Tips for Starting Multi-Touch Attribution in your Mid-Sized Organization

By Vickie Sherman, SVP Director of Integrated Marketing, Mechanics Bank

Multi-touch attribution attempts to assign credit to the different touchpoints of a customer’s journey to conversion. The idea is if marketers can understand what exactly drove a customer to a sale, businesses can optimize channels, messages, and investments to scale up desired outcomes. Wouldn’t it be great to have a playbook on exactly how, where, and why to reach your customers for increased sales?

While it sounds ideal, it’s not quite that easy. There are a handful of recurring challenges to establishing and refining attribution models.

First, there are technology limitations. Organizations don’t come into being fully formed. Every company has an origin story. Growth can be in fits and starts, and especially early on, not necessarily include critical capital technology investments. That results in siloes, out-of-date systems, manual processes, and inconsistency throughout. Attempting to apply an attribution model to business activities you can’t see holistically can seem an insurmountable task.

The key to overcoming this is to manage expectations and start small. Calibrate on bullets, not cannonballs. Every company nowadays has an email system. Knowing it will be a single-touch attribution model at first, assess sales results with email campaigns. When you can show some results, add simple factors like online advertising and outbound sales calls. Just when your attribution reporting starts to get interesting, insightful, and perhaps overwhelming is when you should deep dive into customer journey mapping and see about investing in a system that can help.

Next, there tend to be system blind spots relating to offline to online impacts. Once you’ve invested in an attribution system, your mind will be blown by how robust its digital tracking capabilities are. Don’t lose sight of the fact that traditional advertising, like television, outdoor, earned media, special events, and other activities, are playing a part in your business’s success as well.

Like the foray into attribution modeling, before you had a digital system, the key is to start small. Work with your vendor and other experts in your organization on ways to capture results from those conferences your firm never misses, those appreciation events that have been your company’s lifeblood, those large ticket branded sponsorships. Chances are, if your approach is collaborative, there will certainly be ways to incorporate that offline activity into your modeling.

Finally, the most important attribution tip to remember, don’t do it alone as a marketing department. True attribution models capture and assess the entire customer journey, whether marketing, sales, operations, or others delivered the customer touchpoint. Not only will your department budget be unduly burdened if you keep the cost and touches inside marketing, but you may also face cultural obstacles from the sales team, for example.

If, as a sales professional, I’m incentivized by conversions, yet marketing develops an attribution model that diminishes my contribution, I’m understandably going to be put off by that. The Head of Sales may even reduce the amount of information provided to the Head of Marketing, exactly what you don’t need as you establish and iterate your attribution model.

Even with mature, iterative attribution models, there is no playbook. Customer journeys are as dynamic as the individual clients we serve. That’s not to say attribution isn’t insightful, worthwhile, and critical to an organization’s success. It simply requires discipline, collaboration, and a passion for data-driven refinement.  

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