B2B Marketing Blog

Why Single-Touch Attribution in B2B Marketing Is Unethical

By Lauren Frye
Dec 2, 2015
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Picture a race team running a relay, where each member runs a segment before passing the baton to the next runner. But how would it look to only award a gold medal to the runner who crossed the finish line? What if that final runner’s name was the only name that went down in olympic history for setting a new world relay record?

This is a picture of single-touch attribution in B2B marketing. Unlike B2C marketing, which is more like a 100-meter sprint, B2B marketing is a relay race of epic proportion. For some B2B companies, the relay can last as long as six-months to a year.

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Single-touch attribution has its place, don’t get us wrong. However, B2B marketers don’t deal with luxuriously short sales cycles where consumers can make snap, impulse decisions. Only in a quick-purchase-decision environment do single-touch attribution models really make sense.

Furthermore, multiple influencers from the same account are interacting with our landscape of marketing operations during that long time frame. And each of those prospects are creating touchpoints along the way.

When there are multiple important touchpoints along an account’s buying journey, a single-touch attribution model will only assign revenue-credit to one of them. Not only does this misrepresent the customer’s buying journey, but it also kind of screws over the 75% of a marketing team whose contributions to revenue go unrecognized. It shoves all but one relay race member off the podium.

Moreover, the data that those left-out marketers need to optimize their marketing operations is never surfaced. They’re left with only vague top-of-funnel metrics and lead goal numbers to justify their value-add to the company’s revenue stream.

An Overview of Single-Touch Attribution

Single-touch attribution is the practice of attributing revenue to one specific touchpoint along the entire marketing journey. The specific touchpoint is usually identified by whichever marketing touch is easiest for a marketing team to track with the marketing technology that is readily available to them.

If an organization is mostly focused on activities centered around their CRM, for example, they most often would choose opportunity-creation, also known as last-touch, for their single-touch model.

An organization that relies heavily on their marketing automation software would most likely measure their marketing using a lead-touch model.

A company that has a very large paid search marketing spend would be inclined to use a first-touch model in order to understand how well their top-of-funnel activities are performing.

Each Touchpoint Is Someone’s Responsibility

A paid search manager sets up campaigns, keywords, and ads. A content developer writes blog article and landing page copy, and they set up email nurturing sequences. A sales rep calls leads to set up demos. An account rep runs demos and sets up trials. And finally, when all is said and done, someone’s responsible for the account’s signature across the dotted line.

Single-touch attribution fails to recognize all but one of these important roles. It gives full revenue credit to one specific person’s responsibilities, while leaving the rest of the team to play a guessing game, wondering if their work is really, truly effective -- or if it contributed in any way to the revenue that was ultimately generated.

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First-touch rewards those marketers in charge of top-of-the-funnel activities. Lead-touch rewards marketers who pay attention to the middle of the funnel. And last touch rewards marketers who respond to leads and push them through to close.

Why is this an issue? There’s no way for the entire team to know what’s working, and what’s not. There’s no way to confidently measure how much value ALL of the key marketing conversion touches are adding to the bottom line.

It would seem that single-touch anoints one touchpoint as the holy grail of all marketing activities, while belittling the effectiveness of all of the others. And from that perspective, it hardly seems fair.

Use Multi-Touch Models Instead

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There are three multi-touch models that can solve this ethical conundrum. The first is U-shaped, which gives credit to both (1) the first marketing touch, and (2) the lead-conversion touch. It still leaves out opportunity-creation, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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A more effective model is W-Shaped attribution, which splits revenue credit three-ways between the first-touch, the lead-conversion touch, and the opportunity-creation touch. By handing out the credit equitably, it allows each segment of the marketing team to know where their activities are creating the most impact, and it’s properly distributing the credit to each key touchpoint within the funnel stages.

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The MOST effective multi-touch attribution model is ‘full path’ attribution, where revenue credit can be assigned from view-through initiatives all the way to customer-close.

A whole team can confidently discuss their marketing effectiveness as long as all pertinent, helpful data across all funnel stages is being surfaced. Your whole team should get the chance to prove their value and show how their effortful work is adding to the bottom line.

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