Why You Can’t Give Marketing Attribution (Credit) to Only One Channel

Giving credit or marketing attribution changed with the onset of digital marketing. Do you really know where your customers come from?

In our last video, we talked about the dangers of relying on one channel, or the other in order to market your business, particularly, for SEO purposes. We want to talk about how giving credit or what’s called attribution to one channel or another is also dangerous.

Attribution Past and Present

So, first of all, let’s define the word marketing attribution. It’s a marketing term used to describe the credit given to a user action that results in what’s called a conversion. A conversion, also a marketing term, is the desired outcome taken by a user like a form fill, a phone call or sales from a website. Sometimes we have micro-conversions such as likes, video views or downloads of a pdf – all things that are important interactions apart from an actual sale. Tracking attribution lets us know if what we’re doing is working.

The problem with giving credit to one channel, or the other goes all the way back to how people buy and how people have always bought.

I’ll start with a little history lesson. Marketing attribution was easier to define in the past. In the past, there was a lot less influence involved in our purchasing decisions. Going back to the beginning, word of mouth (which still exists today) was a strong player in people’s buying process – people learned from others that this business or that business did a good job and they bought.

Then, technology advanced and we now have radio, newspaper, tv, yellow pages, etc. The number of channels grew. Attribution became fragmented but not as fragmented as it is today.

Today, people are getting information online in addition to everywhere else. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are big players right now. Therefore, it’s getting harder and harder to attribute one particular channel to someone’s purchase.

How We Want People to Purchase Online

As much as we’d like it to be true, people don’t just see an online ad and say, “Yes! I want to buy that.” Having said that: Do people buy right away online when they see your ad? Sure. If I see a product, and I like it I might instantly buy that product –  if I’m kind of an impulse shopper.

The same thing happens offline when people go to a physical store. They go to Target, they see something, and they instantly buy that product. It’s usually in the moment of need for the product or service that, obviously, people want to purchase whether that happens online or offline.

And, unfortunately,  if you can be there, right then and there, that’s probably the most expensive place you can market at. It’s the most expensive place to play because every marketer wants to be there right when that customer is ready to buy at that time. They are willing to pay a premium for that interaction. Most online marketing platforms work off an auction and the person with the highest bid “can” win. I say “can” because there are other factors that go into who gets to be in that top spot. Each different channel, say Google vs. Facebook, calculates those factors differently.

This is where good marketers stand out because they understand those ranking factors and work to improve in this area. They are able to take the same budget and make it stretch further. They are diversified in taking their budget across multiple channels at multiple stages of the buying process. Because of visibility, placement, and these other factors, your product could be the obvious choice at the moment of truth. Could is the operative word here.

How People Actually Purchase Online

If you’re doing a higher marketing funnel and you are branding yourself, making people aware of who you are and the good job and services you provide then you’re marketing. When your potential customer at that moment actually needs your service, they will choose you because you’ve been there all along.  That is all marketing.

Marketing encompasses your offline activities too. It’s all pulled together, even with  B2B sales where frequently a sales rep is involved. These days, a sales rep may only be involved about 40% of the time because 60% of buying is taking place online.

Bottom line: People’s buying behaviors are all over the place. They’re in multiple channels.

Don’t Misinterpret Attribution

Say you’re looking at your marketing picture, and you’re thinking, “Yes! I ran search ads in Google search and I got this many leads from it. Let’s allocate more money towards Google search!” This is really a flawed strategy. You have to look at all the other factors that influenced that purchase. 

Just because Google search recorded the purchase it doesn’t mean your customer wasn’t influenced in other ways, in other places (marketing attribution). For example, you have a poor product and you’ve given me the largest Google ads budget possible, but you have a horrible reputation ( word of mouth). Regardless of how much money you spend with Google, it doesn’t mean that people are actually going to purchase your product. All the influence factors cannot be tracked but they’re there.

How You Should Really Think About Attribution

All of it pulls together. Google Analytics is, I believe, the best way to attribute the value in marketing. We have to look at the overall picture. Is it possible to look in Google Analytics and see one channel or the other? Yes.

We have to keep in mind that Google Analytics is based on what’s called last-click attribution –  the very last thing that a user does get 100% of the credit. As we’ve just discussed, that’s NOT how people buy. The last thing they did might not accurately reflect how they came to purchase. As a result, all the other channels do not get the credit that they deserve.

So if attribution is only part of the picture, how can we tell if our marketing is working? Here’s what you need to ask yourself:

  • Have I produced more leads or sales overall?
  • Are my efforts contributing to producing more leads or sales?
  • Are the leads being produced in line with the amount of money I’m spending?


Attributing all credit to one channel or the other is a dangerous game. And if you saw our last video, just marketing in one channel or the other is also a very dangerous game. Things are changing fast and we need to keep up with it. What we knew yesterday has probably changed today, and that’s just the reality of digital marketing and marketing in general. 

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