How Does Multi-Touch Attribution Work? And What Convinced the Customer to Buy?

How Does Multi-Touch Attribution Work? And What Convinced the Customer to Buy?

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What worked best in your last marketing campaign? Which customer touches were most influential in getting customers to buy? Those are tough questions these days because rarely do two customers follow the exact same customer journey, with the same customer touchpoints. And in marketing, as in sports and warfare, success has a hundred fathers, and failure is an orphan. Was it the great social media marketing campaign, as the social media marketing director claims? Or was it the great salesmanship, as your sales director argues? And is the content really worth what you’re investing in it, or could you get by with less?

Luckily, there are ways to use customer data to get good answers, and multi-touch attribution is the most powerful way to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Let’s take a deeper look. 

How Does Multi-Touch Attribution Help?

The real question you need to answer is: Of the elements in the marketing mix, which contributed the most to a completed sale? There are several different models that marketers can use.

Here’s a helpful way to think about the question—and understand multi-touch attribution. You see a beautiful cake. Which elements were most critical in making the cake great? In baking and in marketing, some components are more critical than others. While an oven is pretty essential in baking, the cake would likely still be good without a teaspoon of cinnamon. In marketing, however, things aren’t always as clear cut. 

Many marketers still use last-touch or first-touch attribution to make that call. Imagine applying either of these models to baking: Last-touch attribution would be crediting your oven for baking a cake. First-touch would be crediting the flour for the whole cake. Neither provides an accurate picture of all the ingredients and components that came together to make the delicious dessert. 

Multi-touch attribution seeks to give proper credit to each element that contributes to a purchase decision. Armed with this knowledge, marketers can decide where to focus their resources when “baking” their marketing campaigns. 

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What Is Multi-Touch Attribution?

Multi-touch attribution uses marketing technology to quantify and qualify the customer interactions that lead to a purchasing decision. Considering it takes about 8 touches to just snag a sales appointment, keeping track of those touches is crucial.

While the first-touch for a particular customer might have been a social media post and the last-touch before the purchase decision may have been the sales call, it’s very unlikely that your customer would have gotten from point A to point B without other touches in between. 

Depending on your industry, typical stops on the buyer’s journey may include social interactions, website visits, print ads, asset downloads, and in-person meetings. Multi-touch attribution technology ingests customer data, analyzes thousands of customer journeys, scores the effectiveness of each customer touchpoint, and then uses aggregate data to determine the most essential components of a sale. 

4 Types of Multi-Touch Attribution Models

Just as there are multiple ways to bake a cake, there are numerous types of multi-touch attribution, with different levels of complexity. The following are the four most prevalent models. 

Linear attribution model: In the most simple of the multi-touch models, attribution is distributed equally across all touchpoints. It doesn’t matter that one touchpoint is a web ad three years ago and the other was a three-day seminar that wrapped up last week, this model values all interactions the same. 

Time-decay attribution model: This model assumes the most recent touchpoints are most valuable. For example, attribution for a sales call two days ago may be 50 percent, while attribution for a sales call six months ago may be 5 percent. 

Full-path attribution model: The assumption here is that the four key touchpoints—first touch, lead creation, opportunity creation, and close—are responsible for the bulk of the success. Attribution for each of these components is weighted at 22.5 percent. The remaining 10 percent attribution is distributed among lesser touchpoints. Post-stage marketing initiatives are also typically measured within this model. 

Custom attribution model: In a custom model, every touchpoint has its own assigned attribution percentage based on historical data. Organizations typically use the full path as a baseline and customize to meet their reporting needs. 

Attribution Challenges

While multi-touch is undoubtedly more helpful than single-touch, and full path can provide more precise data for planning, reporting, and resource allocation, it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and calling it done. These challenges need to be accounted for, and we need to be real about how accurate our attribution can be. 

Technology investment: Without the right platform, multi-touch attribution is exceedingly difficult. It’s unlikely that Microsoft Excel, Adobe Analytics, or Google Analytics are going to cut it for anything more than single-touch attribution. The good news is that there are a myriad of martech solutions for multi-touch attribution that allow organizations to quantify the effectiveness of each touchpoint. 

Integration of online and offline metrics: No matter how smart your algorithms, they aren’t going to give you what you need if your data is spread far and wide. Fortunately, there’s martech for this too. A customer data platform (CDP) serves as a central online repository for all your first-party data, data you gather from your site, your app, analytics tools, CRM, marketing automation, historical data, and point of sale. By combining data from all your online and offline metrics you can better understand which ingredients are key to your success.

Influences outside your control: While it would be nice to control everything, there are factors that are outside of marketing’s ability to attribute or influence. Brand equity, customer experience, history, season, economy, active promotions, and competitor activity will all contribute to the customer journey. The best way forward is to account for a certain level of uncertainty, but still focus on the touches you can measure and control.

How to Get Started with Multi-Touch Attribution

Multi-touch attribution can help you whip up success for your brand. Here’s what happens in multi-touch attribution, and luckily, much of the work is automated, once you have the right martech and decide what you want to analyze:

  1. Start with a large data set of customer data and unified customer profiles: Many marketers use CDPs to unify online and offline data.
  2. Identify touchpoints: The first is to map the buyer’s journey and understand the touchpoints that impact a purchasing decision. 
  3. Determine model and KPIs: Next, determine your KPIs related to attribution and choose which attribution model will best meet organizational goals. 
  4. Apply a marketing analytics solution: This step normalizes and correlates data into digestible metrics using a martech solution. Some CDPs have analytics that handle multi-touch well, and that’s usually the easiest way to handle this step. The platform should offer person-level, granular insights into data to discover the comparative value of various touchpoints. 
  5. Generate and apply insights: Here’s where the magic happens. Once marketers glean insights from the data, they can optimize their marketing programs. 

The Value of Multi-Touch Attribution: Smarter Spending, Improved Reporting, Better Planning

Imagine if you could focus your marketing spend on the areas that provide the highest return on investment or have a higher chance of leading to a sale. Wouldn’t that be a recipe for success? In a nutshell, that’s exactly what multi-touch attribution allows marketers to do.

Smarter spending: Multi-touch allows you to more accurately model revenue sources. Being able to assess the respective value of each touchpoint allows marketing groups to focus on revenue as a KPI and apply resources more heavily to more valuable touchpoints, ditching tactics that aren’t providing positive ROI.

Improved reporting: Multi-touch attribution also allows marketing teams to better report their contribution to revenue. When your team is challenged to demonstrate ROI or recommend the marketing spend most likely to affect buyer behavior and increase revenue, you’ll have the data you need.

Better planning: Another benefit is better forecasting. With better visibility into the success of touchpoints across the buyer’s journey, marketers are able to better customize marketing efforts to boost revenue or reduce expenses. Ultimately, multi-touch attribution should allow marketing teams to secure more customers and spend less. 

Customer Data that Takes the Cake

The best marketing mix includes the ingredients that appeal most to your target market. Multi-touch attribution helps marketers determine when they should skimp or splurge on ingredients. A CDP that makes multi-touch attribution easy helps ensure that all touchpoints—both online and offline—are evaluated in the attribution process. Request a demo to get started today.

Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton is a former editorial director at IDG and former senior editor for InfoWorld and InformationWeek. She has written extensively about enterprise IT, business and environmental topics, and now serves as a senior marketing content manager for Treasure Data. She holds an MBA from Santa Clara, an Applied Math undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, and an MA in journalism from Mizzou. She also enjoys being a Toastmaster.
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