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Digital Cream is a series of international events hosted by Econsultancy where marketers and business representatives are invited to network, exchange experiences and learn from one another’s progress in digital marketing.

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the latest conference at Emirates Stadium in London and the chance to sit-in on three of the day’s marketing attribution roundtables. 

Attribution is clearly an area of contemporary business which a range of delegates were interested in. Many, however, were quite new to the concept – and there is a clear risk of inertia when presented with the somewhat limitless complexities the subject can present. Not to mention all that data…

I collected my notes in this Marketing Attribution Trends Briefing (thanks to our sponsors Adometry for their assistance and case studies included). But for a short summary, here are four of the key takeaways from that day...

Most businesses are doing ‘last click’ attribution

It is true to say that of Digital Cream’s attendees who are currently running campaigns across multiple channels, most are working with attribution in some way. 

What soon became clear is that many companies appear to default to a ‘last click’ attribution model. They are crediting the final stage in the user journey because directly after this the customer has converted.

This is understandable. ‘Last click’ is readily available via analytics and it seems logical to credit, for example, organic search if a purchase is made straight afterwards.

Consequently, more or sometimes all credit is given to this channel. But there is a danger here that the ‘last click’ is being over-credited, particularly for long and complex user journeys that cross a number of different channels. Attribution is really about having a better understanding of all the marketing touch-points a customer sees or engages with before conversion.

Businesses recognise the value in other attribution models

To gain an understanding of how other types of attribution models may be fairer in how they credit certain stages of the customer journey, we envisaged a simple three-stage customer journey involving one interaction each with email, organic search and paid search.

When seen in table form, it is easier to understand that ‘last click’ and ‘first click’ attribution models may be underestimating the value of other touch-points along the user journey. 

After all, with the sheer number of channels being used online and offline today by progressive marketers, the notion that a customer might see messages in several different places before deciding to purchase is not difficult to fathom.

As is evident from the table, columns towards the centre-right – ‘linear’, ‘time-decay’ and ‘position-based’ models each give credit to other stages of the customer journey as well as the first and last clicks. 

These are an improvement on the left-most models. But with knowledge, preparation and resources – marketers really want to be aiming for the column on the far right: an attribution model which is customised by channel.

Marketers face many hurdles when implementing attribution

Of course, this may well be easier said than done. Digital Cream attendees said they faced many different challenges when implementing attribution within their company.

Data challenges:  These include dealing with vast amounts of data which is necessary for marketing attribution. Sometimes too much can lead to inertia before things even get started and others reported not being able to crunch data quick enough. Joining up data and overcoming discrepancies among management systems are also challenges, especially when many channels are involved.

Internal challenges: Key problems occurring within companies include receiving buy-in and sign-off from managers, conflict between online and offline parts of the business, as well as relying on teams with different work-rates and targets. Additionally attribution can oppose entrenched marketing habits; which can be frustrating for colleagues at any level.

Attribution-specific challenges:  These Include confusion between analysis and modelling, how to decide on a model when there are so many variables and recognising the value of online and offline channels that don’t result in clicks – not all ‘conversions’ are online purchases.

Success comes from starting small and going from there

To help marketers overcome the numerous challenges which can be faced when beginning or furthering their marketing attribution activities, we put together these six best practice tips:

  • Start small: Identify small attribution steps (with core business data) to validate an impact.
  • Make incremental changes: Attribution isn’t a switch. An example roadmap might be: start with online data first, then integrate an offline channel, then integrate something else.
  • Every person and every sale doesn’t need to be tracked: But a general pool of entire user journeys (offline to online/online to offline) is valuable to attribution success.
  • Attribution opportunities are business/campaign-specific: There’s no ‘right’ model. For example, charities can connect retail to online by having customers register to donate. Store cards are widely used by retailers to understand how offline and online behaviour interact. Start small and enrich data collection and understanding over time. Prepare to be flexible.
  • Simple attribution models are often best: Complex models may be more accurate but less appealing to the rest of the business. The time they take to develop and gain insight from may also outweigh any realised benefits.
  • Remember the “attribution/dating” analogy: A marriage doesn’t happen simply because of the last date a couple have been on.

For more information download our Marketing Attribution Trends Briefing and take a look at our recent marketing attribution reports.

Luke Richards

Published 22 April, 2014 by Luke Richards

Luke Richards is a freelance writer and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his blog

58 more posts from this author

Comments (1)


Eric M Harris

Fantastic insights, and I couldn't agree more. Anyone looking to begin or re-start the journey of getting media attribution in place would do well to follow the 6 best practice steps outlined above.

over 2 years ago

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