Social media. Mobile apps. E-mail. Search. Today’s digital marketing landscape continues to overflow with opportunities for reaching consumers across a diverse array of devices, platforms and channels. But more choices don’t necessarily make things easier when it comes to boosting return on advertising spend (ROAS).

To maximize digital investments, brands need to be able to measure and understand both the individual and collective impact of each and every step along the “customer journey” to a conversion, so that their marketing teams can make decisions based on real data rather than guesswork.

This, of course, is where multi-touch attribution comes in. When marketers can evaluate and accurately attribute a score to each digital touchpoint that a consumer encounters before making a purchase, they are armed with the insight they need to zero in on the most effective campaign strategies. Easy, right? Not so fast.

According to eMarketer, improved measurement and attribution are top priorities for marketers. The research provider last year cited an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Winterberry Group survey that scored interest in “better reporting, measurement and attribution” at more than 73% among respondents. But, while the majority of marketers believe that attribution is important, they often find themselves struggling to make it work in practice. What’s standing in their way?

Let’s take a closer look at the “Big Three” attribution challenges and explore how marketers can get better at capturing a more complete and accurate view of the customer journey.

1. Tracking across devices

According to comScore, people who regularly use multiple devices – smartphones, desktops/laptops and tablets – make up the majority of digital users. A consumer who sees an ad on their social media feed on the way to work in the morning, for example, may well end up making a purchase on their laptop later in the day.

The problem is that most analytics platforms that rely on cookie-based tracking can’t identify users as they move from one device to another, leaving marketers with a fragmented and inaccurate picture of the customer journey. Capturing an integrated view of the customer’s path to purchase requires advanced analytic capabilities that are able to surmount this obstacle.

Cross-device user identification – which applies a different approach to tracking – is a must for marketers who want to be able to follow a consumer’s journey across multiple devices and touchpoints.  

2. Measuring mobile app performance

Anyone whose smartphone is littered with apps that rarely get used knows that a download doesn’t necessarily equal engagement. This is why an ability to capture insights on in-app activity (for example, frequency of log-ins, usage, purchases, etc.) is key to helping marketers get better at leveraging mobile within their campaigns.

Marketers need to be sure their analytics solutions are capable of tracking and measuring mobile app interactions before and after the download, starting with the touchpoints that triggered the download in the first place to any and all actions that push a consumer closer to a purchase within the app itself. There’s little point in creating a mobile app if you can’t accurately measure whether or not it’s doing what it was designed to do.  

3. The disproportionate weight given to “last touch”

UK consumers typically interact with up to nine marketing touchpoints before making a purchase. Nine. Yet many marketers still rely on “last touch” attribution to measure campaign performance, giving most of the credit to the final marketing message a consumer might have encountered before making a purchase. This is the attribution equivalent of making the same mistake over and over, and expecting a different result.

What if, for example, the consumer was most deeply influenced by an interactive product demo they viewed somewhere around touchpoint number five, but because the product was expensive, it took a few more “reminders” for them to decide? Which touchpoint was more valuable?

The demo, which did most of the selling, or the reminder that popped up on the consumer’s social media feed? The beauty of multi-touch attribution is that it helps marketers see which of their tactics are most effective in driving conversions so that they can allocate their creative resources and budgets accordingly. Doing this accurately requires advanced modelling techniques and machine learning that is able to evaluate a broader range of key data points.

Although the use of multi-touch attribution has yet to reach its full potential, the good news is that technology innovations are steadily driving change. Marketers who do their due diligence when choosing an analytics platform will be ahead of the pack when it comes to making smart decisions about how to get the most impact from their digital advertising spend.