The (Unwelcome) Death Knell of First and Last-Touch Attribution

I gave the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe to our nephew for Christmas. Poe is a great American poet and author, who undoubtedly, left his morbid mark on many of us. I figured our nephew was about the right age to get freaked out about the amount of effort needed to creep across old floors without someone noticing.... 

First and last touch attribution is quickly dying

Determining how to attribute performance to an asset or campaign is a tricky subject for us marketers. In the olden days we had to decide which one-touch attribution we would use – first touch reflected when a new lead was created and last touch was right before we passed the lead to the sales team.

Our dashboards and reports looked great. We could pull them up and present to management the ROI of any given marketing campaign. We loved our attribution model, but I bet a lot of us (secretly) hate it now.

The demand for multi-touch attribution (measuring all touches across the buying journey) is challenging our ability to make informed decisions about our marketing channels, to incentivize our inside sales teams, and to make a case for ROI.

This is the marketers’ mantra: 'Help us, world, find the right person, at the right time, with the right message!'

For B2B marketers, multi-touch attribution is an even bigger issue. As we take an Account-based marketing (ABM) approach to plan campaigns, we acknowledge that not only is there more than one person at an account involved in the sale, but it takes many online and offline interactions to close the deal. With multiple people and multiple touches as the framework for ABM, we can no longer use any one touch (first, last or fifth) to measure our effectiveness.


Long live multi-touch attribution!

I am confident that we are not fully prepared for multi-touch attribution. And there are good arguments to record first and/or last touch – we should continue to track these metrics because they serve as data points about a given asset or campaign. But we can no longer solely rely on them. For that, we need to bring all touches into the model.

This is the marketers’ mantra: ”Help us, world, find the right person, at the right time, with the right message!”

Multi-touch attribution is a gigantic effort. Many of us have been involved in lead scoring or lead-to-quote process creation, and we know how painful it can be to operationalize, even with a simpler first/last attribution model. Multi-touch makes it even more complex, and we will need many cohorts across all marketing, sales, and operations to make it happen.

I advise all of us to think of this as an ongoing process improvement. We don't have the technology to make this model push-button - yet. But we can change the mind-set in our organizations and advocate for incorporating multi-touch attribution in our marketing operations. 

Let’s all channel our inner Edgar Allan Poe and let the death knell toll for one touch attribution.