What is Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA)?

Lior Torenberg
March 11, 2024

Multi-Touch Attribution, or MTA, is a method of marketing attribution that accounts for all of the different digital touchpoints and activities in the customer’s journey. Different MTA models will assign a different weight or “credit” to different touches to give you an idea of the value that each is adding on the path towards a final conversion. 

But let’s break it down even further. In this guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of MTA and attribution in general so you can ace this particular marketing acronym. 

What is marketing attribution?

Attribution is, at its core, the act of assigning an effect to a certain cause. If you’re satiated, you can attribute that to the meal you just ate. If you’re cold, you can attribute that to the wintery weather. Easy. 

But if someone just made a purchase on your website, what can you attribute that to? 

The answer isn’t as straightforward when it comes to marketing attribution, but it’s highly important: if you can’t do attribution properly, you can’t optimize your spend towards the channels and activities that work. 

Many different attribution models exist to give you data on what’s leading to that final conversion. The Northbeam platform hosts six different attribution models (including two MTA models) so you can visualize what your data looks like from different angles.

What are the different attribution models? 

There are straightforward attribution models, and then there are more complex ones like MTA in all its variations. Northbeam measures all of them, and our proprietary machine learning models are trained to cut through the complexity and deliver industry-leading MTA accuracy. 

On the simpler side of things, you have the following attribution models:

  • First touch attribution models give all the credit to the first interaction a customer has before a conversion. This is useful for understanding how leads enter the top of your funnel. 
  • Last touch attribution models give all the credit to the last interaction a customer has before a conversion. This is useful for understanding which bottom-of-the-funnel activities are driving success. 
  • Last non-direct touch attribution models are a variation of last-touch models that exclude direct traffic. Direct traffic means that someone directly visited your website. Imagine that someone sees your Instagram ad today, and then in three days they type in your website to make a purchase. A last non-direct touch attribution model would still attribute that conversion to Instagram, while a typical last touch model would call it direct traffic. 

Things get more complex — and more interesting — when we look at MTA models. 

The classic MTA model is linear: it spreads credit and revenue evenly across all the touchpoints in a customer’s journey to a conversion.

But that doesn’t reflect reality. If you see an Instagram ad, a Google ad, and a marketing email in the week before making a purchase, it’s likely that each of these touches had a different and distinct effect on your final buying decision. 

Northbeam has two proprietary models to help allocate credit and revenue where its due: 

  • Our Clicks Only MTA model specifically excludes certain touchpoints like direct visits, organic search, paid branded search, and email/SMS if there are other touchpoints in the customer’s journey in order to put more weight on activities where a customer actively engages with your campaigns. 
  • Our Clicks and Views MTA model builds on the Clicks Only model by also giving credit to campaign views at any point during the customer’s journey; it includes both active and passive customer engagement with campaigns. 

In addition to the different types of attribution models, there are also attribution windows to take into account. Northbeam can offer you a variety of attribution windows, from 1-day to 90-day all the way to an indefinite attribution window so you can recognize campaign revenue at different cut-off points as well as total customer lifetime value (LTV). 

Why MTA?

There are dozens and dozens of ways to reach a potential customer in today’s marketing environment, and you as a marketer have to be able to make informed decisions on where to spend your limited budget. 

MTA lets you assess which channels are responsible for which revenue so you can stay on top of performance and make the best marketing decisions with the best data available. 

But that doesn’t mean that other attribution models aren’t helpful. We recommend regularly referencing other attribution models as well as MTA so you can get a full picture of performance. 

Having multiple ways to visualize your data lets you continue to optimize and test to find what works best for you and your organization. Data is power, after all. 

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