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Marketing is a complex process that consists of various strategies and efforts, all directed at leading customers through the sales funnel.  

Before users make a purchase, they may have multiple touches with your brand: they may read relevant content on your website, read your marketing emails, engage with your brand on social media, watch your ads, attend your event, and contact with your sales team. Lead attribution helps to know which of these marketing elements affected the ultimate purchase decision most.  

What is Lead Attribution 

Basically, lead attribution means that you attribute your lead or customer to a particular marketing channel or event (for example, a marketing campaign, a conference, sales team outreach, etc.) This way, you can calculate your ROI and make further marketing investment decisions.  

Other benefits of measuring lead attribution include: 

  • The ability to optimize  marketing efforts (which is a hot topic for marketing in times of Coronavirus); 
  • Insights into a customer journey that allow designing effective lead nurturing campaigns;
  • The ability to assess which channel or strategy brings in the most qualified leads and optimize further work with leads coming from this source accordingly;  
  • Facts and figures that allow marketers to create and justify a marketing budget. 

Still, as it has been noted, a company rarely acquires a lead or a customer due to one touchpoint with a brand. This makes lead attribution a truly challenging task, even for experienced marketing experts. To tackle it, lead attribution models are used. More on that further. 

Using Lead Attribution Models to Measure Touchpoints Value

Using Lead Attribution Models to Measure Touchpoints Value

Lead attribution models are a set of rules that are used to assign credit to a particular point in the customer journey. 

There are many such models and no “right” solution to recommend. The fact is, finding a lead attribution model that is the best fit your business comes through trial and error, and 78% of companies remain unsure they are using the right one.

Let this not discourage you, though. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all model, there will surely be a model that fits your business or customer journey of a specific segment of your customers best of all.   

All lead attribution models all divided into:

Single-touch attribution models: Here, 100% of the value is attributed to one touchpoint. Although single-touch point models are easier to implement, they often assign disproportionally large value to a single source showing a distorted picture of lead generation. 

Multi-touch attribution models: Here, all or several contributing touchpoints are assigned some value. Using these models requires a good understanding of your customer journey and makes lead attribution more complex and more accurate.

Single-Touch Attribution Models

First-touch attribution. The first-touch attribution model tells to assign 100% of value to the first channel the lead engaged with. For example, a click on a particular ad in your PPC campaign, subscription to the webinar, or landing on your website for the first time. 

Lead creation attribution. Conversion into the lead happens when a person submits personal information for an offer, trial, or subscription. Many marketers believe this touchpoint to be critical for the final conversion into a client and, using the respective model, assign 100% of value to it. Needless to say, lead creation attribution undermines the value of all preceding and following points, which may be crucial to the customer journey.   

Last-touch attribution. Marketers using this model assign all the value to the last touchpoint before the customer close. For a B2C market, this can be a precise online search; in the context of B2B marketing, this can be a final pitch deck or a sales call.    

Note that online search may be both the first and the last touch before the purchase with several interim steps, such as comparing alternative offers and reading reviews. This is why, if you want to use lead attribution to assess the ROI of your SEO, it is vital to distinguish between various types of search intent.

Multi-Touch Attribution Models

Linear attribution. This model is regarded as the simplest of all multi-touch attribution models. In it, equal weight goes to all touchpoints. In reality, they rarely have the same impact in terms of lead conversion though. This is why other multi-touch attribution models or your custom model might be a better solution to lead attribution.    

Time decay attribution. The model gives the most credit to more recent marketing touchpoints, still assigning some value to those earlier in the process. For example, 60% of the value goes to the opportunity-creation touchpoint, 40% to the lead creation touchpoint, and 20% to the first touch.   

U-Shaped attribution. The U-shaped attribution model gives the first and the lead creation touchpoints 40% each and distributes the rest 20% between all the touchpoints that happen in between.   

W-Shaped attribution. Unlike the U-shaped attribution model, this one distributes the credit between all three most meaningful events: the first touch (30%), lead creation (30%), and opportunity creation (30%), and distributes the rest 10% between the interim touchpoints.   

Full path attribution. This model builds upon the W-shaped attribution distributing the primary value between the three key events. The main difference is that it distributes the remaining credit between the interim touchpoints and post-opportunity follow-up interactions that are excluded from most lead attribution models.     

Custom. Of course, you can develop your custom lead attribution model and assign your own weights in view of your industry, marketing channels, and customer insights.  

Understanding the Customer Journey 

Understanding the Customer Journey Before coming down to choosing a suitable lead attribution model, it is vital to understand what, when, why, and how of your customer journey. In other words, to be able to assign a specific value to a specific touchpoint, you need to clearly understand what these touchpoints are and how they impact the customer decision.  

Let us warn you against assuming that the channels and points you track are the ones that matter most. Customer journey mapping requires: 

  • Creation of personas of key customer groups
  • Primary research (surveys, interviews, VoC communities) 

Without asking your customers what matters the most for them, you risk overlooking some touchpoints (like word of mouth or exposure to awareness campaigns) or overestimate the impact of the touchpoints, in which you invest the most (like attending conferences). 

Lead-Attribution Models: Use Cases   

Let’s consider a few examples for you to get a better idea of the lead attribution process. 

Customer Journey in B2C

Say you are a fashion retailer. You invest in a top-notch design on your website that provides excellent customer experience, follow the latest SEO trends to rank high in SERP, do SMM and email marketing, and launch occasional holiday advertising campaigns.    

Analyzing your Valentine’s Day marketing campaign at the end of February, you may draw some insight into how effective the campaign was and which channel and ad worked best in terms of conversion. 

But does this one campaign account for all the customers your company has? No. 

To see a bigger picture of why and how people become your customers and optimize the sales process accordingly, you need to use a lead attribution model.  

If a person converted after clicking an ad on Valentine’s day (opportunity creation touchpoint), it would be wrong to assume the first visit to your website was a key event leading to the purchase – considered so according to the first-touch attribution model. At the same time, using the last-touch attribution model and giving 100% of the credit to the ad click that finished in a purchase wrongly undermines the value of SEO, content marketing and relationship building.  

Here, it would be sound to use a W-shape model or time decay attribution model: assign more value to the most recent marketing campaign giving some credit to previous successful efforts to attract a customer too. 

If you use retargeting to target those who clicked an ad but did not buy, better consider a full path or a custom model accounting for it. 

At the same time, some fashion retailers that leverage m-commerce might see the mobile app download as one key touchpoint and rightly use a one-touch model for lead attribution.  

B2B Customer Journey

A customer journey in a B2B industry tells a different story, and none of one-touch lead attribution models might work well in it, as buying cycles are long and affected by multiple stakeholders. 

Again, market research is needed to determine meaningful touchpoints. Still, a good idea might be to assign the most value to lead creation and opportunity creation touchpoints and distribute the remaining value to all other meaningful touchpoints (first encounter with a brand, company research and background check, sales team follow-ups, etc.). 

Concluding Thoughts 

You cannot control anything you are not aware of, so keeping track of marketing statistics like a SERP position, the number of followers, or cost per click for an ad campaign is a must. However, do not fall into the trap of generating statistics for the sake of statistics. The desire to keep up to the Joneses and follow all conceivable best practices in terms of marketing can result in a wrong focus and unjustified expenses.

Instead, use lead attribution to help you focus on what is meaningful, answer strategic questions, and make marketing budget decisions.