Attribution (marketing)

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In marketing, Attribution is the process of identifying a set of user actions (“events” or "touchpoints") that contribute in some manner to a desired outcome, and then assigning a value to each of these events.[1][2] Marketing attribution provides a level of understanding of what combination of events in what particular order influence individuals to engage in a desired behavior, typically referred to as a conversion.[1][2]


The roots of marketing attribution can be traced to Attribution Theory, developed by Fritz Heider.[2][3] By most accounts, the current application of attribution theory in marketing was spurred by the transition of advertising spending from traditional, offline ads to digital media and the expansion of data available through digital channels such as paid and organic search, display, and email marketing.[2][4]


The purpose of marketing attribution is to quantify the influence each advertising impression has on a consumer’s decision to make a purchase decision, or convert.[4] Visibility into what influences the audience, when and to what extent, allows marketers to optimize media spend for conversions and compare the value of different marketing channels, including paid and organic search, email, affiliate marketing, display ads, social media and more.[2] Understanding the entire conversion path across the whole marketing mix eliminates the accuracy challenge of analyzing data from siloed channels. Typically, attribution data is used by marketers to plan future ad campaigns by analyzing which media placements (ads) were the most cost-effective as determined by metrics such as effective cost per action (eCPA).[2]

Attribution Models[edit]

Resulting from the disruption created by the rapid growth of online advertising over the last ten years, marketing organizations have access to significantly more data to track effectiveness and ROI. This change has impacted how marketers measure the effectiveness of advertisements, as well as the development of new metrics such as Cost per click (CPC), Cost per thousand impressions (CPM), Cost per action/acquisition (CPA) and click-through conversion. Additionally, multiple attribution models have evolved over time as the proliferation of digital devices and tremendous growth in data available have pushed the development of attribution technology.

  • Single Source Attribution (also Single Touch Attribution) models assign all the credit to one event, such as the last click, the first click or the last channel to show an ad (post view). Simple or last-click attribution is widely considered as less accurate than alternative forms of attribution as it fails to account for all contributing factors that led to a desired outcome.[2][5]
  • Fractional Attribution includes equal weights, customer credit, and multi-touch / curve models.[2][4] Equal weight models give the same amount of credit to the events, customer credit uses past experience and sometimes simply guesswork to allocate credit, and the multi-touch assigns various credit to across all the touchpoints in the buyer journey at set amounts.[5]
  • Algorithmic or Probabilistic Attribution uses science, usually proprietary algorithms, to assign conversion credit across all touchpoints preceding the conversion, using automated computation to decide where credit is due.[5][6] Algorithmic attribution starts at the event level and analyzes both converting and non-converting paths across all channels.[4][6] Weights are then combined by grouping such as placement, site, or channel as reporting granularity is decreased, allowing the data to point out the hidden correlations and insights within marketing efforts.[2][6]

Marketing Mix and Attribution Models[edit]

Depending on the company's marketing mix, they may use different types of attribution to track their marketing channels:

  • Interactive Attribution refers to the measurement of digital channels only, while cross-channel attribution refers to the measurement of both online and offline channels.[6]
  • Account based attribution refers to measuring and attributing credit to companies as a whole rather than individual people and is often used in B2B marketing.[7]


  1. ^ a b Brendan Riordan-Butterworth (June 21, 2012). "Attribution Primer" (PDF). Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stephanie Miller (February 6, 2013). "Digital Marketing Attribution.Digital Marketing Attribution". Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ Kartik Hosanagar (July 2012). "Attribution: Who gets the Credit for a New Customer?". The Wharton School. Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Yair Halevi (October 10, 2012). "The problem with click-based attribution.". Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Tina Moffett (April 30, 2012). "The Forrester Wave: Cross-Channel Attribution Providers.". Forrester Research. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d David Raab (July 1, 2011). "Marketing Attribution Beyond the Last Click.". Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Why Your Demand Team Can't Ignore Account Based Attribution". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  8. ^ Mofet, Tina. "The Forrester Wave: Cross-Channel Attribution Providers (November 7, 2014)".