What is Marketing Attribution? A Complete Guide

Community Commerce

time to read 7 MIN READ
What is Marketing Attribution? A Complete Guide

Marketing attribution seems like a horribly complex topic, but it doesn't have to be. When you understand it from a birds-eye view (as I'm going to do in this guide), marketing attribution makes a ton of sense. It can help you make better decisions around marketing, and with the right tools, it's simple to implement for higher conversion rates and greater customer loyalty.

And who doesn't want that?

Digital-attribution-model-how-much-credit-do-you-assign-each-marketing-activity-chartSource: LYF Solutions

What is Marketing Attribution?

Marketing attribution is the process of knowing which marketing post, email, blog, ad, etc. contributed to a sale, in what order those touch points occurred, and which of those moments had the greatest impact. Sales and marketing experts know that customers interact with their brand multiple times before they buy. Marketing attribution, or multi-touch attribution, reveals what those interactions looked like and which ones were most successful.

Understanding marketing attribution is similar to detective work. You might use a variety of tools to identify the order in which events happened. The data collected from these tools informs you which actions led to sales wins.

Why Attributing Leads and Sales Correctly Matters... A lot

In many situations, there lies a disconnect between marketing and sales. Attribution brings these two teams together.

With a clear picture of how your campaigns and other marketing tactics are working, you can make adjustments to improve them.

marketing-attribution-stats-attribution-challenges-www.ruleranalytics.com_-1024x683Source: Ruler Analytics

As a marketer, it’s also important to understand how sales attribution works so that you can better support those who are responsible for closing deals—and avoid wasting time on activities that don’t have much short or long-term impact on revenue.

Additionally, when both teams understand their role in marketing and sales attribution, they can focus on "needle-moving" tasks.

For example, marketers can experiment on new channels and content with a clear goal in mind (more to come on this concept of MQLs > SQLs > Deals Won > Power Users). Sales teams increase their conversion rates as lead generation grows more effective, targeting only those prospects that fit the brand's ideal customer persona (or profile).

What Tools Should You Use for Multi-touch Attribution

There are a number of tools available for multi-touch attribution, but not all are created equal. You should look for these features when evaluating your options: Multi-touch Attribution; Real-Time Data Collection & Reporting; Customizable Reporting Dashboards; Contact Source; and more.

If you run Facebook (Meta) or Google ads, both platforms give you a basic interface demonstrating attribution reporting. But you'll need a tool that connects to your various organic and paid channels for more precise information.

Currently, the most popular multi-touch attribution tools include HubSpot, Marketo, and Salesforce. But this space is growing quickly and there are attribution providers available for nearly any budget. When shopping for the right tools, they are often included in content management systems (CMSs), marketing automation platforms, or web analytics software.

How Marketing Attribution Works

The path to business growth is paved with data. For marketers, the question of how to measure marketing ROI is key. With limited budgets and a growing number of channels to choose from, it’s critical that you understand which campaigns are driving revenue (both short and long-term) so you can focus your efforts on what works best.

The Buyer's Journey (and Your Marketing Funnel)

The buyer’s journey is an essential part of understanding how your customers make decisions and what they need to move through the funnel. You can use this information to create an effective marketing strategy that drives leads at every stage of the funnel, from awareness to consideration and purchase.

marketing-funnel-diagram-copySource: Skyword

Within each stage, your customers engage your brand. Your attribution tools can express that engagement in the form of clicks, engagement rates, conversions, time-on-page, and more.

The key here is balance. What that means is recognizing that your high-performing touches in the "purchase" stage of your funnel may not be the most important. For example, if a prospect clicks and converts on an ad - was the ad the key touch that made the biggest difference, or was it a viral social post from 2 weeks ago?

Mature marketing analytics looks for the high-performing touch points within each stage of the marketing funnel. This approach ensures that you capture new customers the right way for lower customer acquisition costs, higher conversion rates, and greater brand loyalty (i.e., customer lifetime value).

Bringing Your Marketing and Sales Teams Together

Marketing and sales teams are often siloed, making it difficult to determine how well their efforts are working together.

The fact is that a strong marketing funnel and attribution improves both teams' performance by providing sales with better leads to work with. When you focus on the customer journey through your funnel, you accelerate the time it takes between someone hearing about your brand for the first time and completing a purchase.

One of the most common ways to track the marketing-sales process is by defining and tracking the following:

  • MQLs
  • SQLs
  • Closed Deals
  • Power Users

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

MQLs are qualified leads that have demonstrated interest in your products or services by completing a form on your website, downloading an ebook, attending an event, etc. They should also match your ideal customer profile (ICP).

An MQL may be ready to buy now (which graduates them to an SQL) or later (indicating that they are still working their way through your marketing funnel).

Content directed at MQLs should focus on moving someone toward the next stage of the marketing funnel (i.e., brand awareness to consideration).

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)

SQLs are MQLs that have been vetted by your sales team (or sales tools) and are ready to buy. This is an important milestone because it allows your company to focus on closing SQLs instead of chasing leads across your marketing funnel.

When engaging SQLs, your goal is to convert them to customers. 

Closed Deals

Just as it sounds, your closed deals completed that first purchase. It's at this point when it's most valuable to look back over the touch points that brought you that customer and what their experience was moving through your marketing funnel.

Now your goal is serving the customer and retaining them for as long as possible. Tracking attribution is never done -- you'll want to understand which channels and content are most effective at increasing customer loyalty for your brand.

Power Users (Raving Brand Fans)

Not every customer is going to be a dynamite customer, and that's okay. There are some customers who will become loyal to your brand and go out of their way to buy from you again and again.

These power users are what every business dreams of. They're raving fans, promoters of your brand, and advocates for all things you do. To find these customers, look at the data about which customers are giving you the highest lifetime value (LTV) or average revenue per user (ARPU). Your goal is to find ways to get them more involved with your brand -- ask them what they'd like to see next from you or offer them early access to new products before they hit shelves.

For power users that have influence on social media, consider collaborating with them for a creator campaign. These people can also make amazing brand community leaders who mobilize hundreds and thousands of referral-generating brand ambassadors.

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Testing, Measuring, and Refining Your Marketing Strategy

Tracking attribution helps you dial-in on content and tactics that do the best job at gathering MQLs, graduating MQLs to SQLs, converting SQLs to customers, and so on.

As time goes on, audience expectations change, and so will your marketing mix. Multi-touch attribution makes you smarter and precise as you adjust with the times and grow your brand.

3 Ways Multi-Touch Attribution Helps Your Business

1. Marketing Attribution Improves Sales.

Increasing sales is the most significant and thrilling benefit when brands take their marketing attribution seriously. Reasons for greater sales momentum include:

  • Understanding ideal customer persona
  • Refining pitches and presentations
  • Improving outbound and inbound sales performance

2. Marketing Attribution Lowers Your Marketing Costs.

The best marketers are trial-and-error enthusiasts. That said, unfocused marketing costs a lot of money. With proper attribution, your marketing team can experiment carefully and on a lower budget as they...

  • Define most lucrative audience segments
  • Identify top-performing channels
  • Improve hand off between marketing and sales

3. Marketing Attribution Increases Customer Retention.

A multi-touch attribution strategy and tech stack keeps you engaged with your best customers. By seeing which touch points achieve greatest impact with your buyers, you will...

  • Develop a deeper understanding of customer needs
  • Uncover better value propositions and lucrative case uses
  • Build stronger feedback loops between power users and product design
  • Improve the customer experience

Top Marketing Attribution Tracking Models

An attribution model is the approach you take to tracking the effectiveness of each marketing touch point. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, you should choose the one that works best for you.

1. Linear

A linear approach assumes that every touch point a customer encounters is equally beneficial. This is a great place to start for beginners, but over time, you'll learn that not every touch point has the same impact. Eventually, you'll want to graduate to a different model to take your marketing to the next level.

linear-multitouch-modelSource: Attribution


  • Simplest approach
  • Great for beginner marketers


  • Lacks precision

2. First/Last Touch

The next approach places greater weight on either the first or last touch in the customer journey. This model is also simple and ideal for beginner marketers who can demonstrate that the first/last touch is consistently the most critical.


  • Simple approach


  • Prioritizes the top or bottom of the marketing funnel and may neglect key moments in the other marketing funnel stages

3. U-shaped (Position-based)

As the name implies, a u-shaped model recognizes that the initial and final touches in the customer journey are the most important. Before using this model, make sure you have a good understanding of who your customer is and what their experience is like as they engage your content.

031220-u-shaped-attribution-exposers-closers-570x323Source: Practical Ecommerce


  • More accurate for most brands than the linear or first/last touch approach


  • Requires brands to survey their customers for transparent feedback on their marketing mix, which can be difficult to achieve

4. Time Decay

For some brands, placing greater important on touch points that occur further along in the customer journey generates the most success. While this model could also unfairly prioritize the bottom of your funnel (as the last touch model), you may learn from your customers that middle and bottom-of-the-funnel touch points were the most effective.

time-decay-attributionSource: CallRail


  • May be more accurate for most brands than the linear or first/last touch approach


  • Requires brands to survey their customers for transparent feedback on their marketing mix, which can be difficult to achieve (similar to u-shaped model)

5. Data-driven (Google)

Google has popularized the data-driven model where you customize the weight of each touch point based on your customer preferences. You might also utilize different weights based on customer segments. 

PPC-Geeks-Conversion-Attribution-Models-in-Google-Ads-Oct-2020Source: PPC Geeks

Using this model requires advanced analytics tools and experienced marketing teams. But if right for your brand, it will be the most effective.


  • Usually the most precise model


  • You will need more data to properly weight each touch point for accurate reporting
  • You need the right experience and team members to execute this approach


Ultimately, the goal of marketing attribution is to quantify the net total worth of each touch point, by attributing value to the reach, impact, and costs associated with each touch point.

The future of marketing and marketing attribution is unfolding before us. Each day brings new, innovative ways to quantify the impact of digital marketing efforts on ROI, and we're excited to see where things go in the coming years. No matter what model you choose, it's certain that digital marketing expertise will play a vital role as marketing heads into the future of attribution analysis.

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