What is Multi-Touch Attribution?
by Moe McLeod | Updated May 20, 2022
Simply put, multi-touch attribution is a way to determine the value of every touchpoint on the way to a conversion for your buyer.
Instead of crediting attribution to a single touch (e.g. referral traffic) multi-touch assigns credit to every marketing channel that interacted with your buyer on their journey.
Consider the following marketing conundrum...
Executive: How is marketing contributing to our bottom line?
Marketing Director: How do I prove marketing is creating awareness, driving demand, and creating sales opportunities?
Sales Director: How do I get air cover for my sales team to help close more deals?
Operations Director: How can we get better alignment between marketing and sales to help create a better customer experience for my team?
Let's find some answers to those questions and the following:
- So, What Exactly is Multi-Touch Attribution
- Why is Multi-Touch Attribution Important for B2B?
- The Difference Between Multi-Touch Attribution vs. First-Touch vs. Last Touch
- Multi-Touch Attribution Models
- How Do B2B Marketers Use Multi-Touch Attribution?
- Google Analytics Multi-channel Funnels (MCF)
So, What Exactly IS Multi-Touch Attribution?
One of the biggest challenges faced by today’s B2B marketers is showing value in their marketing efforts. Specifically, how marketing influences users in the buying decision. Is your primary objective to drive qualified leads? Or create demand for your product or services? Maybe your goal is to differentiate your brand as a thought leader in your industry.
Regardless of your core objective, you’re more than likely using multiple channels, advertising platforms, and media to reach your target audience. Being able to properly attribute which channels had a hand in moving your users to a conversion goal is not only about showing value, but also key in helping you make informed decisions so you know where to focus your budget and efforts.
Here’s a simple analogy of multi-touch attribution (I like road trips)...
Let’s say I plan on taking a road trip that spans across multiple states in a traditional gas-fueled car (not hybrid). When planning the best route to take I’m going to strategically add stops to gas stations along the way. If I have to fill up five times to get to my destination then naturally I would credit each of those fill-ups as being a part of my journey. In this case, assuming I filled up the same amount each time, each station would get one-fifth of the total credit.
Now, I know what you're saying - "Wait! Is that fair? Each station had different prices for the same amount of gas. Shouldn't they get credited differently?" Check out the attribution models below.
In a similar way with marketing, as your buyer makes their way toward a purchase decision, they have made many “stops” along the way by means of seeing a social media post, reading an article relating to a problem they are trying to solve, seeing a Google search ad based on the keywords they searched, seeing a banner ad “following” them on different websites, etc.
Each of those stops is similar to the aforementioned road-tripper filling up with gas, or in this case with information, that helps them get to their destination. And like the road trip illustration, it doesn’t matter which gas station or marketing channel they fill up at (from a reporting standpoint). What’s important is that it took multiple stops to complete their journey and we need a way of seeing this.
Why is Multi-Touch Attribution Important for B2B?
Multi-touch attribution is important for B2B brands because the buying cycle is generally complex and spans a longer period. It requires multiple touches before buyers are ready to make a purchase decision. Today’s buyers are savvy and do a lot of research on many channels and platforms before ever reaching out to sales.
How effectively you track your buyer’s journey will help you understand your buyer’s behavior and what is influencing them along the way. Relying on a single-touch attribution (first-touch or last touch data) means you’re missing out on the way your B2B buyers truly interact in an omnichannel world.
- According to a Forrester B2B buying survey, the number of buying interactions has jumped to a staggering 27! This means that along their journey, customers, on average, interact with a brand a whopping 27 times before buying. The touchpoints have quadrupled from where they were a few years ago (6-8 interactions). Why? Because there’s no shortage of information overloading our buyers, which adds to the complexity of the buying process.
- This is further supported by a TrustRadius statistic that 87% of buyers want to self-serve part or all of their buying journey. 57% of buyers already make purchase decisions without ever talking with a vendor representative.
- 44% of marketers say "Better measure the ROI of our demand generation initiatives" is their top priority (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
- B2B marketers say articles/blog posts, white papers, and videos are the three most valuable content marketing mediums to move prospects through the sales funnel (Statista).
On average, customers interact with a brand a whopping 27 times before buying. - Click to Tweet
To help illustrate why multi-touch attribution is important for B2B, let’s take a look at a fictional character named Alex. She is the Marketing Director at a mid-sized tech company and is looking for a SaaS tool to help automate (fill-in-the-blank problem). As a savvy marketer, she jots down her needs in a spreadsheet, has a budget in mind, and begins her journey to find the tool that will increase productivity.
Over the next 90 days her path might look a little something like this before she actually makes a decision:
- Runs Google searches to see what tools are out there
- Visits vendors’ sites to learn more about features
- Reads articles on these sites and lists sites that offer valuable insights into how their tools can solve problems similar to hers
- Watches YouTube videos of influencers speaking about the tools she is interested in learning more about
- Goes to review sites to see what others in her industry are saying about these tools
- Frequents social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and engages with retargeting ads related to the problem she needs a tool for
- Clicks on an ad and signs up for an eBook that offers a checklist to help simplify the vetting process
- Narrows the list down to a few vendors and visits the site to dive deeper
- Gets emails from these vendors with insightful and timely info
- Continues to run Google searches that get more specific as she understands her needs better through her research
- Looks for pricing, but these vendors don’t advertise their price, so she requests a demo
- Continues to get emails from these vendors
- Continues to get retargeted on websites and YouTube channels she frequents
- Continues to look on YouTube for any deeper demos of the product
- Has demo with vendors
- Communicates via email with vendors to answer questions and concerns
- Checks out resources and onboarding articles sent by the vendors
- Schedules a call with account managers and onboarding specialists of vendors to address specific questions
Everyone’s path might look a little different. But you get the idea. There are multiple touchpoints from various channels that a B2B buyer interacts with before making a decision on a service or product.
The Difference Between Multi-Touch Attribution vs. First-Touch vs. Last Touch
Let’s dive into the difference between first-touch, last-touch, and multi-touch attribution. Before we dig in, I want to emphasize that multi-touch attribution is the more sophisticated and real-world way to measure the touchpoints for your B2B buyers.
First-touch attribution gives 100% credit to the first marketing interaction before a user converts.
So even if the buyer sees multiple ads on different platforms, conducts searches on various search engines, receives emails in the nurturing process, and reads various articles on the site, this simple model is going to attribute the first touchpoint in the journey while neglecting every other stop along the way.
Similarly, last-touch assumes that the last marketing engagement in the buyer’s journey gets the full sales credit.
Since we’ve already touched upon the fact that most B2B buyers are savvy and will be doing their due diligence and require multiple touches before they convert, we can safely assume that this model will not give you the full picture either.
First-Touch/Last-Touch vs. Multi-Touch
Back to the illustration of taking a road trip that requires multiple gas stops. Using the first-touch model would suggest that you only need to fill up one time to make the entire journey. And using the last-touch model would say that it’s the last fill-up that allowed me to make the trip. But the multi-touch attribution model takes all of the fill-ups (touchpoints) from the beginning to the end into account.
Let’s not discount first-touch or last-touch models. They can certainly provide some insights, especially if you see a common pattern as you evaluate your data. And in very specific instances, these attribution models may actually be better suited for your business.
For example, if you offer a low-cost B2B product or service, that requires very little consideration from the buyer, then using a first or last-touch attribution model might make sense. Or if you offer a product or service that is high demand or emergency-based, such as business tax audit service or server repair, these models might also be preferable to multi-touch.
Many B2B marketers believe that first-touch or last-touch attribution is a more accurate way of assessing the quality of a lead. In most cases, this is simply not true. As we explored earlier, there are many touchpoints in a B2B buyer’s journey, especially for more complex sales cycles.
The multi-touch attribution model provides a fuller picture of what interactions your buyer encountered along the way and can help you make more informed marketing decisions.
Many B2B marketers believe that first-touch or last-touch attribution is a more accurate way of assessing the quality of a lead. In most cases, this is simply not true. There are many touchpoints in a B2B buyer’s journey, especially for more complex sales cycles. - Click To Tweet
Multi-Touch Attribution Models
There are many platforms that provide attribution models, with varying degrees of sophistication; some use algorithmic methodologies that leverage machine learning and statistical modeling.
Here are the four most common multi-touch attribution models to help B2B brands understand their buyer’s journey to conversions.
Linear Attribution Model
The linear model gives equal credit or value to each marketing channel in the conversion path. It’s likely the most commonly used of all the multi-touch attribution models for B2B sales cycles. With multiple touchpoints that span across many channels and devices, this is a popular model used to ensure credit is given to each touchpoint.
An example of how a linear model might assign credit is:
- Google search ad (25%)
- Facebook post (25%)
- Email (25%)
- Organic search (25%)
Time Decay Attribution Model
This multi-channel attribution assigns a greater value closest to the time of conversion. In other words, there is more credit given to the last-touch and less credit given to the first-touch — credit declines in the buyer’s journey from start to finish.
The time decay model could be useful for shorter sales cycles and for B2B products or services that are less complex with fewer touchpoints.
An example of how the time decay model might assign credit is:
- Received an email (10%)
- Organic search (20%)
- Direct website visit (30%)
- LinkedIn ad (40%)
U-Shaped Attribution Model
Also called Position Based, this model attributes greater credit to the first interaction and last interaction, with lower attribution to the middle touches in the buyer’s path to conversion. It essentially weighs the first-touch and last-touch as the most important and then every interaction in-between gets the remaining credit.
For some B2B organizations, this is a useful way to measure attribution as they believe the first marketing touch is very important as is the last thing a buyer sees before making a decision.
An example of how a U-shaped model might assign credit is:
- LinkedIn post (40%)
- Direct website visit (10%)
- Email (10%)
- Display retargeting ad (40%)
W-Shaped Attribution Model
In this multi-touch model, greater credit is given to the first-touch, lead creation touch, and opportunity touch, while the other touchpoints get the remainder of the credit. Note, this attribution model is not available in all platforms.
This model is appropriate for B2B brands that have a clear understanding of their marketing funnel and the ability to track lifecycle stages, such as with HubSpot.
An example of how W-shaped model might assign credit is:
- Display Ad (30%)
- Facebook post (5%)
- Downloaded lead magnet from Google search ad (30%)
- Email (5%)
- Filled out LinkedIn lead gen form for demo offer (30%)
How Do B2B Marketers Use Multi-Touch Attribution?
Let’s look at a real-world example to better understand how B2B marketers can use multi-touch attribution to view their customer’s buyer’s journey.
Reach a New Audience Segment
Imagine you work for a B2B brand that provides analytics software to large hospitals. You’ve identified a new segment that you want to target and have developed a new persona. To test this out, you’ve designated a budget and put together a marketing plan that helps you reach your target audience through a multi-channel inbound marketing strategy.
As an astute marketer, you’ve identified your persona’s pain points and have developed content and offerings that not only provide value in providing answers and solutions but also, a marketing funnel that moves the user from awareness to consideration to decision and ultimately a client and raving fan.
Your multi-channel approach includes:
- SEO and long-form articles to drive organic traffic
- Organic social media posts and engagement
- Gaining reviews on trusted product review sites
- Email nurture
- Google ads (search, display, and video)
- LinkedIn ads (sponsored content and lead gen form)
- Facebook ads (image ads and lead ads)
- Programmatic ads (display and native)
At the core is HubSpot to manage, organize, and automate your marketing efforts, helping to align your marketing, sales, and service teams. You also leverage Google Analytics to provide additional insights and data as a complement to HubSpot.
Your team successfully executes and launches the above strategy and now you must measure and analyze to understand what’s working, what needs improvement, and where to put more effort to achieve your company’s goals and objectives. As data starts coming in you’re able to see how your marketing efforts are influencing users and what paths they are taking.
You’ve already researched and understood from talking with sales and industry research that the average sales cycle is six months long and requires multiple touchpoints – so the multi-touch attribution model is how you will measure conversions.
After the marketing campaigns have started gaining traction, you might decide to pull different attribution reports such as:
HubSpot Revenue Attribution Model (Linear):
HubSpot Deals Created by Interaction Type (Linear):
B2B Multi-touch Attribution Reports
Hopefully you’re at the point where you understand that multi-touch attribution is the way to go for B2B. Your next question is probably, ‘What multi-touch attribution reports should I run for my B2B marketing campaigns?
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and there are a number of platforms that can provide varying degrees of attribution reporting, we’re a Platinum HubSpot Partner so we are biased towards HubSpot.
HubSpot Multi-touch Attribution Reports
You can create a multitude of attribution reports in HubSpot. Whether you want to understand what marketing channels are driving the most leads, how many leads are generated from your content, or deals created by interaction type, you have the ability to drill down and understand B2B attribution that can help you make informed decisions and gain insights into your marketing efforts.
I’m going to focus on the attribution reports that are included in the HubSpot Report Library. These are by no means the only reports you can create. You can create a large number of custom reports – you can access that in this knowledge base article.
Here are just a handful of pre-built HubSpot multi-touch attribution reports that can be useful in understanding how effective your marketing is in influencing your audience.
Contacts Created by Interaction Type
Contacts Created by Interaction Source
Contacts Created by Interaction Type
Deals Created by Interaction Type
Deals Created by Interaction Source
Closed Revenue Amount by Interaction Source
How to Access Standard Multi-channel Attribution Reports in HubSpot:
- In your HubSpot account, go to Reports > Reports
- Under Filter by choose Attribution
- Choose the report and either customize or save report
Google Analytics Multi-channel Funnels (MCF)
Google Analytics is a powerful tool that can also provide B2B marketing insights and data. Although you can create robust custom reports, here are some useful multi-channel attribution reports, called Multi-Channel Funnels or MCF in Google Analytics (you will need to create goals in Google Analytics in order to track conversions).
- Here is an article from Google Analytics on how to create and configure goals.
- You’ll also need to assign a dollar value to each conversion goal.
- The Assisted Conversions Report provides a summary of the contribution for each marketing channel. They can contribute as first interaction (just before conversion), last interaction (first interaction to conversion), or assisted interaction (any touch that is not the last interaction).
- Note: Since assisted conversions are any interaction that is not the last interaction, there could be double counting, which might result in inflated numbers.
Top Conversion Paths
- The Top Conversion Paths Report provides all of the unique sequences of interactions by the channel that led your user to a conversion.
- This report also provides the number of conversions from each channel and the value.
- It also gives you the ability to see how marketing channels interact with the user’s conversion path.
- The Time Lag report counts the number of days from when the first ad impression is served to conversion.
- This report provides insights into how long each conversion takes in your buyer’s journey.
- The Path Length Report provides a simple overview of path length (in interactions) compared to conversions.
- This can be useful in understanding the relationship between the number of channel interactions and conversions.
Model Comparison Tool
- This MCF Analytics tool allows you to compare how different attribution models (from first-click to linear) impact how you evaluate your marketing channels.
- You can even create custom attribution models.
Bottom Line...You Should be Using Multi-touch Attribution in Your Marketing Reports
Regardless of your marketing objectives — whether it’s awareness, creating demand, driving higher quality sales opportunities, accelerating growth, or all of the above — leveraging the power of B2B multi-touch attribution is the key.
Multi-touch attribution is a powerful tool for B2B marketers.
Without it, there’s a good chance that you could be attributing conversions to incorrect events and platforms. Well-meaning marketers often get caught up in attributing sales to first-touch or last touch interactions and guess what path this takes them down? A path of no return (on investment!).
Don’t get caught pouring dollars into the wrong marketing channels because you’re falsely attributing conversions to events that aren’t actually moving the needle. Knowing your buyer personas and following them on the multitude of interactions they take is more important than ever.
Ready to learn more about building reports you actually want to see and make an impact? Fill out our quick from below to access our step by step guide to building meaningful dashboards in HubSpot.