Reading Between the Lines: A Three-Step Marketing Attribution Model for Connecting Your Campaigns to Revenue

September 2, 2020 Mike Geller

Marketing attribution is the proof that marketing activities are generating revenue. The key word here is proof—not assumption, not guess, not a feeling or belief. Proof. Cold, hard proof.

The simplest example of this is a website Contact Us form. A lead submits the form, an opportunity is generated and done. We have revenue. We have attribution. We have proof.

It’s important to note that attribution does not mean sole attribution. Simply because you assign attribution doesn’t mean the marketing activity or touchpoint is 100% responsible for generating the sale and, thus, revenue. In fact, this is where things start to get muddy. But an effective attribution model can help clear things up.

The first step to smart marketing attribution is recording and tracking your campaigns in your marketing automation platform and CRM system. This is where you begin establishing proof—by capturing and recording. Next, let’s dig into how to connect marketing activity to revenue.

Draw the Line

Sometimes, the line from marketing activities to revenue is a strong, clear one. Other times, it’s a faint, dotted line you can barely see. But there’s always a line in marketing attribution.

Let’s look at this more closely. A Contact Us form submission is a strong line. However, an opened marketing email is an example of one of those faint, dotted lines. In between, we have activities like an email campaign clickthrough, web forms (other than Contact Us), webinars, in-person events (remember those?) and a variety of other marketing touchpoints.

The level of attribution and impact from marketing activities isn’t equal. Not all marketing activities have the same value. But when it comes to marketing attribution, that’s not the point. It’s the measurement of attribution that’s important, not the quality. Consider the number of lines between marketing and revenue to measure—and understand— the revenue impact.

Run the Numbers

The second step in marketing attribution is the calculation of cost per attribution (cost per “line”).

How you define cost can vary greatly. The only rule is consistency. The costing model I like calculates only money spent on specific marketing campaigns, not general operating expenses. For example, a company website is a necessary investment for most businesses to operate and would not be part of my cost calculations. However, if a marketing campaign required the creation of a microsite, then I would calculate that cost. Likewise, a marketing automation platform is a fixed annual cost, but because its sole purpose is to support marketing campaigns, I would include it in my calculations.

Regardless of how you choose to calculate costs in your marketing attribution model, consistency is critical to understanding whether the marketing activity was worth the revenue it generated. For example, when calculating the cost of a webinar, include the email invitations, webinar content, digital advertising to drive registration such as content syndication or SEM, post-webinar follow-up campaigns and the on-demand recording. This would be an expensive campaign, and if it were to generate revenue, there would be strong and clear lines to the revenue. If little or no revenue was generated, it would be clear the cost of the campaign outweighed the benefit.

Here’s an example of a less clear line to revenue: You’re running a Google AdWords campaign to drive traffic to service pages on your website, and someone submits a form. As a result, an opportunity is created and won. Here, we have a faint dotted line between the marketing activity and revenue because attribution through a series of clicks can be murky. This is because that Google AdWords click wasn’t the sole marketing activity registered before the opportunity closed. There were also nurture emails, case study downloads, and webinar invitations sent. All of these additional activities make it hard to see the connection between the Google AdWords campaign and revenue.

Step Back to See the Big Picture

Attribution can be tracked through a small number of big events by clear lines to revenue or through many faint lines from smaller marketing efforts. This is probably the most important part of attribution.

It’s important to measure and validate that marketing efforts resulted in revenue. But if the cost of the marketing exceeds the revenue generated, then it may have been better not to run the campaign at all. (Note: Some organizations are focused on fast revenue growth alone, and return on marketing investment may not be a goal.)

An effective marketing attribution model that proves marketing efforts are generating revenue takes a three-step approach. Let’s review the steps:

  1. 1. Record. Record and track your marketing campaigns in your marketing automation platform and CRM system to track them to opportunities created.
  2. 2. Calculate. Calculate the cost of your marketing activities and the revenue generated to determine the return on your marketing investment.
  3. 3. Read Between the Lines to Get the Big Picture. Once you determine cost versus revenue generated, you’ll know if the activities with strong lines or faint dotted lines to revenue have a bigger positive impact on the business.

Marketing is all about the big picture, and in that picture, there are strong lines and faint ones. There are thousands of lines, and they all add up. Stepping back to see the big picture and understanding what the lines mean is how modern marketers use proof to support revenue generation and help drive growth.

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