The Challenge of Marketing Attribution

It is a simple question that becomes harder to answer the more you investigate it: why did this customer buy from you?

Did they see an Instagram post or story  that particularly resonated with them, or search for a product on Google? Or perhaps they opened a promotional email and made their decision then.

The bigger your business becomes, the more complicated this question is to answer. Between your website, social media channels, influencer program, in-person interactions, and a host of other touchpoints, understanding the behavior  of your shoppers can seem impossible.

Even so, it is a good idea for your brand to garner as clear an understanding as possible of all the different interactions and touchpoints that consumers have with your brand, from the first impression to becoming an official customer. This helps you know which channels and specific campaigns contributed to their conversion, and guides the decision to invest further money and attention.

In practice, however, marketing attribution is a tricky game. In the world before iPhones, tablets, and laptops, most people only had one device with which to access the internet. Marketing attribution was much simpler as a result. Today, there are a number of factors to consider:

Privacy and tracking

Europe’s recent GDPR regulations and global privacy concerns mean consumers increasingly have to opt in to be tracked online. This is rapidly changing the landscape of digital marketing.

Attribution is mostly click-based

Since most attribution and reporting are  based on tracking click-based behavior , it doesn’t account for the impact of merely viewing ads or content without clicking on them.

Modern internet use is multi-device use

Many consumers today typically use a combination of smartphones, tablets, computers and smart home devices to shop online. Each of these may be recorded as a unique visitor to your site when they actually belong to the same customer. Fortunately, there are a number of specific marketing attribution models brands can take to fill in these gaps in marketing attribution. These include:

 Last click

This model gives all conversion credit to the last clicked ad and corresponding keyword, and is the most commonly used model on most marketing platforms.

First click

This model views the first touchpoint as the most important step in the customer journey. It is useful when prioritizing  your market spend on building traffic and finding new audiences.


This model spreads conversion credit equally across all clicks during the customer journey, and is the simplest form of multi-touch marketing attribution.

Time decay

Similar to the last click, this model gives some credit to interactions that lead to the final click, with more credit given to clicks that happened closer in time to the customer conversion.


This model gives equal weight to the first and last click while attributing a smaller share of the credit to interceding interactions.


This model is often referred to as customer attribution. With the right data, machine learning can dictate which touchpoints deserve the most credit.

There is no right way for a brand to tackle marketing attribution, but it is a vital step in your assessment and planning nonetheless. The more you understand the consumers, the smarter your campaigns will be.