marketing attribution only consider a small portion of customer experiences. On top of these experiences, there are additional sales and personal interactions that sometimes go on for months before a potential customer converts. For example, a customer may go back and forth with sales professionals, attend company events, consume extensive content, or call into your business to get more information—all before buying. Though not part of the marketing process, each of these interactions involves a crucial customer touchpoint that contributes to conversion. 

Even after a transaction takes place, there are many critical touchpoints that customers experience. Here are some questions illustrating some of the potential post-purchase interactions a customer may experience:

  • Did the customer get what they ordered? 
  • Were there problems with delivery, refunds, or returns?
  • What was the implementation process like? 
  • What did the customer say about your brand on social media or on review sites? 
  • How does the customer feel about the overall experience?
  • Have they purchased from you again?

Answers to these questions hold immense value for businesses—especially since effectively answering these questions could indicate the difference between a customer who repeatedly engages with your brand and a customer who quickly cancels services, returns a product, or simply never buys from your again. The reality here is that for most brands, doing business is not just a matter of a single transaction. Ideally, customer journeys are ongoing relationships that continue well beyond the initial purchase and involve continuous value exchange and loyalty. 

There is just as much to learn about a customer after they make an initial purchase as there is before they make a purchase. 

Customer performance measurement is about measuring all potential customer touchpoints—including online and offline touchpoints and content consumption throughout—starting with a customer’s first brand interaction and spanning the length of their experiences with your business. 

This ongoing performance measurement process allows you to more fully understand the complete relationship you have with your customers. However, obtaining this more holistic understanding of your customers requires a more robust attribution strategy, and a key component to this strategy will need to be data pre-standardization.

Data Pre-standardization

In order to effectively pull accurate data from touchpoints across the entire customer journey, that data must become completely unified under a single standard that is determined before you ever start collecting.  A customer performance measurement solution can help you accomplish this data pre-standardization by unifying your data from all possible touchpoints upfront. 

Engaging in strategic, intentional  data pre-standardization will lay a solid foundation for your attribution efforts across all channels, placements, AdTech and/or MarTech platforms, and all other metrics and metadata you are collecting to understand the performance of your program investments.

Now, a word of caution: Most data repositories on the market compile data under the guise of unification, but usually end up with nothing better than discordant data silos that have been haphazardly placed side by side—“co-located”—but not truly combined into a unified whole. These data repositories lack the critical element of pre-standardization and common taxonomies, leading invariably to a skewed view of performance measurement and attribution. 


Strala by ObservePoint’s Touchpoints product allows you to pre-define and standardize every customer journey touchpoint—before the journey even begins—and creates a solid foundation for trusted data-first insights. Using this cloud-based solution with built-in data governance, you can map fragmented and siloed data across channels and systems back to your enterprise-wide standardized data taxonomy within Touchpoints to ensure all data can act as a single, unified set.

Maximize ROI with a Customer Performance Measurement Solution

The end goal of any attribution effort is to more fully understand your customers, so you can deliver amazing experiences and maximize ROI. Accomplishing this to the fullest extent will require you to engage in complete customer performance measurement—not basic marketing attribution—and will require the use of a robust customer performance measurement solution.    

To find out how Strala by ObservePoint’s customer performance measurement solution can help you achieve holistic attribution across the entire user journey, schedule a demo.


About the Author

Cameron Cowan

Cameron is the Sr. Director of Product Strategy & Marketing at ObservePoint and a veteran of the marketing analytics, digital advertising, and enterprise software industries. He has joined the ObservePoint family via the recent Strala acquisition and plays an active role in product management, technical marketing, and GTM execution. Prior to his time at Strala, Cameron spent 13 years working for Adobe (via the Omniture acquisition), and gained experience in account management, consulting, and technical sales before establishing himself as a leader in product management, technical marketing, and business strategy. His career has included living overseas on multiple occasions and collaborating with marketers and technologist on four continents.

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