In this episode of Actionable Marketing In Minutes we have part one of a two part series discussing online marketing measurement and attribution.

Use the player below to listen to this episode, or the download link to load it on your device for listening later. You can also find our RSS feed by clicking here, or subscribe by email in the sidebar to the left.

Download our Marketing To Millennials eBook here!

Not able to listen? Why not read the episode transcript below:


I have yet to meet a CEO, president or CMO who has not wanted to see a ROI on a marketing program or investment. It’s a fair request. After all, if we can’t show the positive return or impact that a marketing program is having on our business goals, then how do we know if it’s worth the investment? Attribution is an element in measuring your online marketing success.

OK, some technical definitions. Attribution is the process of identifying a set of user actions that contribute in some way to a desired outcome (a conversion), and then assigning a value to each of these actions so they can be measured. An Attribution Model describes the rules that determine how credit for sales, revenues or conversions are assigned to these user actions along the conversion path.

The challenge is first in understanding that there are several different attribution approaches, and then defining what you need to measure and how you’re going to measure it for your business. Unfortunately, there is no single solution that fits all businesses.


Depending on your marketing channels, you may reach out to your clients by cold call, email marketing, traditional printed advertising, television commercials, search engine optimization, paid search placement, or many other ways.

At DirectiveGroup, we care about attribution as it relates to the digital world. So in this case, we are talking about figuring out which of these channels drove the traffic to your website for those folks that completed the conversion goal you set forth.

The challenge comes in the fact that in all likelihood, you will employ a combination of these tactics to acquire new and encourage additional sales from existing customers. As an example, someone may see your ad when searching on Google, visit your website, be retargeted with a display ad when visiting a news site or Facebook, and then see an infographic linked to from an article they were reading on the topic. It can get complex. And most people have multiple touches along the purchase process, particularly for considered purchases, including B2B.

In order to effectively measure your efforts, it is first important to know what you can report on—and what you cannot—and why it is so difficult to get a straight answer out of your marketing company when you ask them which tactics have the highest ROI!

As I said, attribution becomes increasingly difficult because most of today’s transactions happen as the result of multiple touches along channels. Here are three basic types of Multi-Channel Attribution:

1) Multi-Channel Attribution, Online to Store

Trying to understand the offline impact of online marketing and advertising is one of the most pressing questions for every marketer who manages a program with an offline component. Brick and mortar, catalogs sales, even phone calls to a business are considered “offline” in this situation. This type of attribution is one of the most difficult to track without some creativity, such as coupons printed out and taken to a store, or discounts for members already in the system. Sometimes, after a lot of number crunching, answers only come as the result of many *assumptions.*

2) Multi-Channel Attribution, Across Multiple Screens/Devices

We have become a multi-screen society – watching TV while on our phones or tablets, checking our phones while also on the computer. It is not uncommon for many purchasers to be viewing multiple screens simultaneously… and that has translated in to more complex buying habits, as people digitally multi-task.

How individuals experience a company’s digital existence across multiple devices is really becoming an important element in attaining maximum conversions.

Consider this….You are watching television and see a commercial that prompts you to do a search on your tablet. That search results in you clicking on a paid search ad and leads you to a website. While you didn’t take any other action at that time, you did recall that website the next day, while stuck in the car loop line at your kids school, and decided to hop online via your smartphone to read reviews of the product. Armed with more information you pull out your laptop when you get home and purchase the product. You have now used three different screens (your tablet, smartphone and laptop) to aid you in your buying process.

So, how can we possibly assign the purchase from this very common buying pattern to a single attribution type? The answer is that we can’t! We have to look at touches, and paths, even though when users switch devices it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of the same person as they interface with a business or brand.

Ultimately, technical solutions will be developed to assist marketers in this attribution morass, but for now, gross assumptions are used for attribution assignment across screens and devices.

3) Multi-Channel Attribution, Across Digital Channels

Multi-Channel Attribution, across digital channels represents the effort to understand which digital marketing channels (Social, Display, YouTube, Referral, Email, Search, others) contributed to a particular conversion (or multiple conversions).

Currently all web analytics tools, including Google Analytics, by default attribute a conversion to the channel just prior to the conversion. This is known as ‘last click attribution.’ But we obviously recognize this is incomplete at best and seriously misleading at worst. We want to go beyond that to get the entire picture of all marketing activity prior to the conversion. Even better would be to get into the mind of the buyer to figure out how to weight all the factors contributing to a conversion.

Google offers a partial solution to the problem of Multi-Channel Attribution Across Digital Channels, where it tracks the users activities, but Google can only do this if the user is logged into the browser. However, if the user does not log in, this still gives a peek into the behaviors of the users, including sales cycle, so this is valuable, even though incomplete, information. It is cool, it is fun, it is somewhat enlightening, but it still takes a thoughtful approach and an educated marketing and business perspective to really derive maximum meaning.

In Summary / Benefits

So how do you solve for attribution? First, you need to collect data at every opportunity, and then analyze it. For example, if you can collect a person’s email address at checkout in a retail location (for example, by offering to email receipt), you can cross reference that with a website form sign up from 3 months ago, an email open from 2 months ago, and an online sales transaction 1 month from now. Second, you need to get creative, putting into place landing pages, customer-tracking tools such as Salesforce/Pardot, Infusionsoft or Marketo. These data are challenging to track, but it’s very valuable when you can, and worth its weight in gold when you have enough data to inform marketing dollar decisions!

The best way to deal with the challenge of attribution is to identify all of your touchpoints. Then you need a realistic idea of how you are able to measure them – knowing that in some cases this won’t be entirely possible. There is no complete answer or tool at this point, but by collecting all the data that you can, you can give yourself a good idea of how your advertising and marketing efforts are performing and build in practices that better collect the information, and your ability to interpret it as you move forward.

We hope you’ve found this information helpful. Please connect with us on Twitter @DirectiveGroup or on LinkedIn. Let us know what you think and what you’d like to hear about next. And if you like our podcasts, please share with your networks using hashtag #actionablemarketing. Join us next time for part two of our series on the Importance of Segmentation.