When it comes to optimising your digital marketing strategy, attribution is an essential component. But it is not without its challenges. Perfecting the ultimate attribution model is every digital marketer’s ambition.

“Attribution is the measurement of the incremental value of marketing channels, strategies and tactics against business outcomes.”

Being able to attribute conversions to the correct marketing channel will enable your decision makers to know how to best spend marketing budget and focus on the most effective campaigns. If attribution is not done correctly, you could risk wasting a lot of money on ineffective marketing strategies.

Research by BCG shows that business can save up to 30% on costs whilst increasing revenue by 20% by using a data-driven approach to their marketing and attribution.

What are the challenges of attribution?

Calculating the return on investment (ROI) of all your advertising campaigns is the ultimate aim of every business manager, but pinning conversions down to one particular channel is not simple.

A successful marketing strategy will span various media channels with multiple goals in mind. Alongside sales conversions, you need to accurately measure metrics such as brand awareness, lead generation, and website traffic, among others. All of these factors interplay to increase the profile and business outcomes of your organisation, so they all have a direct or indirect impact on your success rates.

The challenge of digital marketing attribution is in the complexity of these various KPIs, across multiple platforms. There will be multiple touchpoints along the customer journey that will contribute to the final decision to purchase. Knowing how much value to attribute to each is far from evident, and a lack of data around each touchpoint increases the difficulty of accurate attribution.

Some of the main gaps include:

Online to offline attribution - How do you measure the impact of both online and offline marketing on the final purchase decision?

Cross-device attribution - With users connecting via multiple devices, how can you track the same customer across various channels and screens, to understand their complete customer journey?

Keys to Successful attribution -There is no such thing as perfect attribution. Even the best modelling will have a significant margin of error that must be acknowledged. However, there is much you can do to improve your attribution processes in order to build an increasingly accurate picture of the marketing performance.

Most important areas to address when tackling the challenge of attribution:

Define KPIs

In order to accurately measure your attributions, you first need to have clearly defined KPIs that are constant across the whole business. It is essential that everyone has a shared understanding of what business outcomes are desired and what signifies success in each area.

Establish your data sources

Next, collate all of your available data sources, so you have a secure understanding of where your data is coming from. Are there any gaps in your current data that you need to address? Have you implemented website analytics effectively to track outcomes?

Include metrics for branding awareness

Not all marketing actions will result directly in revenue. If the aim of a video campaign is to increase brand awareness, then simply measuring it against a revenue-based metric will not present an accurate reflection of the campaign’s performance. Find ways to measure success via a performance-based model, for campaigns that have a less immediate impact on revenue.

Don’t wait for perfection

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the potential enormity of the attribution challenge and avoid making it a priority. On the other hand, without accepting that you will never have a definitive answer to every point, you could pour endlessly over the data without ever being confident in drawing conclusions. Ultimately, once you have done as thorough an analysis as you are able, you will need to apportion value to each channel based on the data you have available, accepting an unavoidable margin of error.

Keep in mind the bigger picture

Analytics platforms, whilst useful, can oversimplify data, which may lead you to draw inaccurate conclusions. Relying on first click or last click data will not account for the other touchpoints along the customer journey. Each marketing channel will have an incremental effect on the final buying decision and needs to be put into context.

Tracking online to offline influences

The relationship between online and offline marketing and sales is a significant challenge. You may choose to create specific campaigns that are focussed on tracking this link. This may involve for example introducing a discount code online that can be used in-store, and measuring the response.

Act on your insights

Data may be king, but unless it is acted on, it will have a little real impact on your bottom line. If you truly want to improve your ROI then you need to be willing to act. Have a system in place that allows you to make immediate changes based on attribution findings. Continually iterate to continually optimise your marketing spend.

Understanding the whole customer journey

Attribution forms a vital part of ever marketer’s toolkit. Harnessing the data available to you can lead to significant improvements in your marketing strategies. Digital marketing is increasingly about the ongoing customer journey - fostering long-lasting customer relationships across multiple channels and devices. Individual campaigns may each be more or less effective. But it is only through gaining a deeper understanding of all the stages of your funnel that you will be able to successfully optimise your customer journey.