Today’s marketers have an unprecedented amount of technologies, tools, and data available to them, giving them the ability to execute increasingly sophisticated campaigns, better report the ROI of their efforts, and inform future marketing plans. But at the same time that marketing technology has advanced, the consumer shopping journey has gotten more complicated. There are numerous touchpoints with consumers across a variety of channels — how do you know what caused a consumer to make a purchase?

This is the challenge facing marketers. It is difficult to know how to attribute sales or brand awareness to any given campaign. And because marketing attribution is challenging, so is measuring success.

Facing increasing pressures to deliver the most accurate and appropriate metrics, digital marketers must understand how to measure and report on customer behaviors. To uncover varying industry perspectives and expectations around attribution, we partnered with Digiday to survey 250 people from brands, agencies and publishers.

The results shine a light on the challenge of campaign attribution. Many of those surveyed struggle to identify which campaign metrics to track, and, frequently enough, they disagree on the best approach to attribution.

A majority of respondents (63%) said that the ideal state of marketing attribution means being able to track customers throughout the full marketing and sales funnel. To work towards that goal, here are five best practices to help you set more accurate and effective goals for future campaigns.

1. The last touch attribution model can be useful when analyzing basic sales metrics, but it often omits important information. Marketers should rarely base their entire attribution strategy around the last touch model.

Email campaigns, online ads, social media, and store visits are among the many tools that marketers use to reach consumers. With the last touch model, whatever interaction a consumer had with your brand right before they made a purchase gets the credit.

According to our survey, this approach is the most widely-used marketing attribution method. 41% of respondents said that the last touch method was their most commonly used attribution approach for online channels. The problem is that this model often tells only part of the story.

“Last touch, which is where most people are starting, is wrong,” said Michael Horn, Managing Director of Data Science at digital agency Huge. “The reason why so many people prefer last touch is just because it’s instant…that really misses the whole cumulative impact of sequential messaging, multiple channels, and all virtual brand perceptions.”

Interestingly, a lot of our survey respondents would prefer not to be using the last touch attribution model. Almost half said that a first touch attribution model was more useful for measuring digital campaigns. There is a clear disconnect between what marketers are doing, and what they think is most effective.

2. Marketers should place a heavy emphasis on first touch attribution when they’re focusing on brand awareness.

In contrast to the last touch model is first touch attribution. Through this model, marketing attribution is tied to the moment when a customer was first exposed to a brand.

“That first click really shows you where your brand power is. It shows where people are first having a touchpoint with your brand,” said Conor Shea, formerly Managing Director of Global Marketing at Discover Financial. The first touch is part of a potential customer’s research process. It’s critical for brands to establish a positive first connection with a lead; a bad impression may mean there’s no second chance for your brand to redeem itself.

First touch attribution is an ideal model to use if your primary goals focus on brand awareness, instead of conversion. The first touch model allows you to zero in on the moment when a customer first interacts with your brand.

3. A multi touch attribution model, when done right, is ideal for effectively tracking marketing attribution across a variety of metrics.

A multi touch modelone that analyzes customer behavior throughout the journey to purchaseprovides a lot more data than first touch or last touch alone. Because of this, it’s also more labor-intensive and takes much longer to produce actionable insights.  

A multi touch model, of course, would incorporate a healthy mix of channels, campaigns, and metrics, eliminating the blind spots that arise from focusing on just one or the other. Multi touch marketing attribution provides you with a much richer data set across your campaigns and is worth the investment if you have the resources to implement.

But marketers often don’t have the time to sort through all of the data this model provides. Because of this, it is useful to decide what goals and metrics are most important, so you can zero in on the data that matters to you.

4. Don’t neglect offline data and attribution.

However complex the online consumer journey is, the offline element remains crucial. In fact, almost every respondent said that offline attribution remained important to them. Offline attribution relies on data that marketers collect from non-digital sources, often from in-store purchases.  

“The biggest mistake a company can make is to underestimate the value of offline conversions and offline interaction,” said Felipe Araujo, Senior Director of E-commerce at fashion brand Diane von Furstenberg (DVF).

First and foremost, that means collecting basic sales data: what the customer bought and which store they bought it at. But those surveyed said they often dive deeper, collecting information such as names, email addresses, phone numbers, social media profiles, or even demographic info such as age or gender. “It’s very important for sales staff to capture personally identifying information,” said Michael Crooks, DVF’s Senior Director of Global Marketing.

In today’s consumer journey, offline touchpoints are often connected to online interactions. Our own research shows that almost half of in-store purchases start with an online product review. By collecting customers’ personal information in-store, that information can be used to track whether that customer interacted with any other digital channels or campaigns before making a purchase.

5. At the beginning of any campaign, marketers must align with their partners on one clearly defined Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

With multiple attribution models and sources of data, how do brands know which campaigns are successful and why? In order to effectively show marketing results and their influence on business outcomes, brands must thoroughly understand and evaluate the different types of attribution models, establish distinct marketing objectives, and clearly communicate campaign goals and KPIs with their agencies and brand partners.

The most effective way to determine success is to be crystal clear about what your end goal is for each campaign. As stated earlier, if your brand’s goal is to build awareness, website traffic metrics and first-touch attribution models can isolate the moments when customers first interact with you. Conversely, brands who want to drive concrete sales should consider return on ad spend (ROAS) and last touch attribution models to determine which ads impacted conversions and overall ROI. In an ideal scenario, a comprehensive multi touch model would be used and could measure a variety of metrics across the consumer journey.

More than half of marketers (52%) said that sales metrics such as conversion rates and return on ad spend (ROAS) were the most effective when evaluating campaign success. Traffic metrics like click-through rates, average time spent on page, and unique visitors came in second at 36%.

The industry may disagree about the best marketing metrics to use, but it is important that brands communicate their goals and align with their partners and agencies, so that everyone is on the same page for success. Almost 40% of brands don’t feel as though their agency and brand partners are aligned on delivering consistent or accurate metrics, demonstrating a considerable need for clearly defining marketing KPIs at the beginning.


There’s no singular solution for measuring marketing attribution, but mapping different metrics and attribution models to clearly defined campaign goals will maximize the value of marketing activities and spend. To learn more about different digital attribution models and how brands, agencies, and publishers are using them, view our full research report at Digiday.com.

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