What does attribution mean? A simple definition and a clear example

What does attribution mean? A simple definition and a clear example
May 4, 2017 János Moldvay

Marketing attribution is a complex science, full of weird terms and big data and whatnot. It is a scary world for marketing rookies. To be honest, it can even be intimidating to some initiated online marketing aficionados. You can spend a lifetime in SEO, social media marketing, PR, or content marketing without ever having to directly deal with attribution. However, it is more than likely that you ran into this term, or heard it during a meeting and simply disregarded it. Time to correct this.

What is an attribution model?

First things first, attribution – what does it mean? It consists of assigning a value to various steps of a customer on its way to conversion. Various steps? Let’s have a look together at a possible scenario.

Donna wants to buy a red dress because red suits her complexion, and her colleague, Harvey, likes the color. (If you watch the right TV series, you can already picture the scene) What are Donna’s steps before she purchases the dress?


She googles “red dress” and clicks on one of the ads she finds. That is Donna’s first touchpoint, her first step toward a purchase.

After browsing through a few models on DazzlingRed.com, she decides to subscribe to their newsletter before leaving the online shop. She then catches up with Facebook and checks her newsfeed. Between two pictures of her friends, the page of DazzlingRed shows up with a dress she had not noticed till now. She clicks on the ad, becoming the second touchpoint.

Sometime after the first touchpoints…

Donna receives a newsletter from DazzlingRed with promotional offers. She quickly scrolls through the email and clicks on an offer she finds appealing. That is Donna’s third touchpoint.

The offer is very tempting and Donna keeps on thinking about it – sponsored tweets she reads during her coffee break are not without helping (fourth touchpoint). Before the end of the day, Donna gives in, types DazzlingRead in the Google search bar (fifth touchpoint) and orders her dress online (conversion).

What can we learn from Donna’s customer journey?

All of us with an Internet connexion are potential Donnas. We search, we google, we browse, we click, and sometimes, we indulge ourselves. Donna’s interactions can be summed up as on this picture below.

Conversion With Donna

So, we have five steps recorded before Donna bought her dress. The interesting part now is the credit attribution: which touchpoint was the most important one? At which point did Donna decide to purchase that dress at that store? Was it thanks to the first click, where she discovered DazzlingRed? Or was it the newsletter with the irresistible offers? Or perhaps time slowly honed her yearning for this dress? There are different ways of looking at it. And each of these attribution models has a name, benefits, and limitations. We’ll explore these attribution models in a future article.