Thoughtful female sitting by a window with a city view, while researching a potential product purchase on her tablet - multitouch-attribution-customer journey concept
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This article is the final installment of this 4-part article series on customer experience sponsored by Arm Treasure Data.

Demonstrating the ROI of your content marketing is critical not just to justify your existing budget, but also to understand how you can optimize your efforts to drive greater results more efficiently.

One of the most impactful ways to prove this value is to map your work to the customer journey, showing how a piece of content was directly involved in closing a sale. This tracking is called a marketing attribution strategy, which is a set of rules that determine how various touchpoints in your buyer’s journey are “credited” for a sale.

Companies can take a multitude of attribution approaches, and our State of the Customer Journey in 2019 research explored just how marketers are tracking this journey in the ever-complicated state of today’s sales cycles.

Unfortunately, nearly half of those surveyed are not using a formal marketing attribution strategy, meaning they do not know how their content is affecting sales. And, perhaps equally as bad, 1% are using a single-touch attribution approach, which amounts to relying on the “easy” data which can be worse than making decisions without any data at all.

Just 27% of marketers are using a multi-touch attribution strategy, which is the only way for your team to understand how all your efforts are laddering up to a final sale.

It can seem overwhelming to adopt multi-touch attribution, in part because there isn’t a simple, off-the-shelf solution that works for every company. It’s important to understand the different types of multi-touch attribution models and their unique opportunities and challenges to find the best approach for your team.

Related Article: Don't Kid Yourself at Decision Time: Why Bad Data Is Worse than None

6 Common Multi-Touch Attribution Models

The issue with single-touch approaches is that the full “credit” for a sale is assigned to an individual piece of content. Imagine a customer journey that has 13 touchpoints over nine months. With a first-touch attribution model, you track and give credit to only the first touchpoint as leading to the sale, while in a final-touch attribution model, the credit goes only to the last touchpoint.

If you are assigning a budget to marketing activities based on such a limited scope of data, you risk derailing your customer journeys by not investing in the right content to move prospects from awareness through their purchasing decision-making process.

While all multi-touch attribution approaches recognize the value of the entire range of touchpoints across the customer journey, there are several different ways to manage the scoring system. Here are six of the most common multi-touch attribution models:

  • Linear Attribution: This strategy, used by 13% of those surveyed, recognizes all touchpoints from awareness through the sale and places equal value on all touchpoints.
    • Pros: One of the simplest forms of multi-touch attribution and tracks every touchpoint
    • Cons: This involves heavy data sifting and requires advanced knowledge to integrate the touchpoint trackers
  • Weighted Multi-Touch Attribution: Just like a linear model, every touchpoint gets credit, but specific touchpoints can have a higher value placed on them, such as the first and/or last touch.
    • Pros: Includes every touchpoint and allows for total customization
    • Cons: The implementation can be complicated, and the results could be misleading if touchpoints are not adequately weighted
  • Time Decay Attribution: 3% of our respondents use this model, where touchpoints lose value based on how much distance separates them from the purchase.
    • Pros: Every touchpoint is counted and the time decay aspect helps your team focus on the middle and bottom of the funnel content
    • Cons: The first touches will always be ranked lower, making top-of-the-funnel content potentially seem less important than it is
  • U-Shaped/Position-Based Attribution: Also used by 3% of the marketers in our survey, this approach tracks every touchpoint between first touch and lead conversion, giving 40% credit to each and sharing the remaining 20% with any touch points between those two events.
    • Pros: Focuses on two significant events in the buying cycle
    • Cons: Nothing is tracked past the lead conversion making it a suboptimal fit for organizations focused on total lifetime value
  • W-Shaped Attribution: Expanding on the U-Shaped model, this tracks activities between lead conversion and opportunity creation as well. The first touch, lead conversion touch, and opportunity creation touch are given 30% each, and then the rest split the remaining 10%.
    • Pros: Recognizes three main transition periods in the sales funnel
    • Cons: Does not provide full-funnel visibility
  • Full-Path Attribution: This model builds on the W-shape, and adds the closing touch to encompass the entire buyer’s journey.
    • Pros: Provides complete visibility into the sales funnel
    • Cons: Requires close alignment with sales teams

Related Article: State of the Customer Journey: Top Challenges and How to Tackle Them

Finding The Right Multi-Touch Attribution Strategy

There are a few factors to assess when picking which of the above multi-touch attribution strategies is best for your team. First, look at your martech stack to see what capabilities you may have — some CRMs now automate multi-touch attribution tracking.

Next, assess the length of your sales cycle and the number of touchpoints involved. For shorter cycles with fewer touchpoints, some of the more complicated models are not worth the time and resource investment. Longer cycles that span a multitude of touchpoints typically will benefit from a more thorough attribution approach, with linear, weighted multi-touch or time-decay being strong contenders for such cycles.

The final consideration is where your team places the highest priority in the sales cycle and how much alignment you have with your sales teams. U-Shaped, W-Shaped, and Full-Path attribution each focus on different parts of your buying cycle, and your team could consider using them in sequence as stepping stones when implementing your multi-touch attribution approach.

Related Article: Delivering the Right Content at Each Step of Your Buyer's Journey

Whichever approach your team takes, start small with your implementation to address any issues with your set-up early on. Ensure your team can accurately track all your digital and offline touchpoints to take all the data at your disposal into consideration.

From there, it’s a matter of listening to your data and experimenting with different content types at different stages in the funnel to find the optimal combination that meets the needs of your buyers.

As you become more comfortable with your multi-touch approach, pilot a more sophisticated method to see if your team is ready for the next step. Download “The State of the Customer Journey” — an Arm Treasure Data exclusive report — to learn how your peers are using data to drive higher conversion rates, better customer experiences, and increased customer lifetime value (CLV).