Intro to Multi-touch Attribution

In the marketing landscape of today, it’s not realistic to expect a conversion from a simple ad click. Now is the time to focus on what type of data you have and what data you’re currently collecting to create an approach that takes the customer journey into account every step of the way. Looking at the full picture, rather than just a piece will allow you to not only understand your customer, but also under which platforms and channels are working best. 

The most effective way to create a full picture is to understand all the touchpoints. In the past, marketers focused on first- or last-touch to determine exactly what led to a conversion. These actions, however, only play a small role in the decision-making process. Crediting all the touch points along the customer journey from prospect to client, is truly the effective way to measure marketing performance.

Chances are you might not be effective at lead attribution just yet, but knowing what your options are is the perfect start.

So, what is Multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution gives revenue credit to each customer touchpoint that helped close a deal. The goal of multi-touch attribution is to help you allocate future marketing dollars toward the most effective touchpoints that help generate interest, convert and move prospects down the funnel to close-won.

Multi-touch attribution considers uses touchpoints in relationship to milestones when attributing  credit to events:

  1. First Touch: What activity generates interest? Was there a social media ad they clicked to land on your homepage, that cookied their record? 
  2. Lead Creation: What activity converted the prospect? Did they register for a webinar? Did they convert via a social lead gen form? 
  3. Opportunity Creation: What was the last activity a person did prior to an opportunity being created? 
  4. Closed Won/Lost: Was it a sales dinner? A special invite or a check-in with your sales team that helped close the deal? 
  5. Weight or Importance – Did the touchpoint set off a significant chain of events that eventually led to a conversion? Did the touchpoint itself lead to a conversion?

Due to its ability to consider multiple factors like cost, timing, conversion,  engagement, this attribution modeling approach is one of the most effective ways to track value from beginning to end, across a customer journey. 

Different Types of Multi-Touch Attribution Models

There are multiple attribution models to consider within multi-touch attribution. Their use-cases depend entirely on the buyer’s journey and their main differentiator is how the mathematical model takes certain touchpoints into account. 

The four models (and a wildcard) you’ll want to know about are:

  • Linear Attribution
  • Time Decay Attribution
  • U-Shaped Attribution
  • W-Shaped Attribution
  • Full Path Attribution
  • Wildcard: Customized Business Model

Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through each type of attribution model to help ensure you’re gaining the customer journey understanding that makes the most sense for your business.

Linear Attribution and When to Use It

Linear Attribution focuses on splitting conversion credit equally across each customer touchpoint or interaction. It assigns an “award” or credit to every channel your business uses. The best time to leverage linear attribution is when you’re trying to look at a balanced overview of a holistic marketing strategy, rather than a single event or channel.

Benefit –  Using this model is that you’ll be able to credit every marketing channel used on the path to conversion.

Pitfall – This type of attribution does not specify the varying impact of a channel, while it is more sophisticated than only looking at first- or last-touch, you won’t be able to know how a specific channel performed versus another.

It’s great to use linear multi-touch attribution when you know your prospects are spending a considerable amount of time in the consideration phase. It doesn’t emphasize one tactic over another, so you’ll truly have a clear understanding of your customer journey. 

Time-decay Attribution and When to Use It

Time-decay Attribution focuses on organizing your touchpoints based on their overall influence. By assigning a percentage based on least (low percentage) and most (high percentage) influence, you can determine which touchpoint was overall the biggest contributor to a conversion.

Benefit – This model doesn’t discount your upper- and mid-funnel tactics and gives credit if credit is due.  

Pitfall – It gives the most credit to the interactions or touchpoints that happen closer to the conversion, so it focuses most on bottom-funnel tactics and can sometimes consider irrelevant traffic sources.

It’s great to use time-decay multi-touch attribution when you are measuring the success of short-term efforts such as campaigns or aggressive tactics focused on conversions rather than awareness or consideration.

U-shaped Attribution and When to Use It

U-Shaped Attribution is a position-based model that gets its name because it resembles the letter ‘U’ when you visually look at the way it assigns credit. Also known as the ‘bathtub’ model, it gives about 40% credit to the first, 40% to the last touchpoint in the buyer’s journey and a mere 20% to the middle touchpoints regardless of how many there are.

Benefit – It helps you understand what tactics are driving awareness and conversion the most so that you can allocate your budget into high ROI activities.

Pitfall – It’s way too simple of a view of the customer journey. 

If you’re focused on finding out what your highest ROI activities are, this is the model for you. However, it won’t really aid in understanding how your brand is building customer trust. It also won’t allow you to determine how your nurturing touchpoints are performing. We recommend this model for teams that want to focus on the acquisition and conversion stages and businesses with lower-value items. If you have a long sales cycle, stay away.

W-shaped Attribution and When to Use It

W-Shaped Attribution as the name implies resembles a ‘W’ when you visually look at the way it assigns credit. Additionally, it falls into two main categories: multi-touch and position-based attribution. In a nutshell, it takes into account multiple touchpoints along the buyer’s journey, but it does it in a way that gives credit based on where touchpoints appear. W-shaped attribution generally gives credit to when the first touchpoint happened, when the prospect became a lead and when the lead became a qualified lead. This leaves the actual point of conversion with a lot less value.

Benefit – This model allows you to have a really good view of your marketing channel mix and how they link together to drive performance. Additionally, this model can help you identify what needs to be optimized along the journey to improve your results.

Pitfall – Despite giving credit to many touchpoints, it is still fairly simple. The modern consumer journey is becoming too complex, and when you have to consider channels across multiple devices, this attribution model can potentially come up short.

Don’t forget, this approach will require you to cross-reference revenue brought in with outgoing cost, otherwise, you’ll get a skewed version of your ROI. It’s great for B2B companies with ABM efforts that emphasize 3 main critical touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. You’ll have a very clear picture of which touchpoints actually convert, but also which encourage continuous movement through the journey.  

Full Path Attribution and When to Use it

Full path takes into account major milestones across a customer journey.

  • When a lead was cookied (anonymous touch)
  • What created the lead (lead creation)
  • What generated the opportunity (opp creation in CRM)
  • What helped close the deal (what activity brought this to completion)

Benefit – This model takes it from start to finish with major events that most companies care about. 

Pitfall – Middle touches are left out. Anything a prospect could have done in between the major milestones like FT, LC, OC, Closed. Get no credit. This model covers the majority of the business needs but if you want to know what they are doing in between these milestones, the wild card model is meant for you. 

The Wildcard Attribution Model

We call this one the wildcard due to the level of customization you can have. While the models above can be effective for many use-cases, there are very particular times when they simply don’t fit your business. That’s why we’ve introduced the ‘wildcard model.’ Keep in mind that this looks different from business to business and can require some long-term experimentation. 

Working with a strategic partner like GNW Consulting can help you create a fairly complex attribution model without the trial and error of experimentation. Having a deep understanding of each channel, your existing customer journey and all of the above models is necessary for success with custom attribution modeling. 


As consumers’ journeys become more complex, companies must adapt. Multi-touch attribution is the only way you can ensure you’re meeting consumers at the right place and time. Having a deep understanding of what your business goals are and how you plan to use one of these existing multi-touch attribution models is a great first step. We work with clients of all sizes to overcome the hurdles of implementing multi-touch and custom attribution modeling. Don’t tackle it all on your own, our team of consultants brings a wealth of knowledge and years of experience, so you don’t have to worry about connecting the dots all on your own. Reach out today to get started.