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Multichannel Attribution

by Brenna Holmes

Conversion, whether through purchases, donations, or email sign-ups, is the ultimate goal of every direct marketing campaign, and our ability to increase conversion rates is predicated on our capacity to understand the factors leading to successful conversions.

Last-click attribution once was the measure of choice online. However, giving sole credit to the last advertisement clicked prior to a product purchase — and ignoring other influences occurring over time across different devices — doesn’t paint an accurate picture of conversion or advance our understanding of what does and doesn’t work.

Multichannel attribution takes us beyond last click and incorporates all the stimuli leading to a conversion. It  takes into account both different devices — telephone, television, desktop, mail, tablet,  smart phone, etc. — and different  media—advertising, direct mail, telemarking calls, television commercials, emails, social media engagement, etc. — and tracks when and where those outbound touches happen and how responses occur over time.

The challenge for most organizations today is collecting data in a unified way that will allow them – or their agency partners – to construct accurate reporting that charts outbound contacts along with inbound replies across media and devices. Without organized and reliable data, it is impossible to move into the next phase of analysis: weighting the impact of various outreach campaigns. To achieve this goal, we need to be able to create mutually exclusive comparison groups comprised of individuals being touched by one, two, three and more channels. By tracking these cohorts and their responses, we can build attribution models that not only monitor activity, but also forecast which channel — or combination of channels — is most likely to increase response rates or move potential supporters across the threshold of most likely responders when viewed at an aggregate level.

Because of the challenge of systematizing data, most organizations are just starting the tracking phase and working to build accurate reporting tools. As they do, here are four things to keep in mind:

  1. Understand that your supporters are interacting with you in many ways. Organizations often wrongly assume that they have different audiences for every channel and, as an overall group, their donors are unique. Donors typically give to anywhere from 5 to 15 organizations in a given year and interact with individual organizations in multiple ways. Accepting these facts underscores the importance of multichannel attribution efforts.
  2. Don’t underestimate the importance of building multichannel source code logic.  Having a unique identifier that crosses databases is vital. Most nonprofits have at least two distinct databases: an online database, where all of their email campaigns and online donations happen, and an offline database, which is the database of record for members and donors, and many nonprofits have other specialized databases and CRMs for various stakeholder groups. Unless there is a unique identifier used across databases, multichannel attribution will be impossible.  An important first step is creating a custom field in each database to house a single unified unique identifier.
  3. Never assume that someone contacted via one medium will only respond in that medium.  Donors/customers will interact with organizations in any way they choose.  It is critical that these potential interactions occur as easy as possible and that tracking mechanisms be in place to recognize that these seemingly disparate interactions are actually the same person operating across different channels. Without tracking capabilities, the interactions will still occur; however, you just won’t be aware of the connections and will never learn the optimal channel(s) for communicating with prospects and current supporters.
  4. Do online matchbacks. Organizations typically have prospect and customer/donor lists as well as a website where visitors can shop, donate, become an advocate and more. On a regular basis, organizations should match back the actions on their website to their “offline” lists. There likely is a 20% overlap – or more – and without doing matchbacks you’ll never see those connections. Matching enables organizations to see the true value of their lists in finding new leads, customers and donors. Lists that can seem expensive upfront may become cost effective when online conversions are taken into account.


Brenna Holmes_VP of Digital_CCAHBrenna Holmes is Vice President of Digital at CCAH, an award winning multichannel direct response firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising. She heads the Interactive Department’s digital and mobile teams, delivering multichannel integration and SMART digital acquisition. She possesses an extensive background in cross-channel marketing and advocacy integration and is equally at ease starting a digital and/or mobile program from scratch or taking one to the next level. To contact Brenna, please email her at