Guide to W-Shaped Attribution

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A W-shaped attribution model falls into two main categories:

  1. Multi-touch: this means that it takes into account (i.e. gives credit to) multiple touchpoints along the consumer’s buying journey.
  2. Position-based: This means that the way it decides to apportion credit to those touchpoints depends on their position, in other words where they appear along the buying journey.


How a W-shaped model gives credit to touchpoints in the journey

  • 30% – First touch (when the prospect initially became aware of your brand)
  • 30% – Lead-creation (the moment a customer goes from being a prospect to becoming a viable lead)
  • 30% – Opportunity-creation (the last touchpoint before a lead closes and becomes a customer)
  • 10% – All other touchpoints (shared between all other interactions the customer had with you brand)


Applying W-shaped attribution to real life

Overall, this model is pretty easy to understand, but what might it actually look like for one of your customers?

Let’s say for example that your company provides bookkeeping software to help accountants and small businesses stay on top of their financial data. You want to continue your rapid growth, so you’re investing heavily in cross-channel marketing campaigns.

One of these channels is a series of highly targeted Facebook ads that you’re running to small business owners and accountants. You’ve A/B tested the design and copy, and they’re now successfully running on the platform to great effect.

A small business owner notices one of these Facebook ads. They seem highly relevant and it piques their interest, so they decide to click through. This is the first time that they’ve ever come across your brand before.

This is a pretty likely scenario–after all, 69% of all US-based adults are on Facebook and 78% of American consumers say that they’ve discovered products on Facebook. In other words, it’s a great platform for brand awareness.

If you’d like to know just how many people are calling your business having seen one of your Facebook ads, you gain more insights into call data through our Facebook integration.

The prospect clicks through on your Facebook ad before spending half an hour browsing your website. When doing this, they read a couple of blog posts exploring the importance of automating your data entry to save time and hassle–this resonates with them as, after all, they didn’t go into business to handle large reams of data.

Just as they’re about to click off, they notice that you’ve recently published an eBook detailing the 5 main steps that small business owners can take back control of their finances. Sick and tired of spending hours on spreadsheets, they decide to download your eBook.

Your eBook positions your brand as a thought-leader. Convinced that you’re experts in your field and that you can help them going forward, the small business owner decides to arrange a demo. After the demo, this prospect becomes a customer and spends $1,000 with you.

How this looks with a W-Shaped Attribution model:

  • First touch/Facebook ad – $300
  • Lead-creation touch/eBook – $300
  • Opportunity-creation touch – $300
  • First Blog Post – $50
  • Second Blog Post – $50

Total = $1,000

What you’ll gain from using a W-Shaped model

Over time, you’ll begin to have a pretty decent oversight of your marketing channels:

  • How they interlink with each other
  • Which touchpoints usually help buyers at each stage of the funnel
  • What can be optimized to improve future results

But this is only the first step. Once you’ve started to work out how much revenue each touchpoint is responsible for bringing in, you then need to cross-reference that back to how much they cost. After all, your marketing strategy has costs of its own. Placing ads on social channels, creating eBooks, and offering demos all cost your company money–whether this is an outright payment to a third party or the salaried time of one of your employees.

If you forget to cross-reference revenue brought in with outgoing costs, you’ll get a very skewed version of events. EBook creation may feature amongst many consumer journeys and be an important lead-creation touch (as in our example), but they’re pretty costly to produce and to effectively market.

You might pay an external freelancer to produce it, have four or five employees then spend considerable time and effort reviewing and tweaking the copy, send it off to one of your in-house designers, and then have the marketing team strategize as to how best to market it.

Overall, this brings up the cost to around $5,000. So yes, the eBook would rightly garner 30% of the credit in our example–meaning that it’s equivalent to $300 worth of the sale. But this can only effectively be analyzed in the grand scheme of things, when you consider that it cost $5,000 to produce.

Even the act of offering a demo will need to be appropriately costed. While this may not seem like a cost (all it requires is a member of your sales team sitting down for half an hour and running through the product), what portion of their salaried time did this take up?

For example, it doesn’t make sense for you to analyze any one single sale versus the total costs incurred in producing each touchpoint. An eBook’s true value will only be realized after six months or so–not on the basis of a solitary conversion.

This brings up another good point that’s worth noting. You can only effectively analyze (and optimize) your marketing strategy after you’ve seen how it performs in the long term. Tinkering and changing your strategy every couple of months will just muddy the waters and provide no real clarity.

As a result, you need to treat your marketing attribution strategy similarly. In fact, it has an even longer timeline. You might make a change to your marketing strategy due to what your attribution model has revealed, but to start then using another model would provide no clarity going forward on whether the change was indeed effective.

Benefits of the W-shaped attribution model

W-shaped attribution models are great for B2B companies with a fairly clear funnel that their prospects usually go through, as they emphasize the most critical touchpoints in the buying journey:

  • First-touch
  • Lead-creation
  • Opportunity-creation

Not only does this give you oversight of the customer journey as a whole, but each of these individual touchpoints is absolutely essential if a prospect is to convert into a customer–so it’s a sensible idea to give them the most credit.

W-shaped attribution model is also a great option if your company lacks highly in-depth data science capabilities. The math is pretty easy to follow, meaning you can just plug in your desired attribution split and let your model take care of the rest. By highlighting the most important touchpoints, you can then optimize your marketing strategy according to what’s actually been proven to work.

Simplicity is often undervalued. After all, there’s no point adopting a fancy attribution model if you don’t understand the ins and outs of what it’s telling you. And there’s no point in creating your own customizable attribution model if you end up spending too much time working out the correct split to use and not enough time gaining valuable insights.

This is the genius of the W-shaped model. Having a clear view of where your customers first became aware of your brand, what turned them into a viable lead, and what created the opportunity are arguably the most important things to focus on as marketers.

By optimizing these particular touchpoints going forward, you can make sure that the bulk of your budget is supporting the most important stages of the customer journey.

The cons of a W-shaped attribution model

Despite taking multiple touchpoints into account, a W-shaped attribution model is still fairly simplistic. The modern consumer journey is increasingly complex: buyers frequently switch channels across multiple devices, blending online and offline interactions, and may seem interested (even getting to the lead-creation stage) before lapsing just as they seem ready to purchase. As the average consumer journey becomes increasingly diverse, marketers need to ensure that they use the right attribution model. If they do, it will provide clarity over even the most confusing of journeys; helping them effectively convert more leads into customers going forward.

This is where the W-shaped model potentially comes up short. By putting so much emphasis on only three touchpoints, you’ll largely ignore all other interactions that a prospect has with your brand.

Over time, this can slightly skew your analysis. For example, there may be key touchpoints in the middle stages of the funnel which prevent a user from lapsing.

Say that a customer has gone as far as signing up for your newsletter (which would count as a lead-creation touch). However, after this they don’t interact with your brand at all for the next couple of months. Suddenly, however, they click through on one of your newsletter emails and, as a result, sign up for a demo where they immediately convert. In this case, the newsletter email was undoubtedly a key touchpoint in the customer’s buying journey.

But with a W-shaped attribution model, its importance will be drastically under-emphasized–it was neither the first touch, lead-creation touch, or opportunity-creation touch, so it’ll end up receiving at most 10% of the overall credit. With this in mind, a W-shaped attribution model might not always give you an appropriate understanding of your buyers’ journeys.

And there’s more. Adopting a W-shaped attribution model isn’t that useful if you’re a B2C company with short sales cycles and fairly low-value products. In these cases, the funnel is almost non-existent. Indeed, there sometimes isn’t even a lead-creation step–prospects will often click through from an ad before buying there and then.

How to set up a W-shaped attribution model

When looking to set up a W-shaped attribution model, it’s crucial that you first identify which touchpoints make up the big three:

  • First-touch
  • Lead-creation
  • Opportunity-creation

First-touch is easy to understand–it’s just the first time that a customer interacts with your brand in any way, shape, or form. Customize your attribution model so that this first step always receives 30% of the credit.

Lead-creation is perhaps a little more complex. What actually constitutes lead-creation? What needs to happen for a prospect to become a viable lead? In short, any time that a prospect exchanges their details (by downloading an eBook, signing up for your newsletter, etc.) then this counts as lead-creation. This quid pro quo act–they offer up their data in return for a better experience going forward–means that the prospect is happy to receive further marketing materials from you, and indicates that they’re well on their way to becoming a fully-fledged customer.

Opportunity-creation is basically the last touch before a lead becomes a customer. There are a few steps that a prospect might go through to become a genuine opportunity, like signing up for a demo on your website or by calling up your head office. If it’s the latter, it’s important that you have a comprehensive call tracking system set up to help you with this.

Once you plug these different touchpoints into your attribution software–ensuring that it recognizes these key touchpoints in every customer’s journey going forward–you should be all set. The only other thing that’s left to do is to make sure that the remaining 10% of credit is split evenly between all the other touchpoints, no matter how many (or few) there are.

Looking for more information on attribution models? Follow along in our attribution models guide as we break down each model.

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