Marketers have more channels on which to engage with customers than ever before.  And because the buyer's journey is far from linear, consumers engage with brands via multiple touch points before they ever make a purchase.

While this is a great engagement opportunity for marketers, it also poses a big challenge.

Marketers need to be experts in understanding which channels are generating leads and converting customers most successfully and why. They need to accurately predict the impact of increased or decreased spend on these channels in order to execute a good marketing strategy. And with multiple engagement points, and buyers journeys becoming increasingly complex, it becomes much harder for marketers to have this visibility.

Running reports on channels in isolation such as web traffic or email open rates won’t cut it when it comes to developing a predictable marketing engine. Unless you know how this engagement moves the needle, these reports are just vanity metrics. 

For a lot of marketers, getting visibility into this type of information can be tough. They have to wade through cobbled data from different sources, spend hours crunching numbers in spreadsheets, or wait for a marketing ops resource to help them.

That is unless they are using Marketing attribution.

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What is marketing attribution?

Marketing attribution is a reporting strategy that allows marketers and sales teams to see the impact that marketers made on a specific goal, usually a purchase or sale. For example, if marketers want to see how a blog post or social media strategy impacted sales, they might use marketing attribution techniques.

Here’s how our product team at HubSpot describes it:

“Attribution surfaces which interactions a person or group of people took along their journey toward a desired outcome or ‘conversion’ point.”

What is an attribution report?

Marketing Attribution Reports pull all the relevant interactions from your buyers' journey together using pre-built models that can definitively answer which channels and content are helping you meet your marketing goals.

Multi-touch attribution measures and assigns value to all of the interactions a contact had up to a key moment in their journey.

Multi-touch attribution reports are valuable because they allow marketers to pinpoint the exact marketing and sales effort that led to a conversion in your flywheel. By using this information, you can make better-informed decisions about where to invest your time and resources.

For example, if marketers want to see how a blog post or social media strategy impacted sales, or if sales wants to see which types of sales engagements drive the most revenue, they can use this reporting strategy to assign real financial value to these efforts.

HubSpot supports two types of multi-touch attribution reports. Contact create attribution measures the journey of contacts in your CRM up to the moment they were created. Revenue attribution reports measure the journey up to the moment they became customers.

Lead Attribution

This is a specific type of marketing attribution related to showing how marketers impact the amount of leads in a given campaign. Although leads aren't sales, they are still important because they show how marketing content or strategies are gaining prospects or new audiences that could very well turn into sales or large monetary gains.

B2B Marketing Attribution

This is another specific form of marketing attribution related to the business-to-business field. Companies in this field sell products or services to other businesses or professionals in their industry. While B2C attribution could very well relate to smaller purchases, B2B attribution might relate to bigger purchases from companies, memberships, or leads.

Which attribution report is right for my team?

The best way to begin is to think about what goal you are trying to measure against. Are you trying to understand how your marketing and sales effort generated leads or are you trying to understand how much revenue they generated?

These illustrations demonstrate one way to think about when to use each type of attribution report.

Contact create attribution will account for all of the interactions up to the moment the contact (or lead) was created in your CRM. This is an especially powerful report for web marketers and content marketers, as it can definitively measure which blog posts, landing posts, social media posts, or ads are better at generating new leads. The report cuts the interactions by how much of the journey it contributed to generating contact(s).

This contact create attribution report table is showing how much each referrer URL attributed to created contacts. That does mean that depending on the model, a URL can create a fraction of a person, as interacting with a URL is only a fraction of their journey.

Revenue attribution accounts for every interaction a contact had with your business up to the moment they became a customer. The report cuts the interactions by how much revenue you generated from the deal associated with the contact.

This revenue attribution report graph is showing how much each revenue each asset type attributed to your bottom line.

Attribution Models

You may be thinking, "But not all page views or marketing channels are treated equally when it comes to conversions." And you’d be right. Pulling together all of the interactions of your journey into a report is only half the magic. The other half is the ability to use different attribution models.

An Attribution model lets you apply different credit to each interaction according to the model’s rules. For example, some models apply all credit to the first or last interaction in someone’s journey, while others use mathematical rules to weigh credit. 

How to use different attribution models

One of the most common questions marketers ask when getting started on attribution reporting is which model they should use? The answer depends on the goals of your team and the supporting analysis that’s expected of you. The important thing to remember is that there isn’t a one size fits all for attribution reporting: use multiple models.

Models available in revenue attribution:

  • First interaction - This model gives all credit to the first interaction that led to a closed won deal.
  • Last interaction - This model gives all credit to the last interaction that led to a closed won deal.
  • Linear - This model looks at all interactions that led to a closed won deal. Then gives equal credit to each interaction.
  • U-shaped - This model gives 40% of credit to the first interaction and 40% to the interaction that created a contact. Then it gives the remaining 20% evenly across all interactions between the first interaction and contact creation.
  • W-shaped - This model gives 30% of credit to the first interaction, 30% to the interaction that created the contact, and 30% to the last interaction that created the deal. Then it gives the remaining 10% evenly across all interactions between first interaction and deal creation.
  • Full-path - This model gives 22.5% of credit to the first interaction, 22.5% to the interaction that created the contact, 22.5% to the last interaction that created the deal, and 22.5% to the interaction that closed the deal. Then it gives the remaining 10% evenly across all other interactions.
  • Time-decay - This model gives more credit to the most recent interactions. The credit for interactions decays the longer it takes for a deal to become closed-won.

Models available in contact create attribution:

  • First interaction - This model gives all credit to the first interaction performed by a contact.
  • Last interaction - This model gives all credit to the last interaction performed by a contact.
  • Linear - This model looks at all interactions a prospect took before becoming a contact. Then it gives equal credit to each interaction.
  • U-shaped - This model gives 40% of credit to first interaction and 40% to the interaction that created a contact. Then it gives the remaining 20% evenly across all interactions between first and contact creation.
  • Time-decay - This model gives more credit to the most recent interactions. The credit for interactions decays the longer it takes for a prospect to convert into a contact.

When would you want to use attribution reports? 

Marketers look to attribution reports to help them decide which pages and/or marketing channels drive the most conversions. There are many specific use-cases for this type of report, but let's go over a few that you might want to use.

1. How many leads are generated from my blog? What other content generates the most leads?

Content lives at the heart of inbound marketing. Every marketer wants to know how their content contributes to the number of leads they are generating -- especially on their blog. Attribution reports pull that information together to show the number of times a blog post is viewed before the conversion. For bloggers who have not been able to attribute lead generation directly to their blog content, this is a huge win.

The information gathered in these reports helps marketers dissect which types of content perform better. That could include popular topics, content formats, or even time of promotion. With a better understanding of which content generates more leads, marketers can make more informed decisions about their marketing.

2. What marketing channels generate the most leads? Where is the best place to invest my marketing resources?

After you find out which type of content generates the most leads, it's important to understand which channels are the most successful in lead generation. Once you figure out the answer to this question, you will get deeper insight into why your content performs the way it does.

For example, your email marketing could be the best place to get content in the hands of your customers, but your social media could be tanking. Or vice versa. Understanding the health of these marketing channels is key to understanding where your team should invest their marketing resources. After all, if you're doubling down on social media without getting many leads in return, but you're generate a ton of leads from email marketing with very little effort, you may want to take a second look at your priorities.

3. Which pages are viewed the most before someone becomes a customer?

There is other content on your website that may be contributing to conversions besides blog posts, landing pages, and content offers. Your homepage, pricing page, about us page, or any other informational page may be contributing to conversions throughout your funnel. Run an attribution report based on pages that have been viewed on your website to figure out which pages are frequented the most. This will help you understand which pages should be promoted, which pages should be optimized, and which pages are helping to push people down the funnel quicker than others.

How do you run an attribution report in HubSpot? 

HubSpot customers, navigate to Reports > Reports Home. Select "Create custom report," and choose the Attribution report. You will see the following screen:

Explore tab

Once you’ve chosen the attribution report you want to build, you will be dropped into an explore tab. This is great if you’ve never built a report before or if you need a refresher:

 

Each attribution report includes a ‘Learn about Attribution Models’ modal that allows you to toggle the different models and see firsthand how they apply credit to the interactions:

Continue to scroll, and you’ll find our most popular sample reports pre-built for your convenience. They’re showing your data, meaning they’re ready to be saved and added to a dashboard.

Configure tab

The explore tab is great for getting started, but the Configure tab is where the real magic happens.

Each attribution report includes four key sections to allow for customization: Style, Date filters, Filters, and Data.

Style

Click the Chart type dropdown to change how the data is displayed.

Date filters

The date filters let you specify what period of time you want to analyze.

Filters

Filters let you zoom in on a specific part of your CRM. For example, in revenue attribution, you can filter down to a specific Deal owner (usually a sales rep) and see the paths their closed-won deals took. If you want to just analyze how different emails, ads, web pages, or different assemblies of content are impacting the bottom line, you can use the Content type filter. 

Data

Last but not least, Data allows you to ‘cut’ or analyze different aspects of your journeys. For example, the Dimensions dropdown lets you choose what lens you want to view your attribution report through. For example, you can understand which types of interactions, which types of content, which sources of interactions, and other dimensions attributed the most to your goal. 

This is also where you can toggle between the different available attribution models. You can add and remove different models in real time to apply different rules to the journey and understand the value of each of these interactions.

Getting more comfortable with attribution in HubSpot

Attribution can be very daunting for even the most tenured marketers. If you’re a HubSpot Marketing Hub Enterprise user, we offer a free mini-course and in-depth user blogs to get started on revenue attribution, including how to best leverage our models.

Marketing Hub Professional, CMS Enterprise, and CMS Professional also have access to a free mini-course and in-depth user blogs to get started on contact create attribution.

How do you run an attribution report in Google Analytics? 

Using Google Analytics, you can also run Attribution Models. You will notice that the terminology in the report differs slightly so let's review what they mean.

  • Last Interaction - In this model, the last page or source that someone visits is given 100% of the credit for the conversion.
  • Last Non-Direct Click - In this model, the second-to-last page or source that someone visits before converting gets the credit.
  • Last AdWords Click - In this model, the most recent time someone clicked through to your site from an AdWords campaign is given 100% of the credit for the conversion.
  • First Interaction - In this model, the first source is given 100% of the credit for the conversion.
  • Linear - In this model, each credit is given to each source or page visited in the conversion path.
  • Time Decay - In this model, the pages or sources that were visited most recently are given more credit whereas pages or sources visited earlier in time are given less credit.
  • Position Based - In this model, 40% of the credit for the conversion is given to the first and last interaction, and 20% of the credit for the conversion is given to the middle interactions.

You can read more about the different types of Google Analytics models and how to use them here. Also, Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google, wrote a blog post describing how to use the different reports.

The biggest difference between using reports on Google Analytics vs. HubSpot is that you cannot connect the report back to specific contacts unless you use HubSpot. That means you cannot apply attribution trends to specific personas, contact groups, lifecycle stages, or other categories that are relevant to your business. So when deciding on what report to use, take that into consideration.

How to Prepare for New Data Privacy Regulations

Ruben Ugarte, a Data Strategist and author of the Data Mirage, shares his take on privacy regulations and his strategies for dealing with limited tracking in the following sections. 

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, once said that "the only constant in life is change."

This should be the tagline to the world of digital marketing. And, while change can be good, it also often creates new challenges for companies.

We are currently seeing a wave of incoming changes that will again uproot how we manage and track our digital campaigns: privacy-centric consumers, political regulation of big tech, and increases in data tracking limitations.

These trends are great for consumers, but businesses rely on this data to correctly measure their campaigns' impacts.

Here, let's look at how your business can adapt to these changes and thrive through them.

Privacy is Taking Center Stage

Privacy used to be like background dancers. It played an important role in marketing, but it wasn't the central focus.

Times are changing. Now, companies like Facebook and Google are coming under scrutiny for how much data they collect.

Consumers are also becoming more informed about what kind of data companies collect about them. Documentaries such as Netflix's The Social Dilemma are lifting the curtain to ideas previously known only within the technology industry.

On the legal side, we have new privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA. Both of these laws were made official in 2018. They are the start of future privacy regulations — but not the end.

The speed at which these things will happen is anyone's guess, but it isn't a passing fad. Privacy regulations are all part of a long-term trend. Privacy is here to stay. Consumers will continue to care about their privacy, so businesses need to adapt to how they collect and store data.

3 Strategies for Dealing with Limited Tracking

Once we recognize a trend, we need to figure out what to do. Here are three practical strategies to help your company comply with regulations while also giving you the data you need to run your marketing teams.

1. Move to backend tracking.

You'll want to away from client-side tracking, typically done via Javascript, and embrace backend tracking.

You can track almost the same amount of data, and it is more reliable and less susceptible to ad blockers. Backend tracking is also a great long-term solution to dealing with the phasing out of cookies.

To track data from the backend, consider a third-party service. For example, Google Analytics supports backend tracking through what they call the Measurement Protocol. You can use this API to track page views, events, ecommerce data, and anything else you desire.
 
This setup takes more work than simply slapping the Javascript snippet on your website but is also future-proof to the privacy changes we have been discussing.

2. Change expectations.

Teams will need to manage their expectations on the overall level of accuracy within their data.

You can't expect 100% accuracy — and you don't need it. You can still make the right decisions, improve your campaigns, and understand your customers' behavior with only 90% accurate data.

For instance, let's say you notice most of your blog traffic is interested in content related to augmented reality. Even if you're missing traffic from those viewers who've opted out of being tracked, you can still make an educated assumption that most of your data is signalling a larger trend of which you should take note.

In this case, that would likely mean you'll want to create more AR content ... or, update your older AR content for increased conversions.

3. Embrace owned channels.

These trends provide yet another reason to shift resources on channels you can own, such as blogs and email. You'll have 100% visibility into these channels' performance regardless of industry-wide changes.

These changes aren't the end of the world, but you do need to be ready. You can make several changes to your data like moving to backend tracking, establishing multiple systems, and treating some data as directionally instead of absolute. Additionally, leveraging third-party providers will be critical in some industries, while other companies will need to invest heavily in their data infrastructure.

How to Run an Attribution Report in HubSpot

If you're a member of HubSpot's Enterprise Marketing Hub, you can now run attribution reporting. To learn how to use the new feature, check out this in-depth and free mini-course.

Editor's Note: This blog post was originally published August 21, 2014 but was updated for comprehensiveness in December 2020.

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Originally published Apr 16, 2021 5:34:00 PM, updated June 10 2021

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