The 5 Most Common Misconceptions on Attribution

Attribution, a hot topic of late, has always been the great promise of digital. In the old days, marketers could do little more than send messages out into the world and hope for the best. Digital promised to change all that, and for the most, digital has delivered on that promise. Online advertising is more trackable today than it has ever been (and infinitely more trackable than off-line advertising).

Still, when running big, multi-channel campaigns, the process of determining which components of the campaign deserve the most credit for conversions can sometimes get complicated. 

Here are five common misconceptions about attribution (also available as a guide here):

1. An Attribution Model Is Always Needed

Not every campaign needs an attribution model. So, before going too far, ask yourself this: Is creating an elaborate model worth the time and effort? If you have a multi-million dollar spend across many channels and a complex purchase cycle, then a full attribution model probably is warranted. But for most marketers the time spent creating a full model will be best spent elsewhere. Alternatives such as media overlap reports and A/B incremental lift studies, can often answer all of a client’s questions without any of the headaches that sometimes come with a complicated attribution model.

2. The Hardest Part Is Technical

The technical aspect of attribution modeling can be hard when you’re bridging channels, but people usually end up being the biggest challenge. If you need an attribution model it likely means there are many different teams involved in the campaign. Convincing all of those different teams to subscribe to one attribution model can be very tricky. Why? Because creating a model requires making hard choices about where to assign credit for success. Those choices amount to a statement about the value of the contributions of others. And the stakes are high: If a team’s work is undervalued by the model, it could see its work or budgets threatened.

If you find yourself trying to get different teams behind one model, start with education and explain the important questions attribution models can address. The best approach is generally to pick a relatively simple model that offers a low-impact path to finding an answer. Don’t be afraid of the pushback you’ll get. It’s part of the process.

3. There’s a Single Answer

The single biggest problem with attribution modeling is that there is no single right way to assign values in the model. The options are many: First click? Last click? Equal-weighted clicks? Time/influence curves? The list goes on and on, and so do the debates. The data can be plugged into any model, but it can’t by itself tell you which model is right. That’s up for you and your clients to decide. Still, you can be sure of one thing: last click is famously unreliable and the worst way to go for almost all campaigns.

4. Consumers Care About Your Model

Brands often try to get help with their models by asking customers to reveal how they learned about their products or services. In digital, such requests for help can take the form of special landing pages that allow you to enter codes. These techniques can sometimes provide useful data for brands, but if they make the checkout process more cumbersome, they’ll do more harm than good. Remember: When it comes down to it, consumers don’t care about attribution. Unless there’s a huge incentive to do otherwise, consumers will take the easiest path.

5. The Attribution Model Is the End Point

Congratulations! You cleared all the hurdles and picked an attribution model. You even got all the different marketing departments on board. You can now clearly state which components of the campaign are driving conversions. That’s a genuine accomplishment, and you should be proud. But attribution modeling is just the beginning. Now it’s time to take action.

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