Marketing is hard. There's a lot of competition, and it takes a lot of work to stand out. After you've put in all that effort, you need to make sure you're getting the most out of it.

That's where attribution modeling comes in. It helps you to identify your most successful marketing activities, so you can build on them and adjust or eliminate less impactful strategies. Attribution also helps you to prove to the rest of your org that your marketing efforts are working and making an impact — so it's a valuable tool to have in your belt.

One popular attribution model is the U-shaped (also known as the 'position-based') attribution model. This model emphasizes the importance of multiple touchpoints when tracking marketing success rather than assigning all the conversion credit to one touchpoint, like in a single-touch model. 

In this piece, we'll give you an overview of multi-touch models and how they work. Then, we'll take you through the details of U-shaped attribution, including guidance on when to use it. We'll also walk you through the advantages and limitations of U-shaped attribution so you can make an informed decision about if it's a good fit for your business.

Multi-touch attribution models explained

Multi-touch attribution models are a way to understand how different marketing channels work together to create sales. As opposed to single-touch models, multi-touch models consider the customer's journey as a continuous flow of interactions that contribute to their purchasing decisions. This can help you understand which marketing channels are most effective in driving sales and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

Credit gets assigned differently depending on which type of model you use. Some models use a set of rules to assign credit, and others use an algorithm. The U-shaped model is one type of rule-based multi-touch attribution model.

How does the U-shaped model assign credit in the customer journey?

The U-shaped model gives more credit to the first and last touchpoints and shares the rest of the credit across the touchpoints in the middle – creating a U shape. In Google Analytics, for example, the first and last touchpoints get 40% of the credit each, and the remaining 20% is shared among the rest of the touchpoints.

For instance, if a customer interacted with:

  1. a Google Shopping ad

  2. an ad on Facebook

  3. a Google text ad

  4. an Instagram ad right before making a purchase

The Google Shopping ad and the Instagram ad would both get 40% of the credit, while the Facebook ad and Google text ad would get 10% each.

Let's look at another example. A customer might have first visited your website through a Facebook ad, read your blog through a LinkedIn post, and finally made a purchase directly on your website — using an email that they received from you.

In this case, the Facebook ad would get 40% of the credit for the first visit to your website, the middle touchpoint (the LinkedIn post) would get 20%, and the email would get 40%.

When should I use the U-shaped model?

When to use single-touch vs. multi-touch attribution

In general, if you have a long buying cycle with several channels and touchpoints, you should choose a multi-touch model. A single-touch model can be useful if you have a very short and simple buying cycle or if you're trying to focus on one specific area of the funnel. For instance, the first-click model helps identify which channels introduce your brand to customers for the first time, while last-click focuses on channels that convert.

When to use U-shaped vs. the linear attribution model

Linear attribution gives equal credit to all the touchpoints in the customer journey, so it can give you a balanced view of all your channels. However, the U-shaped model is best suited for situations where you already have a good understanding of your customers' behaviors and journey and want to focus on optimizing the top and bottom touchpoints in the customer journey.

When to use U-shaped vs. the time decay attribution model

Time decay attribution is another type of rule-based multi-touch attribution model. It assigns more credit to touchpoints that happen closer to the sale and less credit to touchpoints that happen further away. So time decay is the model to use if you're interested in which channels lead to conversion, while U-shaped gives emphasis to both conversion and initial engagement with your brand.

When to use U-shaped vs. data-driven or custom models

Data-driven attribution models use machine learning and algorithms to decide how much credit different marketing channels should get. A custom attribution model is one that you create depending on the specificities of your marketing funnel. Although both data-driven and custom models might give you a more accurate view of your marketing efforts, they can be more time-consuming and complicated to implement. For that reason, if you're just starting out with marketing, have a limited budget, or a just looking for a simpler solution, U-shaped might be a better option.

Overall, you need to experiment with different attribution models to find the one that works best for your business. It's important to keep in mind that there is no perfect model — you need to carefully analyze your data and choose the one that gives you the clearest, most actionable insights into your marketing efforts.

What are the limitations of a U-shaped model?

One limitation of the U-shaped model is that it can be tricky to apply in cases where your customers' journey is not very clear or if you have many marketing channels interacting together. For example, if there are multiple touchpoints involved in a customer's purchase decision – such as a series of website visits, social media interactions, and email campaigns – it can be hard to track all these points and assign credit with the U-shaped model.

In contrast, it's much simpler to apply the last-click model because you only need to track the final touchpoint before a conversion. However, modern digital customer journeys are complex and difficult to track — but that doesn't mean we should choose a simpler model, just so we don't have to try to track them. 

Another limitation is that the U-shaped model can over-simplify the conversion path. Because it only focuses on the top and bottom of the funnel, it may not provide a complete picture of the customer journey. For example, it might fail to take into account the impact that the middle awareness-building touchpoints like social media or SEO have on lead generation, despite these channels being critical to long-term success. For that reason, brands might prefer an algorithm-based model that accounts for all the complexity of the buyer's journey.

Improve your conversion rate by upgrading your marketing

If you're looking into attribution models, you're probably interested in getting a clearer understanding of your marketing efforts so you can get the most out of your marketing budget and ad spend. Conversion rate is a key metric that shows how your work as a marketer is turning into concrete revenue.

You might spend hours crafting elegant ad campaigns, but if they don't get more people to hit "buy", they're not much use. One great way to improve conversions is with SMS marketing. Texts tend to get more engagement than email and a higher ROI than other marketing channels. That means they're an excellent way to support your digital marketing and drive more conversions.

Emotive is an SMS marketing platform designed to help ecommerce brands who are focused on growth. Book a demo today.