Forget the Funnel: Why Startups Shouldn’t Obsess Over Marketing Attribution

09.02.2024 | Category: Advertising |

We all know the feeling; it’s the one you get when the answers feel just out of reach, and with a bit more data, engineering, and hard work, you will have all the answers you need. This is usually how many founders and marketers of small businesses and startups feel when they talk about Attribution. They think of it as the holy grail of marketing insights because it will tell them EXACTLY how impactful each channel is, where they should spend their cash, and what will make them loads more (cash). I’m here to tell you that it’s not all it’s cooked up to be. The person selling the perfect SAAS offering that will turn your business into a rocket ship is lying 9 times out of 10. The 1 time they are telling the truth is when the business is well and truly at scale, utilizing many different channels, partners and strategies. If you are a small operation with one or two performance channels and an affiliate program, you should not be worried about attribution.

I will cover two things below: what you should do with the time saved by not investing in a complex Attribution solution and how you can bridge the gap and get meaningful marketing insights without opening up a can of worms.

Firstly, the gap filling. How can you attribute your customer sales journey more effectively in the short term?


  1.       Set a CAC target

It’s a pretty simple one here; one of the easiest ways to ensure that your marketing spend is working efficiently for you is to monitor the amount of spend occurring and compare that to the number of purchases from NEW customers daily.

  1.       Lean on Platform Attribution (but be smart)

Advertising networks, especially the big ones, will usually have very sophisticated attribution systems built in. The problem is if you try to sum up all the conversions that the networks are claiming on their system, you may end up with more conversions than you have. Who to give the credit to? The answer is nobody. But that doesn’t mean you can’t gain valuable insights from the platform’s attribution.

On Google ads, ensure you look at the performance of Generic keywords (not Brand), as they are far more indicative of Net New customers when analyzing the channel’s performance. On Paid Social channels, ensure you exclude your customer list from the audience pool and look closely at the difference between the 7-day click and the view through attributed sales.



  1.       Pay your Affiliates based on who they are targeting

So many Affiliate programs are set up with 25% to 50% Revshare default payouts and then left alone. With this setup, you are painting all affiliates and publishers with the same brush, wasting money and leaving scale on the table.

High-quality top-of-funnel affiliates should be treated that way, and if you are willing to accept higher CPAs on your Paid Search or Paid Social advertising, you should be willing to do the same for top-of-funnel affiliates, too! In contrast, many affiliates pick up commissions based on bottom-of-funnel traffic, such as coupon sites. These affiliates should be reduced to extremely low commission (we recommend 2 or 3% revshare).



  1.       “But my product/service is complex, and the purchase funnel is long”

So what if you have a funnel that might take some consideration from the user? The simplest way to capture information about the user during the consideration phase of their journey is to utilize a lead magnet. When new users visit your website, offer them something for free in exchange for their email address. When they submit their email address, capture the user’s UTM parameters for storage alongside the new lead contact. These users can then move into a Lead nurture flow in your CRM, to convert them into paying customers. When they do, you should still have a field in your CRM indicating their initial UTM parameters and a second set of UTM parameters indicating their purchase source. This is a very basic and cheap way to implement a “first-touch” and last-click attribution model to your website.


So what do you do with all this time now that you are not so concerned about attribution?

  1.       Focus on Building, Not Dissecting

The primary goal should be building your product or service and understanding your market. Channel attribution, while important, is a time sink. It requires a depth of data and analytical knowledge that may not be present in your organisation at this stage. It would also be incredibly frustrating if work were put into a solution, only for limited learnings to be extracted from the project.

  1.       The Changing Landscape

The digital marketing landscape is constantly changing, with new channels emerging and old ones evolving. An attribution model that works today might be obsolete tomorrow. Small organisations must stay lean and adaptable, ready to shift their analytics strategy as the marketing landscape evolves rather than being tied down to a specific way of working.

  1.       Building Organic Growth

For many early-stage businesses, the focus should be on organic growth. This can be achieved by providing an excellent product and customer experience. While difficult to measure in an attribution model, word-of-mouth is often a significant driver of early growth. Focusing on creating a beneficial product or service that impresses customers can be more impactful than dissecting the nuances of channel attribution.

Closing statements are simple enough, as I’ve covered a lot here. Keep things simple at the early stage. The ROI on having a source of truth system attributing all marketing channels is lower than you think. Wait until the business is humming along, with multiple products and an incredibly diverse channel mix, before worrying about attribution. 


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