Where Did that Sale Come From? Using Attribution Models to Track the Path to Purchase

Digital consumers often take a winding path to their final purchase — leaving brands wondering which touchpoint really drove the conversion. When every interaction in a consumer’s omnichannel journey has played a role, marketing attribution models can reveal key insights.

Do you know what got your last consumer to convert?

You would think that in a modern ecommerce world, with data and analytics available at every turn, it would be simple to answer this question. But digital consumers often take a winding path to their final purchase, one that may involve several visits to your site, scrolling through your brand’s social feed, or clicking on a retargeting ad. Which touchpoint really drove the conversion?

Well, all of them—and none of them. Ultimately, every interaction in a consumer’s journey has played a role. Brands can get a sense by applying different marketing attribution models to their data. Each one shows something different about the ROI of touchpoints on an omnichannel journey, and they make valuable tools that can be artfully selected to unveil insights.

The most common attribution models

The most common model in the industry, last-click attributes a sale wholly to the consumer’s last touchpoint before buying. Platforms love it because it shows you how ad clicks convert.
Credits a sale to the consumer’s first touchpoint. However, neither first- nor last-click gives you a holistic picture of the journey.
Looks at touchpoints associated with a marketing campaign to see how it affects revenue. The consumer’s first exposure gets 40% of the credit, another 40% goes to the final conversion, and touchpoints in between share the remaining 20%.
Time decay
Spreads the credit for conversion across touchpoints throughout the consumer journey, giving more weight to each touchpoint that’s closer to the sale.
Splits conversion credit equally between all a consumer’s touchpoints, from start to finish.
Is customized to reflect a brand’s unique marketing funnel and the consumer’s experience with it.

Selecting the right attribution model for your brand
Choosing the right attribution models takes careful consideration. These are the big three questions you should be asking yourself:

What data do you have available? Brands with access to abundant customer data can choose a model that looks at it all. Lower-tech organizations may rely on retailers to assemble the data sets they need and use a model that focuses on a more limited part of the consumer journey. Platform providers know the capabilities of their ad products, so if you don’t know what you’re working with, sharing your business goals is a good first step.

Which channels make sense to measure? As the maturity of a campaign increases, marketers need to know what role particular channels play in the consumer journey. Then they can compare what they get from multiple models to form an opinion on the true impact of their campaign.

What retailers are you partnering with? Any retailer with data that is organized can provide first-party insight—retail attribution ties data back to an actual person. The right retail media partners can show you what your spend is earning, and they have teams that support your business goals and help pick the right advertising products and audience tools. Attribution models are changing, so working with a partner who has a large audience base can help surface touchpoints more easily.

Changes to attribution models underway
With privacy concerns ramping up, big tech and government regulations have responded by turning data collection upside down—in other words, everything has become less trackable. With the rollout of iOS 14, only 4% of US users opted into IDFA, meaning Android may follow suit.

Emerging restrictions on third-party cookies will limit what attribution models can measure, while proliferating platforms and accounts splinter the single view of the consumer. Even the most data-saturated organizations are clamping down. Google and Facebook are reducing how much they share outside their ecosystem, and that is going to challenge what advertisers can measure.

There’s no perfect solution for this bottleneck. All marketers need to go back to the fundamentals to gain a thorough understanding of their customers’ behaviours and journeys.

What is the future of attribution?

What will this mean for the future? Live studies are likely the way forward for marketers to figure out if their marketing is impactful at all; survey studies are another option. Regardless of the specifics, it’ll be more important than ever to test and determine which metrics really matter for the brand against their objective.

It’s going to be harder for agencies to prove digital marketing performance without first-party data. Publishers with robust first-party data offer the best chance to track results. Retail media data sees both behavioural and transactional data — both great indicators of campaign success and future actions. Retail is where the ROI is: it can show the return on ad spend.

Looking for the best way for your own brand to connect the dots? Get in touch with Walmart Connect Canada.

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