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Exploring the Role of First-Touch Attribution in Customer Journeys



Figuring out what led a customer to purchase your brand can feel like piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle, but there are no pictures or boxes to reference when analyzing the customer journey. 

Fortunately, though, there are frameworks — known as attribution models — that are specifically designed to help you determine which touchpoints impacted the customer’s decision and led to a conversion. While there are several such models, one of the most popular is the first-touch attribution framework. 

With that said, below is everything you need to know about first-touch attribution, including its benefits and weaknesses, to help you decide whether it’s the right attribution model for your business. 

What Is First-Touch Attribution?

First-touch attribution is a method used in marketing analytics that credits the initial point of contact a customer has with your brand — that “first touch — for any subsequent action, like a purchase or subscription. In other words, it is a method that works to pinpoint and give value to the exact moment when a potential customer first became aware of your brand.

Attribution models assign credit as a percentage. As such, under a first-touch model, the initial interaction gets 100% of the credit for the desired action. It completely ignores the other touchpoints based on the premise that they could not and would not have occurred if not for that first interaction. 

The Significance of First-Touch Attribution

The importance of the first touch lies in it being all about first impressions. First-touch attribution models help you identify which marketing efforts are most effective in introducing people to your brand. They reveal which ads, social media posts, or keywords effectively drew them in. 

That kind of knowledge is precious when you are deciding where to focus your future marketing resources. For example, if most of your leads come from one source, you can find out what about that source makes it perform so well and then use that insight to, in turn, improve your future marketing campaigns.

Is the First Touch Really the Most Important Step?

Many marketers wholeheartedly believe the answer to that question is “yes,” which is why first-touch attribution stands as such a popular tool for analyzing the customer journey.

Be that as it may, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing analytics. It’s all about choosing a model that is the best option for your business, but that, of course, begs the question: When is the first-touch model a good choice? 

You should consider a first-touch approach when these factors apply:

  • You are only using a few marketing channels
  • The customer journey is relatively short
  • You provide business-to-consumer (B2C) products
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If, however, you have a complex marketing strategy or often provide a long customer journey, a first-touch attribution model may not be the best fit. Typically, it is not a good option for business-to-business (B2B) brands either, as their sales cycles are much longer than B2C customer journeys. 

How to Identify the First Touch

The underlying challenge of first-touch attribution is in tracking that first encounter, but tools like Google Analytics or other specialized marketing software can help. They’ll track the customer’s journey and show you where it all began — be it a Facebook ad, an organic search, or even an email campaign — and understanding that is key to refining your marketing approach. 

Advantages of Emphasizing First-Touch Attribution

The biggest advantage of the first-touch model is that it helps inform your budgeting process. You can identify which channels are most effective in drawing in new customers and move away from less effective channels. 

Additionally, first-touch attribution provides a glimpse into where customers are finding your brand. Chances are that customers spot you on multiple channels, but if a large chunk of new business is coming from a particular platform (Instagram, just for example’s sake), you need to know about it. 

A Possible Drawback 

First-touch attribution does have its flaws, much like any other attribution model, but perhaps the most notable of these is that it ignores every other touchpoint. While it is true that customers would never convert without that first interaction, some prospects need a decent amount of nurturing before they fully commit to your brand. 

The good news is that you can offset that weakness by combining first-touch insights with data from other attribution models, such as a last-touch or linear approach. It’s all about painting a complete picture of your customers and their journey. 

Put the First Touch Model to Work for Your Brand

First-touch attribution reveals the first chapter of a customer’s story with your brand, but even though understanding how customers find you and what draws them to your brand is essential, it’s not the only piece of the marketing attribution puzzle.

A balanced approach will give you the best insights into your marketing effectiveness and empower you to create engaging, impactful campaigns. Dive into the data, discover where your customers’ stories begin, and use that knowledge to fuel the growth of your brand.

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