Marketing Analytics 101: What Is Attribution? Why It’s Important?

Picture of Phil Hughes
Phil Hughes

Have you ever worried that marketing feels like you’re “shouting in the void”? It feels like no one is listening. Worse still, people are ignoring you?

It’s hard coming up with ideas for and then running marketing campaigns.

And it’s getting “noisier” out there, harder to get seen, or heard.

The key is to see what’s working. If your marketing is helping a business hit its goals. The goal is most likely to make a sale, or a new customer.

This is why it’s important to understand what attribution is. And how it helps you with your marketing campaigns.

In this post, I’m going to talk about attribution. What it is, and why it’s important.

What is Marketing Attribution?

I like to keep things simple and not use too much jargon.

My business partner has a simple, but effective way to think about attribution. It’s this:

“Which channel did the traffic come from”

“Identify which marketing channel led to a sale.”

Yes, it’s as simple as that.

A lot of “marketing gurus” talk about many touchpoints. And how they contribute to conversions. That’s all well and good. What is the end goal? Are people downloading our lead magnet? Where are the sales coming from? Are we even getting any sales at all?

What you need to do is to “Attribute” a conversion to a source, a channel.

To do this you need to track a customer’s journey. Across all your marketing channels, not only your website.

A good example of this was a fishing brand I worked with.

They identified that Facebook and Instagram are where their ideal customer hangs out.

But found that sales came from people subscribing to their newsletter. Receiving a discount code and then visiting their eCommerce store from the email.

There are a lot of attribution models. First click, last click, multi-touch, etc. Where you are “attributing” that model to a channel.

These are all well and good. But you need to understand the customer “journey” to figure out which ones to look at.

Also, are they relevant to the goal of the campaign, or business as a whole?

Why Attribution Matters

So why does attribution matter?

Well, as I’ve mentioned. The key to running a successful marketing campaign. Is to measure against a goal, a KPI.

Once you have this baseline you can now start looking into which channels. And which tactics or strategies are working.

There’s a great book called “The Forecaster Method”. It has the tagline “Never waste another digital marketing dollar again”.

What attribution allows you to do, is to move your budget around to focus on high-performing areas.

Let’s say you are running ad campaigns on Facebook. Google Search and YouTube. And you find a certain style of video. Displayed to viewers of a certain channel is crushing it. Then, you could put 80% of the budget into YouTube ads. Spend the other 20% on testing the other two channels to raise conversions.

Knowing your attribution also helps you justify spend with management or clients.

“We are spending X amount a month to publish 3 blogs a week. Our blog is bringing in 50 new leads a week”.

It sounds simple, but that’s the point. It can, and should be that easy.

I’m going to touch on goals and revenue again.

The business will have a target they are trying to hit. Management will then align the sales team to focus on the target. But so many times, I’ve seen marketing not align with the goals.

It gets forgotten about. But marketers are key, they can “make it rain”.

As long as they know where the “rain should fall”.

Finally. Knowing your attribution helps improve the decision-making process.

Let’s say you are working with an eCommerce brand and they are planning a new product range launch.

Knowing the attribution results from the last product launch would be a huge help. You’ll know what platforms to focus on, again 80% of the resources. While testing out other avenues.

Challenges With Attribution

The biggest hurdle with attribution is the customer journey.

It’s so complex.

And that complexity is increasing.

In another great book “The One Page Marketing Plan“. The author says, on average you need 7 marketing touchpoints before the person will buy.

But. I’m writing this article in 2024. And I believe that number has doubled, to 14.

Also, it’s many channels now too.

I watched a video recently. They were talking about how a business they were working with. Used Facebook Ads for the majority of their revenue. So, they focused on improving conversions. But the numbers tanked.

What they discovered was the founder was doing a lot of YouTube videos. Both long-form and shorts. And he had stopped video production completely, once they started working with the company.

They found that people were seeing the Facebook Ads. They then, searched on Google to find out about the company. Stumble upon and watch YouTube videos from the founder. Finally, they’d go back to Facebook to click the ad.

It’s wild.

And this leads to another problem.

How do you integrate all this data across these channels? And be able to make sense of it all?

That’s the main reason I started Elementary Analytics. I had this very issue in a previous start-up I had founded.

There are a lot of solutions out there to help you with this. I recommend trying a few out, and finding which one works for you. Also, one that aligns with the goals of your business or marketing.

You may find that your data and metrics don’t tell the full story. Missing key pieces of the puzzle. Or that there are limitations in the data. A prime example of this is the Apple and Meta issue. Apple has stopped allowing Facebook tracking details to be processed on their iPhones.

Dam you Apple.

Finally, the last problem is agreeing on which attribution model to go with.

Some people may want to know what channel people first visit a website from. Someone else may want to look at opt-in rates from a lead magnet on the site. Another may only care about sales from email.

So, getting people on the same page can be a nightmare.

Best Practices for Getting Started

I won’t go into detail here. But give an overview of a 5-step plan to track your attribution.

1) Define a goal and key metrics.

Figure out what’s the one thing you want to achieve above all else.

Then reverse engineer which metrics to look at. To see if you are heading towards that goal or not. I recommend limiting the number of metrics to 3-5 key stats.

2) Audit current tracking methods

You may find you aren’t tracking the metrics you have laid out in Step 1.

So you may need to set up more tracking. Or work out how to get the metrics from your current setup.

3) Start simple and iterate

“You don’t know what you don’t know”

So, you need to get started. Then look at the results over the next 30 days.

Once you have a baseline, you can start building. But you need the foundations first.

4) Get buy-in from stakeholders.

This can be tough.

As long as the goals you set out in point 1, align with the goals of the business. Then this should make this conversation a little easier.

5) Test and refine over time

Once you’re up and running. You should be able to test new ideas and see if you can find better ways to reach your goals.

It could be a case of making what is already working better.

Conclusion: What Is Attribution

So, again, why is attribution important?

Well, if you don’t know which channel helped you make a sale on your website. You don’t know where to focus your efforts.

This is easier said than done.

There are a lot of challenges with figuring out attribution information. Both from a data perspective and buy-in from people.

But, the rewards can be huge. Get more “bang for your buck”. As well as knowing where to focus your time and energy.

If you want to know more about attribution. As well as how to get started with data-driven marketing. We have a comprehensive guide to help you get started. What Is Analytics and Data-Driven Marketing? Check it out!

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