What is Multi-Touch Attribution?

 Simply put, multi-touch attribution is a way to determine the value of every touchpoint on the way to a conversion for your buyer.

Instead of crediting attribution to a single touch (e.g. referral traffic) multi-touch assigns credit to every marketing channel that interacted with your buyer on their journey.

Consider the following marketing conundrum…

ExecutiveHow is marketing contributing to our bottom line?

Marketing DirectorHow do I prove marketing is creating awareness, driving demand, and creating sales opportunities?

Sales DirectorHow do I get air cover for my sales team to help close more deals?

Operations DirectorHow can we get better alignment between marketing and sales to help create a better customer experience for my team?

Let’s find some answers to those questions and the following:

  • So, What Exactly is Multi-Touch Attribution
  • Why is Multi-Touch Attribution Important for B2B?
  • The Difference Between Multi-Touch Attribution vs. First-Touch vs. Last Touch
  • Multi-Touch Attribution Models
  • How Do B2B Marketers Use Multi-Touch Attribution?
  • Google Analytics Multi-channel Funnels (MCF)

 

So, What Exactly IS Multi-Touch Attribution?

One of the biggest challenges faced by today’s B2B marketers is showing value in their marketing efforts. Specifically, how marketing influences users in the buying decision. Is your primary objective to drive qualified leads? Or create demand for your product or services? Maybe your goal is to differentiate your brand as a thought leader in your industry.

Regardless of your core objective, you’re more than likely using multiple channels, advertising platforms, and media to reach your target audience. Being able to properly attribute which channels had a hand in moving your users to a conversion goal is not only about showing value, but also key in helping you make informed decisions so you know where to focus your budget and efforts.

Here’s a simple analogy of multi-touch attribution (I like road trips)…

Let’s say I plan on taking a road trip that spans across multiple states in a traditional gas-fueled car (not hybrid). When planning the best route to take I’m going to strategically add stops to gas stations along the way. If I have to fill up five times to get to my destination then naturally I would credit each of those fill-ups as being a part of my journey. In this case, assuming I filled up the same amount each time, each station would get one-fifth of the total credit.

Now, I know what you’re saying – “Wait! Is that fair? Each station had different prices for the same amount of gas. Shouldn’t they get credited differently?” Check out the attribution models below.

In a similar way with marketing, as your buyer makes their way toward a purchase decision, they have made many “stops” along the way by means of seeing a social media post, reading an article relating to a problem they are trying to solve, seeing a Google search ad based on the keywords they searched, seeing a banner ad “following” them on different websites, etc.

Each of those stops is similar to the aforementioned road-tripper filling up with gas, or in this case with information, that helps them get to their destination. And like the road trip illustration, it doesn’t matter which gas station or marketing channel they fill up at (from a reporting standpoint). What’s important is that it took multiple stops to complete their journey and we need a way of seeing this.

Why is Multi-Touch Attribution Important for B2B?

Multi-touch attribution is important for B2B brands because the buying cycle is generally complex and spans a longer period. It requires multiple touches before buyers are ready to make a purchase decision. Today’s buyers are savvy and do a lot of research on many channels and platforms before ever reaching out to sales.

How effectively you track your buyer’s journey will help you understand your buyer’s behavior and what is influencing them along the way. Relying on a single-touch attribution (first-touch or last touch data) means you’re missing out on the way your B2B buyers truly interact in an omnichannel world.

  • According to a Forrester B2B buying survey, the number of buying interactions has jumped to a staggering 27! This means that along their journey, customers, on average, interact with a brand a whopping 27 times before buying. The touchpoints have quadrupled from where they were a few years ago (6-8 interactions). Why? Because there’s no shortage of information overloading our buyers, which adds to the complexity of the buying process.
  • This is further supported by a TrustRadius statistic that 87% of buyers want to self-serve part or all of their buying journey. 57% of buyers already make purchase decisions without ever talking with a vendor representative.
  • 44% of marketers say “Better measure the ROI of our demand generation initiatives” is their top priority (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
  • B2B marketers say articles/blog posts, white papers, and videos are the three most valuable content marketing mediums to move prospects through the sales funnel (Statista).

To help illustrate why multi-touch attribution is important for B2B, let’s take a look at a fictional character named Alex. She is the Marketing Director at a mid-sized tech company and is looking for a SaaS tool to help automate (fill-in-the-blank problem). As a savvy marketer, she jots down her needs in a spreadsheet, has a budget in mind, and begins her journey to find the tool that will increase productivity.

Over the next 90 days her path might look a little something like this before she actually makes a decision:

  • Runs Google searches to see what tools are out there
  • Visits vendors’ sites to learn more about features
  • Reads articles on these sites and lists sites that offer valuable insights into how their tools can solve problems similar to hers
  • Watches YouTube videos of influencers speaking about the tools she is interested in learning more about
  • Goes to review sites to see what others in her industry are saying about these tools
  • Frequents social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and engages with retargeting ads related to the problem she needs a tool for
  • Clicks on an ad and signs up for an eBook that offers a checklist to help simplify the vetting process
  • Narrows the list down to a few vendors and visits the site to dive deeper
  • Gets emails from these vendors with insightful and timely info
  • Continues to run Google searches that get more specific as she understands her needs better through her research
  • Looks for pricing, but these vendors don’t advertise their price, so she requests a demo
  • Continues to get emails from these vendors
  • Continues to get retargeted on websites and YouTube channels she frequents
  • Continues to look on YouTube for any deeper demos of the product
  • Has demo with vendors
  • Communicates via email with vendors to answer questions and concerns
  • Checks out resources and onboarding articles sent by the vendors
  • Schedules a call with account managers and onboarding specialists of vendors to address specific questions

Everyone’s path might look a little different. But you get the idea. There are multiple touchpoints from various channels that a B2B buyer interacts with before making a decision on a service or product.

The Difference Between Multi-Touch Attribution vs. First-Touch vs. Last Touch

Let’s dive into the difference between first-touch, last-touch, and multi-touch attribution. Before we dig in, I want to emphasize that multi-touch attribution is the more sophisticated and real-world way to measure the touchpoints for your B2B buyers.

First-Touch Attribution

First-touch attribution gives 100% credit to the first marketing interaction before a user converts.

So even if the buyer sees multiple ads on different platforms, conducts searches on various search engines, receives emails in the nurturing process, and reads various articles on the site, this simple model is going to attribute the first touchpoint in the journey while neglecting every other stop along the way.

Need help building a better attribution model for your marketing reports?

Last-Touch Attribution

Similarly, last-touch assumes that the last marketing engagement in the buyer’s journey gets the full sales credit.

Since we’ve already touched upon the fact that most B2B buyers are savvy and will be doing their due diligence and require multiple touches before they convert, we can safely assume that this model will not give you the full picture either.

First-Touch/Last-Touch vs. Multi-Touch

Back to the illustration of taking a road trip that requires multiple gas stops. Using the first-touch model would suggest that you only need to fill up one time to make the entire journey. And using the last-touch model would say that it’s the last fill-up that allowed me to make the trip. But the multi-touch attribution model takes all of the fill-ups (touchpoints) from the beginning to the end into account.

Let’s not discount first-touch or last-touch models. They can certainly provide some insights, especially if you see a common pattern as you evaluate your data. And in very specific instances, these attribution models may actually be better suited for your business.

For example, if you offer a low-cost B2B product or service, that requires very little consideration from the buyer, then using a first or last-touch attribution model might make sense. Or if you offer a product or service that is high demand or emergency-based, such as business tax audit service or server repair, these models might also be preferable to multi-touch.

Single-Touch Fallacy

Many B2B marketers believe that first-touch or last-touch attribution is a more accurate way of assessing the quality of a lead. In most cases, this is simply not true. As we explored earlier, there are many touchpoints in a B2B buyer’s journey, especially for more complex sales cycles.

The multi-touch attribution model provides a fuller picture of what interactions your buyer encountered along the way and can help you make more informed marketing decisions.

Multi-Touch Attribution Models

There are many platforms that provide attribution models, with varying degrees of sophistication; some use algorithmic methodologies that leverage machine learning and statistical modeling.

Here are the four most common multi-touch attribution models to help B2B brands understand their buyer’s journey to conversions.

Linear Attribution Model

The linear model gives equal credit or value to each marketing channel in the conversion path. It’s likely the most commonly used of all the multi-touch attribution models for B2B sales cycles. With multiple touchpoints that span across many channels and devices, this is a popular model used to ensure credit is given to each touchpoint.

An example of how a linear model might assign credit is:

  • Google search ad (25%)
  • Facebook post (25%)
  • Email (25%)
  • Organic search (25%)

 

Time Decay Attribution Model

This multi-channel attribution assigns a greater value closest to the time of conversion. In other words, there is more credit given to the last-touch and less credit given to the first-touch — credit declines in the buyer’s journey from start to finish.

The time decay model could be useful for shorter sales cycles and for B2B products or services that are less complex with fewer touchpoints.

An example of how the time decay model might assign credit is:

  • Received an email (10%)
  • Organic search (20%)
  • Direct website visit (30%)
  • LinkedIn ad (40%)

 

U-Shaped Attribution Model

Also called Position Based, this model attributes greater credit to the first interaction and last interaction, with lower attribution to the middle touches in the buyer’s path to conversion. It essentially weighs the first-touch and last-touch as the most important and then every interaction in-between gets the remaining credit.

For some B2B organizations, this is a useful way to measure attribution as they believe the first marketing touch is very important as is the last thing a buyer sees before making a decision.

An example of how a U-shaped model might assign credit is:

  • LinkedIn post (40%)
  • Direct website visit (10%)
  • Email (10%)
  • Display retargeting ad (40%)

W-Shaped Attribution Model

In this multi-touch model, greater credit is given to the first-touch, lead creation touch, and opportunity touch, while the other touchpoints get the remainder of the credit. Note, this attribution model is not available in all platforms.

This model is appropriate for B2B brands that have a clear understanding of their marketing funnel and the ability to track lifecycle stages, such as with HubSpot.

An example of how W-shaped model might assign credit is:

  • Display Ad (30%)
  • Facebook post (5%)
  • Downloaded lead magnet from Google search ad (30%)
  • Email (5%)
  • Filled out LinkedIn lead gen form for demo offer (30%)
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