Multi-Touch Attribution: Considering the Whole Customer Journey

Multi-channel digital marketing for dealers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: As the number of available marketing and advertising channels has exploded in recent years, dealers must consider a comprehensive, holistic marketing strategy to maximize their reach and profit potential.

It’s not necessarily a unique message at this point, and dealers everywhere are heeding the call to broaden their focus beyond a handful of familiar channels.

Yet, there’s another attitude that be just as hard for dealers to shake: the concept of “last click attribution,” which can detrimentally impact dealers’ ability to recognize the benefits of a holistic approach.

Think of it this way: I talk to a number of dealership owners, general managers, sales managers, and service managers on a regular basis, and they’ve all been conditioned by their CRM tool to count leads and identify which source brought them that lead – attributing full revenue credit from the lead to a single customer touch point, usually the last click the customer made before completing a lead form or calling the dealership.

This thinking totally negates the fact that today’s customer goes through a long and arduous process to decide what to buy, where to buy, when to buy, what they can afford, whether to buy used or new, why this model over that one, etc.

The reality is the three-month buying cycle has 900-plus digital touch points that many customers look to during that decision process.


So, why do dealers only seem interested in what lead source is listed in the CRM tool? Why do they view that as the one and only viable option for how a customer came to buy a car at their dealership? By doing that, they’re attributing full revenue credit to the last click, instead of considering the whole customer journey.

Enter Multi-Touch Attribution

Multi-touch attribution is the literal opposite of last click attribution in that it takes into account the reality of the multitude of influential channels and touch points guiding your customers though the purchase decision process.

It allows dealers to mathematically model out different methods of dividing up revenue credit between multiple customer touch points, giving dealers a far more accurate idea of how their comprehensive marketing efforts actually work.

A few of those models:

Linear Attribution – Each touch point gets equal credit for the final transaction.
Time Decay Attribution – Older touch points get less credit, while those closest to the actual transaction get more.
Position-Based Attribution – The first and last touch points get a larger percent of the credit, while the middle touch points split up the remaining, lesser percentage.

There are more models of varying levels of complexity, and of course it’s possible to make your own “custom” model based on what marketing was observed to work and what wasn’t, allowing you to tweak your attribution strategy over time towards perfection.

As an added bonus, your marketing partner can track a large majority of digital methods as shoppers move toward the path of purchase. In fact, Google is currently developing a new version of its Google Attribution tool geared specifically towards multi-touch attribution. It should be available broadly to advertisers in the second half of 2017.

What Does It All Mean?

Maybe you’ve stuck with me this far, but you’re still thinking: “That all sounds great, Ryan, but how does this directly impact my bottom line?”

In a fundamental way, actually. Remember, we’ve already established the need for a comprehensive, holistic approach to today’s marketing efforts. But, if you have a holistic approach and are still relying on the same methods to gauge results that you did when you had just one or two channels, how can you possibly determine how the many different parts of your marketing efforts are performing now?

If you’re only using last click attribution, you may be over-investing in a channel that doesn’t quite meet your needs as it was projected to, and vice-versa. Where there’s lack of understanding, there’s wasted opportunity, wasted potential – and wasted money.

Focus on crafting a targeted marketing and advertising strategy built on tracking the full path of the customer journey – and all the touch points you can attribute success to along the way. Once you can pinpoint the channels where investing your marketing dollars makes the most sense, you’ll be in a better position to reduce per vehicle ad cost without sacrificing profitability.

Who cares where your last lead came from if you are spending less, but selling more?

This article first appeared in Digital Dealer Magazine as the preview to Ryan's session, “Who Brought Me My Last Lead… Who Cares?” at the Digital Dealer 23 Conference & Expo.

Naked Lime Field Consultant Ryan ZwernemanAbout Ryan: Ryan Zwerneman works as a Field Marketing Consultant for Naked Lime Marketing. He’s worked in a number of various facets within the automotive marketing community during his 5 years in the industry. Ryan has worked on teams as a specialist for email and direct mail services, managed teams centered around SEO, SEM, Social, Reputation Management, Design, and Content Writing. He strategically collaborates on services designed to assist in franchise dealer market share acquisition, and consults in-store with dealerships on their overall marketing processes.