Fun with Marketing Attribution Models

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The way digital marketers track virtual events has changed, matured and evolved over the years. Not only are brands connecting these often highly specific events to an outcome such as conversion, but they are also able to assign a value to each event as a result. That offers a level of understanding about spend that is unmatched in the history of commerce and provides those willing to do the digital work an opportunity to influence individual shoppers and engage them on a level that drives them to the desired behavior - conversion.

An attribution model is simply a rule (or a set of rules) that determine how credit for sales/conversions is assigned to touchpoints in conversion paths. Say for example that your brand runs display and CPC advertising campaigns, participates actively in social media, has a strong organic search presence and regularly sends emails to its prospective client base. Knowing which touchpoint/channel most influenced the user proves valuable.

The purpose of a marketing attribution model is to quantify the influence that each impression has on the decision to purchase. Visibility into what influences an audience (as well as when and to what extent) allows marketers to optimize their spend for conversions and compare the value of different marketing channels, such as paid advertising (including display) and organic search, email, affiliate marketing, social media and more - so they know exactly what touchpoint is responsible for the success (or failure).


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Multiple attribution models have emerged over the years but most still use the single-source attribution model, which assigns all the credit (for the sale) to one event (e.g. first or last click as described below). While it's far less accurate than alternative forms of attribution (as it does not take into account contributing factors that led to a specific outcome), it does simplify things greatly. There are some interesting approaches to attribution models and the more you know, the better decisions you'll be able to make.

Let's take a closer look at some common attribution models, and the advantage and disadvantages of their use.

- First Click: All of the credit goes to the first click (any clicks occurring after the first aren't counted). First click is good if brand awareness is the objective, but since it does not count subsequent clicks, too much credit is often given to certain events.

- Last Click: In the last click attribution model, all the credit is given to the last event that occurs. This simplifies tracking, but doesn't illustrate which other events led to conversion.

- Linear: In this attribution model, every touchpoint the conversion path shares gets credit for a sale. Treating all clicks with equal weight is difficult to track, however, so this model is not used with any regularity.

- Time Decay: Those touchpoints closest to the sale/conversion, in terms of time, receive the most credit. Channels used one week ago, for example, would receive less credit than those channels receiving an interaction a few hours from conversion.

- Position Based: While it too is difficult to track, position based is arguably a very fair attribution model as it gives a majority of the credit to the first and last click and distributes the remainder evenly among the other touchpoints.

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