Your Guide to Marketing Attribution

July 1, 2020 Chris Baird

Marketers have sent customers down the marketing funnel for years, hoping the different parts of their campaign will turn leads into conversions. 

But even the most well-designed marketing funnels have holes, allowing leads to slip out before they get a chance to act on your offerings for goods or services. By comparing these potential customers to converting customers, companies can determine how they should optimize their funnels for greater success.

This process is called marketing attribution.


What Is Marketing Attribution?

Simply put, it is a way for marketing specialists and analysts to identify how a customer discovered their business or converted on a call to action. It also determines the value of the different parts of a customer’s journey.

To go a little more in-depth, the process of marketing attribution involves identifying touchpoints, or any way a customer interacts with a brand. A touchpoint with higher attribution means it is considered more valuable than other parts of the buying process and will be prioritized in future marketing endeavors.


How Is Marketing Attribution Used?

Marketing attribution is used to determine the return on investment (ROI) of a given touchpoint in a company’s marketing funnel. For example, if a certain area of a predicted marketing path is often skipped during the customer journey, it may be in the company’s best interest to cut that touchpoint from the budget.

A customer usually interacts with a brand several times before taking action, and marketing attribution is a way to measure which of those interactions were most effective in getting a customer to convert.


The Benefits of Marketing Attribution

A comprehensive marketing attribution approach will make decisions about campaign changes incredibly easier. Here’s why.


Better Understanding of Your Customer’s Relationship with Your Brand

Keeping track of how customers are engaging with your brand allows you to see their journey clearly, from initial exposure all the way to conversion and beyond. This clear understanding is essential for calculating ROI for different parts of the buyer’s journey, as well as where you might be losing customers. 

And while attribution is still largely considered a marketing function, the customer journey doesn’t end at a marketing conversion—that’s just where they become a customer. The full customer journey goes beyond marketing to sales to customer success and any other steps included in your organizations offerings. Most attribution technologies only focus on marketing’s portion of the journey, but mature organizations need to use an advanced attribution solution, like Prism by ObservePoint to move beyond mere marketing attribution and understand their entire customer relationship. 


Easily Measure Campaign Performance

Not only does a clearer vision of the customer journey help you dive into the conversion mindset, but it also clears up any inefficiencies that may be plaguing your campaign. This gives you a chance to optimize critical points in the funnel and cut parts that aren’t bringing in any returns.


Opportunities to Personalize the Customer Journey

As attribution reveals how people are responding to certain touchpoints, marketers can lean into the types of messages that work well. For example, if customers respond better to a casual messaging approach as opposed to a more professional version, marketers can see that and quickly adjust their messages across an entire campaign. This opens the door to more effective targeting and lead generation. 

Most attribution technologies will allow you to track the basic UTM parameters (medium, source, campaign, term, content), but most of these only focus on the channel and don’t dive deep enough into the content or message. A more sophisticated attribution solution, like Prism by ObservePoint will let you drill down even further to see what specific content messages and visuals from Calls to Action, Promotion, Headlines, Image and Video Assets, and Promoted Products and Services are resonating better with your customers so you can personalize their journeys accordingly.   


Unify Online and Offline Tactics

Marketing attribution doesn’t simply overlook online tactics; you can measure how offline strategies are working too. Between magazine, television, and radio ads, or even just through word-of-mouth, businesses can know how well these offline channels are performing and how they are related to online channels. However, while most attribution technologies can collect this data, many struggle to actually unify it to show a complete customer journey. It is essential to use a solution that can truly unify this data to know exactly who did what, where, and when across the entire customer journey 


Marketing Attribution Models

A marketing attribution model is a set of rules that help marketers determine the campaign’s influence from different touchpoints. Essentially, there are three different umbrella categories for attribution models: single-touch,multi-touch, and machine-led.


Single-Touch Attribution

Single-touch attribution models aren’t as commonly used today. They generally assign all of the credit for a conversion to a single touchpoint, which doesn’t provide a broad view of the customer journey. The following are a few examples of single-touch attribution points.


First Touch

First touch attribution gives all of the credit for the conversion to the first touchpoint they had with your brand. This could be a webpage that appeared in their Google search results or an article they found on their social media feed.

While it’s easy to measure with Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics, this model is very short-sighted, as it doesn’t take into account any additional interactions a customer may have had on the way to a conversion. It’s hard to determine areas for improvement since it only shows what caught their interest in the first place, but doesn’t actually clarify what did or didn’t work to get them to eventually convert.


Last Touch

On the other side of the spectrum is last-touch attribution, or giving all of the credit to the last touchpoint a customer interacted with before a conversion. These can be attractive to businesses focused on driving conversion, but it isn’t very useful in practice. Just like first-touch attribution, it misses out on analyzing a huge portion of the customer journey.


Last Non-Direct Click

The last non-direct click still focuses on a single touchpoint, but it filters out all direct traffic, or customers who went to your site directly by typing in the URL. This helps better understand what other tactics may have inspired direct conversions. But even though it’s slightly more insightful than the other single point attribution methods, it still gives all of the credit to a single touchpoint, leaving the rest of the customer journey data to waste.


Multi-Touch Attribution

These attribution models provide a more nuanced and holistic view of the customer journey by spreading the credit out to multiple touchpoints. It allows marketing analysts and specialists to get a more accurate picture of what tactics are working well together. Here are some common multi-touch attribution models.



Linear models evenly distribute credit to every touchpoint a customer interacted with. For example, if there are five touchpoints, each one gets 20 percent of the credit. This model allows marketers to optimize the entire customer experience, rather than a single point. However, this model may give more credit to a touchpoint than it deserves.



This model attributes more credit towards the touchpoints that were closer to the conversion stage. This is great for understanding what helped drive a conversion, but it may ignore the touchpoint that initially attracted customers to the webpage. While time-decay attribution still gives some credit to all points, it ignores valuable touchpoints that came early on. 



Also known as the U-Shaped attribution model, position-based attribution assigns 40 percent of the credit to the first and last touchpoints of the customer journey, then distributes the remaining touchpoints in the middle stages. This model provides marketers a chance to optimize points that introduce customers to their brand and the points that drive conversion; it’s sort of the best of both worlds. The downside is that it may be an inaccurate value representation for the first and last points.


What Is Attribution Bias?

Attribution bias refers to a false assumption being made about the relationship between two variables. This is a term often used in psychology to describe when people try to justify their own or another person’s behavior. In marketing, attribution bias refers to a variety of reasons why a touchpoint may be getting more credit than it deserves:

  • Correlation-Base Bias: One event is assumed to cause another, when in reality it doesn’t.

  • In-Market Bias: Consumers who would have converted without seeing the ad, but the ad still gets credit for the conversion.

  • Cheap Inventory Bias: Believing inexpensive content is what’s leading to conversions, when it’s actually caused by the natural conversion rate for the target customer.

  • Digital Signal Bias: Marketers fail to factor in the relationship between online activity and offline sales.

Marketing attribution is not foolproof. Mistakes can easily be made as touchpoints are misattributed, resulting in improper adjustments that can hinder campaigns in the process and cost your team opportunities to engage more effectively with your audience, as well as valuable time and marketing budget. 


Marketing Attribution Tools

When marketing attribution is done well, it comes with a waterfall of data and information to sort and understand. While tools like Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics are great starting points for marketers to analyze their data and determine the value of their marketing strategies, many marketing leaders are becoming a bit more sophisticated with greater needs for attribution analysis. Fortunately, there is additional software out there that makes the process easier to manage. 

Attribution tools offer clearer insights into the customer journey. Many of these tools include the following services to help marketers acquire a deeper understanding of what is and isn’t working for them.


Customer Journey Analysis

See your product through the eyes of a customer. A customer journey analysis report offers a full analysis of how a customer is interacting with your organization and offerings. The collected data is used to:

  • Analyze every touchpoint of the customer journey

  • Interpret potential customer satisfaction

  • Identify what touchpoints are not worth pursuing

Return on Ad Spend

The Return on Ad Spend report (ROAS) helps to evaluate which of a business’s digital marketing tactics are actually working. It’s a way to quantify the value of a marketing tactic, and helps businesses determine:

  • The total budget for future campaigns

  • Tweaks to current campaign ventures

  • What channels they should or shouldn’t continue to invest in

Touchpoint Management Automation

At this point, we should be well aware of the central role touchpoints have in marketing attribution. They should be standardized so businesses can make important, data-driven decisions. That’s why some companies, including ObservePoint, have developed ways to automate touchpoint management. This automation process will help to:

  • Achieve 100 percent data completeness

  • Create and manage standardized tracking URLs and their functionality at scale

  • Free up time to focus on optimizing the customer experience

Don’t Settle for Incomplete Insights

The point of marketing attribution is to collect as much information as possible to be confident in data-driven decisions. While you could get by with data provided through basic attribution features that come with your analytics technologies, these technologies were not created as attribution-first solutions and give you limited visibility into what’s working and what’s not.


More sophisticated solutions like ObservePoint’s marketing attribution solution, Prism, use algorithmic and rule-based attribution models to visualize attribution across all customer experience efforts. Prism is a comprehensive, multi-touch attribution solution built on complete and unified data that enables you to show your contribution to revenue, prove the value of marketing efforts, and justify investments across all channels and content.


Contact us today to see how ObservePoint can help you achieve holistic and actionable attribution insights.

About the Author

Chris Baird

As Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Baird is responsible for providing strategic marketing direction for ObservePoint products, solutions, and services, and for presenting the ObservePoint brand worldwide. He previously held various marketing positions at Mrs. Fields Brands, Omniture, and Adobe.

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