Top 3 Marketing Attribution Challenges

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 


We’re all familiar with this well-known adage. And for good reason — it teaches a valuable lesson that can be widely applied across all walks of life, including business.


So how do we equip marketing leaders with the skills needed to feed their businesses for a lifetime? Let’s start with the bait — the website. The importance of a company’s website cannot be understated as it’s often the first introduction to the brand, the most frequented storefront for browsing products and services, and a powerful tool for education. But if all a business has is a shiny website, then the website can only provide enough to hook a prospect once. The key to fishing in a sea full of prospects is developing an understanding of the methods that drive quality traffic.


As a result, marketers rely on various other strategies (online and offline) to fuel their marketing campaigns: emails offering carefully curated resources, digital ads targeted to an ideal customer profile (ICP), or direct mail containing a redemption code or gift. This approach enables the business to customize the customer journey; each step encourages the prospect to move from awareness of a brand to consideration of its product or service until they are ready to make a decision.


And while we would like to think that the first click on a link in an email or ad results in an immediate conversion to a lead or sale, we all know this line of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s why it’s called a buyer’s journey — it takes several site visits through various tactics over time for a prospect to convert.


So, how do you determine which marketing channel is credited with the conversion when it was a byline in a reputed publication that alerted the prospect to a pain point, a guide in your resources section that further educated the prospect on their options, and an ad on LinkedIn that highlighted how another company achieved success using your product? It’s this multi-faceted journey to conversion that makes it difficult to determine a campaign’s effectiveness and pinpoint accurate attribution in marketing.


What is marketing attribution and why is it important?


Simply put, marketing attribution assigns value to a set of touchpoints associated with a given deal. In B2B, that set of touchpoints almost always involves multiple buyers, channels, and assets, whereas B2C attribution is more likely to have a 1:1 correlation between touchpoint and sale. For instance, asset downloads, demo requests, or contact submissions are good indicators of intent to purchase in B2B while a social media ad is more likely to produce a direct purchase for consumer products.


However, most marketers know that marketing attribution isn’t that black and white. Every marketing campaign is multi-faceted, made up of the various tactics deployed during a prospect’s path to purchase. The goal of marketing attribution is to determine which of those channels and messages had the greatest impact on the decision to convert — whether that result is a purchase or something else (download, scheduled meeting, demo request, etc.). Accurately identifying the most successful channels helps marketers determine how to allocate their time and budget as they get a clear picture of which efforts meet the needs of their target audience. In short, marketing attribution can inform better-customized customer journeys which leads to increased marketing ROI and optimized marketing spend.


The top 3 marketing attribution challenges


In an ideal world, the impact of a marketing campaign would be crystal clear — a straight line between interaction and sale. But alas, that’s not the case. Often times we’re left to analyze the misattribution that happens when a large percentage of website traffic is considered “direct” when it’s actually unknown or should be attributed to another channel. For example, did a customer review on a reputable site pique their interest to visit the website and request a demo? Or did a prospect see an ad and then type the company name into a search engine? Both situations are attributed as “direct” traffic rather than tied to the review or ad that influenced the visit.


Here are the top three challenges in marketing attribution to keep in mind:


  1. Blurred metrics. Because one aspect of a marketing campaign can heavily influence or rely on another, calculating a channel’s success can be unreliable. For example, the effectiveness of paid search depends on the overall marketing effort to increase brand awareness and interest in the product while the number of downloads for a specific asset depends on the quality of the nurture promoting it or the audience chosen for syndicated content.
  2. Complex models. Overly complex models can muddle seemingly straightforward data sets. If you have a first-touch model, last-touch model, and multi-touch model running in tandem without distinct individual strategies, it can be difficult to communicate to an audience that isn’t intimately familiar with the data, which immediately makes them doubt its accuracy.
  3. Inherent bias. Some prospects possess an in-market bias, which means they would convert to customers regardless of campaign targeting and visibility. If the prospect is already in the market to make a purchase, the ad, asset, video, or demo would have made no difference in their intent to buy; however, the channel they came through would be attributed for the conversion. Another form of bias to be aware of is correlation-based bias, which is when one event looks like it has influenced or caused another to happen. For example, one might attribute clicking a link in an email to a conversion when in reality an external conversation alerted the prospect of the email that they might have ignored otherwise.


Despite the challenges of marketing attribution, knowing which channels, tactics, and messages are resonating with our target audience is critical to proving marketing’s ROI and true impact on the business. Rather than distributing equal bait to each rod of a marketing campaign despite not knowing which will produce the most bites, marketing attribution teaches marketers to assemble the best combination before casting its line into a sea of prospects.