The Essential Guide to Marketing Attribution Models for B2B Brands

Published on: | Updated on: | Caroline Lane

Imagine coaching a sports team but being banned from watching their games.  

You know the results, you see the league standings - but you have no clue which players are nailing it and which need to be sidelined. 

That’s exactly the situation marketing departments find themselves in without proper marketing attribution models.  

Incapable of untangling the complex web of influence that leads customers to convert, they are stuck on the bleachers praying they’ve made the right call. 

So in this article, we explore everything you need to know about marketing attribution models:  

  1. What are they?  
  2. How do they work? 
  3. And why do over three quarters of all marketers use them? 


What is Marketing Attribution? 

Marketing attribution is a method of assessing which marketing channels most influenced a given conversion. 

The conversion could be filling out a form, requesting a demo, making a purchase or any other action you want a user to take. 

Of course, there are nearly limitless factors that contribute to any of these actions - and not all of them can realistically be tracked.  

That doesn’t mean marketers simply throw their hands up in dismay. Instead, they develop and deploy attribution ‘models’.  

But what actually is a marketing attribution model - and how do they work? 

What is a Marketing Attribution Model? 

Marketing attribution models are frameworks for identifying which channels take credit for a conversion.  

By tracking individuals’ behavior across channels, marketers are able to see where a customer first interacted with their brand; each subsequent brand interaction; and the point at which they finally decided to convert. 

An attribution model attributes specific weighting (as a percentage) to each of these stages, enabling marketers to decide exactly how much credit each channel and touchpoint should take. 

Why are Marketing Attribution Models so Important? 

The rise of digital has transformed B2B marketing - and made life much more complicated for marketing teams. 

Today’s buyer uses up to 10 different channels - twice as many as they did in 2016. Worse still, buyer journeys are increasingly non-linear and involve up to 10 different decision makers.  

Marketing attribution models simplify the process of assigning credit, and help turn complex marketing data into action actionable insights that let them: 

1. Improve Performance 

Accurate attribution reveals the ROI of each marketing channel. Marketers can use this information to optimize their channel mix, both ensuring budget is used efficiently and helping them increase conversions

2. Demonstrate the Value of Complex Channels 

Many marketing activities take time to produce results, and are often overlooked because of this. SEO marketing is a great example: it can take months to produce ROI, and marketing attribution helps reassure brands that their dollars are well spent. 

3. Optimize Future Campaigns 

Marketing attribution enables marketing departments to understand a brand’s specific audience. Which channels are having the greatest impact? Which channels are underperforming? And how can we make sure the budget is spent in the most effective way? This ensures each campaign becomes a learning experience - and contributes to even better performance down the line. 

Which Attribution Model Should You Choose? 

There are a number of common marketing attribution models, and each has its advocates. Every agency should at least be aware of the following: 

1. First Touch Attribution 

This model assigns 100% of credit to the channel where a customer had their first interaction with your brand.  

Example: A user might have found your website through organic search, explored the site and decided to request a demo.The first touch attribution model would attribute this demo request to organic search - which makes sense if the conversion happens quickly after that initial contact.  

But the model begins to create problems as soon as a buyer journey extends beyond a few simple actions. This is especially dangerous in B2B marketing, where leads tend to require a great deal of nurture before they convert. 

2. Last Touch Attribution 

This model assigns 100% of credit to the channel of the final interaction with a customer before converting. 

Example: If a user has been in your database for several months and finally converts after receiving a marketing email, last touch attribution would give sole credit to email marketing. 

The problem is, this treats the buyer as if they existed in a vacuum: nothing before this moment had any influence on their decision. This leads to undervaluation of both lead nurture and generation - as if all that mattered were the final CTA. 

3. Linear Attribution 

This model assigns equal credit to every channel the buyer interacts with, creating a totally flat weighting system. This helps address the issues with first and last touch attribution, and advocates argue it helps marketers better understand the full buyer journey. 

Example: Imagine a situation where a prospect has been in your marketing funnel for several months. During that time, they opened 7 emails and clicked 4 of them, downloaded 2 one pagers, interacted with 3 social ads, and read a single blog article for 23 seconds.  

The linear attribution model would give as much credit to your blog as to your email team, which essentially undermines the key benefits of marketing attribution. 

It becomes impossible to alter your channel mix - unless a specific channel is not engaged with at all - and fails to assess the relative ROI of any channel which is used. 

4. Time Decay Attribution 

This model assigns credit to each channel based on its relative temporal proximity to conversion. That is, channels that were used 1 day before conversion are given more weight than those used 2 days before - creating a descending slope from the last to first touchpoint. 

While linear attribution treats the buyer journey as if there is no ebb and flow between a buyer’s first and last brand interaction, time decay attribution assumes the journey is a constantly escalating adventure. But given that B2B buyers no longer move through the funnel in a linear motion, this makes little sense - and risks crediting useless activity that happens to have occurred close to the moment of conversion. 

Example: If a prospect happens to open an email the day before they convert, email marketing will be given a greater weighting than the white paper they read 2 weeks ago - even if the email had no impact whatsoever. 

5. W-shaped Attribution 

This model emphasizes three moments in the buyer journey:  

  1. The first interaction 
  2. The moment the prospect becomes a lead 
  3. The moment of conversion 

Each of these take 30% of the credit, while the final 10% is shared equally amongst all other touchpoints - creating a ‘W’ shape on a graph. 

Example: A prospect enters your funnel through a paid search ad, becomes a prospect when they download an eBook and ultimately convert based on an email - and therefore all three share equal credit for the conversion.  

The problem is this assumes that each ‘stage’ is equally challenging. It might be much more meaningful for a given user to download an eBook than it was for them to click on an ad (after all, the latter content demands far less time and attention.) As a result, marketers don’t properly focus their efforts on ‘pain points’ within their funnel. 

6. U-shaped Attribution 

This model gives the first and last touchpoints 40% of credit for a conversion - and distributes the final 20% amongst everything in the middle. While this is unlikely to be perfectly accurate, it ensures the right factors are focused on - and tends to produce the best results. 

Why? Largely because lead generation and conversion are the most impactful activities. Once you have a prospect in your funnel, regular nurture is essential. But turning them into a customer - and generating revenue - is ultimately a matter of conversion.  

Example: Organic search might bring the user in, and your super persuasive email finally convinced them to convert - but there is still plenty of activity in the middle that influences their behavior. The U-shaped attribution model addresses that fact - without treating everything as totally equal. 

Still Struggling to Achieve Accurate Marketing Attribution? 

Even with the right strategy in place, marketing attribution is difficult. You need accurate data to track buyer behavior and the right analytics in place to turn that data into clear, actionable insights. 

ProperExpression is a performance marketing and RevOps agency that helps marketers set up and automate that kind of reporting - all based on proper attribution models. The result? You receive real-time feedback to optimize your campaigns, understand buyer behavior and drive more revenue.  

Get in touch today! 


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