What is marketing attribution? A beginner’s guide

Marketing attribution is a crucial step in analyzing the impact of your marketing tactics throughout the customer journey.

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Advertising touchpoints are abundant—they’re in inboxes, they show up during live TV shows, or while website browsing. These touchpoints are interconnected, working together to help customers determine their final destination: the conversion. But understanding the path to that destination is just as valuable as the destination itself. Marketing attribution models enable advertisers to measure and optimize the unique touchpoints that lead to conversions and sales. Understanding how consumers go through their shopping journeys is crucial—and that's where digital marketing attribution comes in.

What is marketing attribution?

Marketing attribution is the way advertisers determine how marketing tactics—and subsequent customer interactions—contributed to sales, conversions, or other goals.

These marketing metrics are used to identify the channels and messages that inspire potential buyers to take action. The models consider various touchpoints in the marketing funnel and their impact on consumer behavior and conversions. This attribution can be achieved through solutions like Amazon Ad Server that serve as catalysts to measure and analyze these touchpoints along the customer journey.

Marketing tactics and corresponding customer touchpoints can range from social media channels to emails to paid search—and every digital marketing interaction in between. Using these models can be as simple as analyzing one touchpoint and as complex as considering the intersections of multiple touchpoints across the path to purchase. Either way, marketing funnel and customer journey modeling are incredibly important to return on investment (ROI), future strategy planning, and more.

Why do we need marketing attribution?

When it comes to marketing, knowledge is power—the more you can learn about your past results, the better you can plan your future tactics. Analyzing your current marketing objectives and taking subsequent marketing actions can create a ripple effect for your brand’s strategy. It helps ensure that every single past interaction is accounted for and considered when making future decisions. With so many marketing touchpoints to consider and an increasingly complex customer journey, it’s crucial that brands take a step back to review where they stand and how they may be able to optimize. But unsurprisingly, the sheer amount of reporting available can feel overwhelming.

That’s where marketing attribution comes in—it helps automate the evaluation process to ensure that you’re getting the most relevant and accurate metrics and KPIs possible. These learnings will help enable you to make smarter, more efficient updates to your marketing team’s tactics and drive more optimization for your business.

The diverse nature of this information and the quantity of potential touchpoints makes marketing attribution even more important. The ability of analytical tools to pull factors from various sources means the learnings from this attribution paint the full picture of your marketing performance and audience behaviors. For example, some analytical tools can consider device type, order of exposure, and type of asset when analyzing marketing touchpoints.

One of the other most crucial aspects of marketing attribution is its ability to improve your ROI. It can reveal information that enables you to optimize marketing spend, and it can help improve remarketing efforts and relevance for audiences.

Challenges with marketing attribution

Marketing attributions can be helpful when trying to reach business goals, but what are some potential problems with this process?

  • It may be difficult to ensure the right touchpoints receive the appropriate amount of credit. Choosing the right model for your business can help ensure your attribution solutions measure the correct information in the most accurate way possible.
  • It may be tricky to ensure that you’re capturing every single piece of the customer journey. This is where strategic best practices come into play—it’s important to follow a few key considerations when going through the marketing attribution process.
  • Inefficiency and inaccuracy could cause confusion and negatively impact your business. That’s why it’s critical to find a tool or system that you trust to ensure you’re receiving the most accurate information.

But don’t worry—we’ll be outlining those attribution models, detailing best practices to follow, and sharing information about specific solution options. Let’s dive in.

Marketing attribution models

As you may have noticed, marketing attribution is a complex process—but depending on your brand’s goals and needs, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Luckily, the wide variety of marketing attribution models enable you to pinpoint which specific strategy is right for your brand. There are two broad categories of attribution models: single source and multi-touch. Single source gives all the credit to one touchpoint, while multi-touch models give credit to each contributing channel. Let’s explore what these different models are and when to use them, starting with single source attribution models.

First-touch attribution

As the name suggests, this single source model gives all the credit to consumers’ first touchpoint with your brand. This could be the first time they visit your website, engage with your content, or interact in another way that introduces them to your brand. In social media marketing, for example, this kind of digital marketing attribution model would give all the credit to the point at which consumers saw a brand for the first time on an Instagram post. This is a great option because it’s simple to understand and easy to implement, but it doesn’t provide visibility into lower-funnel touchpoints.

It’s best to use the first-touch attribution model when focused on demand generation and lead forms.

Last-touch attribution

Opposite of first-touch attribution, the last-touch attribution model credits the final touchpoint that leads to a sale. It does not take any prior consumer interactions into consideration. It’s great because of the simplicity and ease of use; however, it’s unable to track the engagements that initially lead consumers to your brand.

It’s best to use the last-touch attribution model if you’re really focused on driving conversions.

Linear attribution

Unlike the single source attribution models we just discussed, multi-touch attribution models—like linear attribution—consider all contributing channels throughout the customer journey. For the linear attribution model specifically, each touchpoint is given equal weight or credit. This one is especially great because it gives you the full picture of customer interactions. That said, not all interactions are created equal—so the downside is that the engagement priorities of this analysis are not considered.

It’s best to use the linear attribution model when your touchpoints have relatively equal importance in relation to your overall goal.

Lead-conversion touch attribution

Lead-conversion touch attribution is all about the touchpoint that generated the lead. It’s the flip of the switch moment that inspires consumers to take action. It’s helpful for pinpointing precise moments of lead generation, but it lacks the perspective of the other marketing touchpoints.

It’s best to use the lead-conversation touch attribution model when you want to determine and hone in on the channels that are performing well for your brand’s goals.

Time-decay attribution

Unlike the linear attribution model, time-decay attribution weighs each purchase funnel touchpoint differently—this model gives more credit to the most recent interactions. This is helpful for understanding which channels are inspiring customers towards making a purchase, but it assumes that those later touchpoints had a bigger impact on the sale or conversion.

It’s best to use the time-decay attribution model for lengthier sales cycles, such as business-to-business marketing efforts.

Position-based attribution

Sometimes referred to as “U-shaped attribution,” the position-based attribution model is a bit more complicated than the others. It credits 40% to the first touchpoint, another 40% to the touchpoint right before a conversion, and 20% to other touchpoints. It’s very useful in optimizing two interactions that may be very different, but it may give too much credit to touchpoints that might not have been as impactful.

It’s best to use the position based attribution model when you’re curious about those specific touchpoints, yet want to see the full picture too.

Custom attribution

The custom attribution model is the most complex, but also the most tailored of all the models. It gives marketers the ability to assign their own attribution weights to each touchpoint. They can consider the industry, channels used, and buyer behaviors when customizing their own model. While it’s very accurate and sophisticated, it’s also very hard to set up and requires a good amount of expertise.

It’s best to use the custom attribution model when you have the time and knowledge to utilize it properly.

Choosing an attribution model

The wide variety of attribution model types gives you the opportunity to tailor your strategy to your brand’s needs and goals. But with so many different options, it can be challenging to identify the best one for you. There are a few factors to consider when deciding which model to use, including:

  • Length of sales cycle: What type of sales cycle does your business operate on? How long is that cycle?
  • Customer journey map: How are your customer touchpoints typically distributed across the marketing funnel? Are they spread out or condensed? Which channels are you leveraging for your marketing tactics?
  • Campaign objectives: What’s the goal of your current marketing campaign? What type of campaigns have you been executing?

Let’s explore an example of how answers to these questions may impact a business’s attribution model choice. Say a shoe company is hoping to learn more about their customers’ behaviors after their recent email marketing campaign. Their sales cycle is very short and customer touchpoints are relatively condensed. The company is only leveraging one channel—email—and their creative assets on that channel are pretty simple. The goal of the campaign is to drive sales. This particular brand may want to choose a single source attribution model, such as first-touch or last-touch, because they won’t need to worry as much about the limited touchpoints within their customers’ paths to purchase; they’re only focusing on a conversion-related goal, and they’re using a more direct channel.

Of course, this plan is unique to this specific sample company. Your answers and subsequent results may look a little different. Every brand is unique, so attribution models are unique too. On top of the factors in the list above, it’s critical to think about the other needs and goals of your brand before making an attribution model decision.

Marketing attribution strategies

After you decide on an attribution model, it’s time to start implementing it. But as you may have noticed, marketing attribution can be a robust and detailed process. There’s a lot to consider when jumping into this kind of analysis, so it’s important to keep a few best practices below in mind.

Omnichannel approach:

It’s important to consider an omnichannel attribution strategy when going through this process. This strategy enables you to see the impact of marketing channels on the customer journey both online and offline. It considers multiple channels at the same time to evaluate the entire customer experience.

Diverse leads

Another best practice for marketing attribution is to analyze interactions from both new leads and existing leads in the marketing funnel. These can be critical for conversion as well, so it’s important you don’t leave them out.

CRM considerations

Customer relationship management (CRM) campaign measurement is a crucial aspect of your marketing attribution strategy. CRM involves ranking information about a specific marketing tactic to uncover and optimize information about prospective customer activities. This visibility into how your audience moves down the marketing funnel can help you both see and understand information about their unique behaviors.


Using a systematized marketing tool would help ensure accuracy and help you more effectively link marketing channels to conversions. Automating your process through this kind of software will ensure you’re able to pull out and analyze the most accurate and relevant information possible. This may include solutions like Amazon Attribution, Amazon Marketing Cloud, or Amazon Ad Server. Let’s dive deeper into those opportunities for your brand.

Getting started with marketing attribution

Amazon Attribution

Amazon Attribution

Amazon Attribution is a measurement solution for marketers. It provides digital analytics and insights into how marketing channels impact shopping activities on Amazon, enabling you to grow your business. With this robust tool, you can use Amazon conversion metrics to measure performance and reach goals, access full-funnel advertising analytics, learn more about attributed shopping behaviors, analyze in-flight campaign metrics, and drive efficiency.

Learn more and get started on our Amazon Attribution solutions page.


Amazon Marketing Cloud

Amazon Marketing Cloud (AMC) is a measurement and analytics clean-room solution built on Amazon Web Services (AWS). It’s a secure, privacy-safe, and dedicated cloud-based tool where advertisers can pull analytics and reports that help with campaign measurement, audience refinement, supply optimization, and more. As a result of this dedicated environment, advertisers can make more informed decisions about cross-channel marketing.

Advertisers use Amazon Marketing Cloud to help reach incremental audiences, develop custom attribution models, and explore new measurement opportunities. This exciting tool is currently available for eligible marketers and agencies—visit our Amazon Marketing Cloud post for more information.

Amazon Ad Server

Amazon Ad Server

If you’re looking for more creative control over audience engagement, Amazon Ad Server is the perfect tool to try out. This ad suite enables advertisers and agencies to create, distribute, customize, measure, and optimize campaigns to support goals. As a global, multichannel ad server, Amazon Ad Server is designed to help you access creative tools, launch campaigns quickly, maintain ownership of data, and more. It’s perfect for advertisers and agencies who are running digital campaigns.

It’s easy to get started with Amazon Ad Server, so check out our Amazon Ad Server page to learn more.

The customer journey isn’t always linear. It can be complex, varied, and sometimes even unusual. Digital marketing attribution helps you make sense of these patterns and behaviors, and the variety of attribution models ensures you can do so in the most effective and efficient way possible. It’s important to understand that marketing attribution isn’t one big thing—it’s a million little things. And Amazon Ads' tools can help you piece those touchpoints and interactions together.