W-Shaped Attribution Model: What Is It and How Does It Work?

W-Shaped Attribution Model: What Is It and How Does It Work?

8 Min Read

Clever marketing campaigns can improve your brand awareness and build a steady stream of customers, but how do you know if they were successful? It’s important to assess multiple metrics after you launch each marketing effort to determine whether you’re spending your money wisely or you’re yelling your brilliant message into the void. 

Attribution modeling is one useful way to measure marketing success and learn how to allocate your budget. Different attribution models, including W-shaped attribution, can help you decide how to credit various campaigns for converting customers. 

What Is W-Shaped Attribution? 

The W-shaped attribution model assumes that customers are most influenced by milestone touchpoints. A “touchpoint” is an interaction a customer has with your brand. For example, you might run a targeted social media campaign to increase brand awareness among people who fall into a certain demographic — each ad/post on each platform, when a customer views or interacts with it, would be considered a “touchpoint.” 

A potential customer would see your post and become aware of your brand. This would be their first touchpoint. This would be considered a milestone touchpoint, as it’s the first interaction your customer has with your brand. Later, the customer might see your banner ad on public transit or walk past your store and see your logo. While these are also touchpoints, they aren’t considered milestone touchpoints, since they don’t play a significant role in the customer journey. If the customer were to sign up for your email newsletter, however, that would be considered a milestone, since they are opting into learning more.

When the customer finally logs onto your website and makes a purchase, this is their last touchpoint. W-shaped attribution assumes that your most important touchpoints are those that build brand awareness, those that identify a need for your potential customers, and those that inspire them to convert. 

This marketing attribution model helps you understand your customers so you can optimize your marketing efforts. Measuring brand awareness, opportunity creation, and conversions helps you determine where to find potential customers and what to say to them to make them choose your company. 

How Does W-Shaped Attribution Work? 

Using the W-shaped attribution model, you would assign 30% of the credit for a sale to a customer’s first interaction with your company, 30% to their last touchpoint, and 30% to what’s called the opportunity creation touchpoint. Opportunity creation is a touchpoint with potential customers who are already aware of your brand and are seeking out more information. 

The remaining 10% is distributed evenly among all other touchpoints. In our example above, you would assign 30% of the credit to the sponsored social media ad, 30% to the email newsletter, and 30% to the landing page where the customer purchased your product. The remaining 10% would be split among your public transit ads and the branding at your physical location.

When using this model, you must determine which of your middle touchpoints is most important. If a customer interacts with your brand six times between their first and last touchpoints, only one of these touchpoints would be weighted at 30%. 

This customer may have set up a meeting with a sales representative, later scheduled a demonstration, and finally downloaded a whitepaper before taking the plunge and becoming a customer. You’d need to choose the most important of these and give it 30% of the credit.

Advantages of the W-Shaped Attribution Model

Unlike single-touchpoint attribution models such as first-touch and last-touch, the W-shaped model takes a comprehensive look at the customer journey. Although some customers might be convinced to buy your product with an entertaining, thought-provoking Connected TV (CTV) ad, most of them will do more research before they decide to spend money with you and thus will have more touchpoints.

W-shaped attribution considers brand awareness, consideration, and conversion. Because you equally credit ad campaigns at each of these stages along the customer journey, you’ll likely include more of your collected data in your attribution model. 

Say you’re using last-touch attribution and assigning all of the credit for a sale to a customer’s last touchpoint. You might spend a lot of time looking at analytics and key performance indicators for your landing pages and other lead conversion tactics while ignoring brand awareness metrics. With W-shaped attribution modeling, you would dig deeper into your awareness campaigns and gain an understanding of which messages are most effective at driving traffic to your website. 

W-shaped attribution is easy to calculate. You don’t need to compile a lot of marketing data and use statistical analysis to determine how each touchpoint contributed to a sale. Building a deeper understanding of your customers using historical data and customer journey maps is a great way to determine which of these touchpoints should be considered most important. 

Disadvantages of the W-Shaped Attribution Model

The W-shaped model may be too simple to give you an accurate idea of which marketing channels are most successful. Using this model, you may be giving too much credit to opportunity creation or brand awareness campaigns. 

This model is also less effective for companies with shorter sales cycles, such as a retail store. When a person needs to buy a pair of socks or a T-shirt, they probably don’t spend a lot of time researching and comparison shopping. Instead, they consider a few options and make a purchase within the same day. 

Since these customers aren’t spending much time in the consideration stage of the sales funnel, there’s no reason to assign 30% of the credit for each purchase to ad campaigns geared toward the conversion stage. If your business has a shorter sales cycle, the U-shaped model (also known as the position-based model) or a customized attribution model might be more effective.

W-shaped attribution may be more appropriate for large purchases such as a new appliance or a contractor for a home repair. It’s also a popular model for B2B companies whose customers interact with the brand multiple times before making a purchase. 

With W-shaped attribution, you also risk not giving enough credit to marketing efforts that helped you retain customers.

Use Cases and Examples 

For businesses with a straightforward sales cycle, W-shaped attribution offers a clearer picture of ad success. If you run a B2B company with a long sales cycle and several decision-makers, this model can help you assess your marketing efforts more accurately than many other models. 

For example, if you own a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that automates administrative processes in a variety of industries, you could benefit from W-shaped attribution. 

Companies implementing large-scale software changes often need buy-in from leaders in multiple departments. When you’re pitching your SaaS platform to an office manager, for example, they need to develop a business case and clear it with the CFO or someone else who approves large purchases at their organization. In this case, the whitepapers, emails, and other assets you develop for the consideration stage play a large role in the decision to purchase. 

W-shaped attribution also emphasizes the importance of opportunity creation. Today’s complex market often goes beyond supply and demand. You know how your SaaS platform can help business owners scale their operations and make their teams more productive, but potential clients might not know that they have this need. You can use your ad campaigns to reveal this need for them, spurring people to find out more about your brand. 

With the W-shaped attribution model, you assign credit to these specialized campaigns and can better understand how they contribute to your business. 

The Rise of TV Attribution

Historically, television ads were difficult to measure, because there was no way to know for sure whether an ad was responsible for driving traffic. With social media and other digital ads, you can look at analytics such as click-through rates and conversions. You may have noticed an uptick in web traffic after running a traditional TV ad, but there was no way to prove that the ad was the reason people visited your site, until now. 

Whether you’re running a B2B or a B2C company, CTV is a great way to get your name out there and connect with potential customers. Most U.S. households have at least one connected television or similar device, and streaming has officially surpassed linear TV in number of viewing hours

MNTN Performance TV gives you the tools you need to run television campaigns like you would on other digital channels, such as social media or paid search. It combines the high-impact experience of linear TV with the measurement and audience targeting capabilities (among others) of your favorite performance channels.

This solution lets you target specific audiences with optimized ads. Our proprietary Verified VisitsTM technology validates web traffic from each ad. With it, you get an accurate idea of how your CTV ads are performing.

Learn more about Verified Visits™.

W-Shaped Attribution: Final Thoughts

Single-touch attribution models may be easy to implement, but they don’t tell the whole story about how customers are finding your business and choosing you over the competition. W-shaped attribution assigns proportional credit for campaigns across your marketing funnel, giving you better insight into the customer journey. 

If your business has a longer sales cycle and uses multiple touchpoints to engage with potential customers, this is a great model for you. It’s easy to calculate and helps you measure your marketing ROI more accurately.

Use it to allocate your marketing budget, develop an impactful message, and decide which channels are most successful for your business.