3 Common ROI Attribution Models

February 5, 2021
3 min

ROI attribution tracking can be a complex topic, so we’re going to break down the three most commonly used models. These include first touch, last touch, and multi-touch attribution. Ideally your company will be looking at the data in these three important ways to build a comprehensive data story.

First and last-touch data attribution models only take into account one touchpoint for ROI tracking. For this, they’re imperfect, but they’re still the most common forms of data attribution. So, let’s look at first-touch tracking.

First-Touch Attribution

This form of ROI attribution tracking gives sales credit to the first encounter with a lead: in other words, their first touch with the brand. First-touch data attribution can tell you what top-of-funnel campaigns perform best for attracting leads. However, it lacks context for what happens after the first touch but before the sale. 

If you’re adopting a first-touch data attribution model, bolster it with a bit of backstory information that will help you better evaluate the role of each campaign:

  • How long did it take from the first touch to the sale? Answering this question helps you see which campaigns quickly brought in sales-ready leads and which campaigns attracted leads requiring further nurturing.
  • Was the first touch before the lead converted? Make sure you understand what first touch means in the context of your system. Depending on your system, the first touch can be the first time the visitor was cookied and began engaging with your content, or it can be the first action that converted the visitor into a known lead. This is important in order to identify campaigns driving visitors versus campaigns driving conversions.

First-touch attribution assigns all campaign ROI to the first-touch campaign, which doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of the customer’s journey, in particular, if they interacted with other campaigns after the first touch but before the sale. Now, let’s hop to the other end of the ROI-tracking spectrum: last-touch attribution.

Last-Touch Attribution

As the name suggests, last-touch attribution pins the entire revenue from the sale to the last campaign that the prospect engaged with. Currently, last-touch data attribution is common because sales reps can easily identify when a sale is made. Last-touch attribution is effective at uncovering which campaign finally convinced a lead to buy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take into account the original source of the lead, nor the actions they took along the way before making the decision to purchase.

When using last-touch attribution, flesh out the sales picture with a few additional datapoints to tell a more comprehensive story:

  • What was the original source of the lead? Know this and you’ll know what first sparked their interest as well as where the magic happened. 
  • How long was the lead in the database before purchasing? Understanding the time it takes to travel from known prospect to sale status can help you prepare for future initiatives.

So, both first and last-touch attribution are widely used and can provide valuable insights. Both methods also have their limitations. This includes a very notable blind spot (ie, everything that influences a sale between first and last touch). That’s where multi-touch attribution can help. 

Multi-Touch Attribution

Once upon a time, a conference speaker likened data attribution to a hangover. They asked if you wake up with a hangover after a night out, do you blame the last drink or do you blame the sum of the drinks from the evening? The last drink contributed to your hangover, but it wasn’t that last “touch” with alcohol that made you feel lousy. Rather it was the series of “touches” or drinks that contributed to you feeling hungover the next day. It’s the same with data attribution. 

Multi-touch attribution takes into account all of the touchpoints that occur over the lifetime of a prospect.

For example, a lead enters your database through a tradeshow contest. They like what they saw at the booth and continue to watch your live monthly webinars for 9 months following their first encounter. Next, they reach out to a distributor rep who connects them with your sales team. If you’re using first-touch attribution, the tradeshow contest gets all the glory, whereas if you’re using last-touch attribution, your distributor takes the win. In the end, both scenarios miss what convinced the lead to make the purchase: the 9 months of education. 

And this is one of the important takeaways: Looking exclusively at first- and/or last-touch can blind you to the value of the nurturing content that ultimately ensures the sale.

Related Article: 10 Tips for Mapping Your Customer Journey

Not All Touches Are Created Equal…or Are They? 

There are many ways to assign weight to each touch in a multi-touch attribution model. For example, some businesses will choose to give each touch on the journey the same credit or weight. Other companies will put more weight on the first and last touches. And still others will opt to give more weight to recent activities.  

For successful multi-touch attribution, track each campaign separately to enable clear visualization of each touch. A collaboration with your CRM provider can help you decide on the value of each touchpoint. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can get started connecting the dots between lead database entry and the sale!