Which Lead Attribution Model Is The Best For Proving Event ROI?

Kelli Diffenderfer

As an event marketer, you’ve probably been asked to show the value of attending conferences and trade shows by providing measurable ROI.

In a world increasingly focused on determining the revenue gained from marketing activities, it’s no wonder events are of particular interest. Companies want to be sure that conferences and trade shows are worth the large sums of money they spend to attend.

For event marketers, this can be tricky. Events are expected to yield a huge number of qualified leads, but ROI is often difficult to prove. 

Many companies who sponsor or exhibit at events measure success in the number of business cards they collect or how many names fill their spreadsheets. Neither of which is an accurate representation of qualified prospects or potential conversions. 

This scenario is where lead attribution comes into play. Being able to attribute leads to your marketing efforts accurately will help leaders see the value of future events, and make it easier to get resources and tools to accomplish your goals.

Let’s talk about lead attribution. What is it, exactly?

Lead attribution is a way for marketers to track the digital touchpoints and actions a customer takes during the buyer journey. Doing so will help you better calculate the ROI of marketing efforts by looking at what initiatives accomplished specific goals and led to conversions. Fifty-two percent of marketers use some kind of attribution reporting to make an informed decision about what channels and messaging to focus on. 

As events are a mixture of online and offline activities, measuring every single movement a customer makes is nearly impossible. Especially for companies with longer sales cycles or companies that do most of their networking during the conference rather than before. 

Let’s look at a possible path an individual can take to convert to a customer during an event campaign:

More often than not it’s a long journey to get to the final conversion, with many touchpoints in between. However, we can still do our best to track the touchpoints leading up to an event, as well as during events with the right tools. 

Why is lead attribution important?

One of the goals of lead attribution is to help us better allocate marketing resources. Tracking the actions customers take allows us to see which initiatives led to a conversion and generated the most revenue. 

Should you put more money into your booth? Focus more heavily on SDR efforts leading up to an event? Start utilizing private meeting rooms to hold more demos? Implement an event marketing tool?

Think of attribution models like Sherlock Holmes. They help answer these questions by deciphering what influenced buying behaviors, and what led to their overall decision. 

Lead attribution models

Before choosing an attribution model, figure out what your event strategy is and what goals you want to achieve. This will help determine which model will fit your specific needs. 

Here are some of the most common lead attribution models:

Single-touch models:

Single-touch attribution models are typically best for short sales cycles, or for understanding what event campaign helped create or push the opportunity across the finish line.

1. First-touch attribution

In first-touch attribution, 100% of the revenue generated is attributed to the marketing initiatives that caused the prospect to first interact with the company.

  • Pros: This model is good for gathering top-of-funnel insights and seeing what content and messaging effectively generated initial awareness. 
  • Cons: It doesn’t look at the middle or end of the customer journey. It’s hard to see what content actually led to a conversion. 

2. Last-touch attribution

Last-touch attributes 100% of returns to the action someone took directly before converting to a lead or customer. 

  • Pros: This model focuses on what drove conversions and what messaging pushed customers across the finish line.
  • Cons: Like first-touch, this model is limited to one aspect of the buyer journey and ignores touchpoints that created initial awareness and led to final conversion.

Multi-touch models

Compared to single-touch models, multi-touch models are more detailed and look at the effectiveness of specific messaging and what channels they ran on. These models are best for companies with longer sales cycles or when your marketing program is multi-channeled. Most B2B companies fall into this category. 

1. W-shaped attribution 

The W-shaped attribution model divides credit among first touch, lead creation, and lead conversion touchpoints. Each touchpoint receives about 30%, and additional touchpoints like ads share the last 10% of the credit. 

  • Pros: This model is very accurate, and it takes into consideration all the touchpoints and marketing initiatives that led the customer to convert. Each individual has their own journey to get to their final decision, and it weighs these touchpoints accordingly. 
  • Cons: Defining specific points along the buyer’s journey is not always easy and you may need to work with a company that specializes in lead attribution. 

2. Linear attribution

The linear attribution model gives equal credit to each touchpoint in the buyer’s journey. 

  • Pros: It takes into consideration every touchpoint.
  • Cons: It values each touchpoint equally. Not every customer is influenced the same by each piece of content or messaging. While this model doesn’t ignore any touchpoints, it doesn’t help you see which touchpoints had the most impact.

3. U-shaped attribution 

The U-shaped attribution model gives 40% of the credit to the first touchpoint and the lead conversion touchpoint. The additional 20% is divided among the other engagement pieces.

  • Pros: It understands that not every touchpoint is equal and provides a good understanding of which marketing activities influenced initial awareness and ultimately led to a conversion. 
  • Cons: It doesn’t pay much attention to the engagements that occurred between the first and last touchpoints.

4. Time decay attribution

The time decay model incrementally gives more credit to touchpoints as the customer gets closer to conversion. 

  • Pros: It gives a good insight into which activities directly lead to a conversion and helps you see the impact of your marketing efforts.
  • Cons: Because this model puts a higher value on touchpoints that directly lead to a conversion, it gives little credit to messaging aimed at awareness. Relying on this model could pose a problem since awareness marketing is still extremely important — especially for events. 

5. Full path attribution

The full path attribution model is similar to the W-shaped model but is slightly more sophisticated. It gives 22.5% of the credit to the first touch, the lead creation, the opportunity creation, and the last touchpoint. The remaining 10% goes to any other touchpoints.

  • Pros: It gives a very detailed view into the buyer journey and is common in B2B companies or businesses that require significant consideration from the customer. 
  • Cons: It is highly detailed and may not be the best for companies that have low-involvement purchases. 

6. Custom attribution 

A custom attribution model is created by the business itself using rules they establish based on their overall goals. Creating a custom model allows for more control in determining which touchpoints are valuable and where to give credit.

  • Pros: Businesses can weigh touchpoints based on their own set of rules to have the most accurate picture of their buyer’s journey.
  • Cons: Creating a custom model can be complicated and more expensive than the other models. You often need advanced marketing attribution software. 
  • Tip: If you want to create a custom attribution model at your business, first test out some of the other common models to understand their benefits and drawbacks so you know how you want to weigh certain touchpoints.


One of the great things about a multi-touch model is the high level of visibility it provides into every digital touchpoint. You can use the insights gained to improve your messaging and customer experience. You’ll also have a better understanding of what touchpoints are the least and most effective in increasing your conversions and ROI. You can then start creating more targeted and impactful content.    

Remember, once you choose a model, you’re not locked into it forever. You can analyze the effectiveness of different models to see what works best for your company. 

Which lead attribution model should you use?

When determining which type of attribution model is best for your organization you need to think about a few things:

What type of business are you? 

Are you a B2B or a B2C company? B2B organizations often have much longer sales cycles with many touchpoints in between initial awareness and final conversion. Multi-touch models are the best for this situation as single-touch models are too limiting. 

How will understanding lead attribution impact your strategy?

If your goal is to understand which touchpoints have the most impact to optimize your campaigns better, you should consider a model that gives more detail into specific touchpoints, not just the first and last. Furthermore, a model that weighs touchpoints independently is the best for overall accuracy. 

Do you have the resources to dedicate to a multi-touch model?

While multi-touch models offer greater insight, they can be more difficult to implement. You may need to dedicate more resources or work with an outside company to help set up your model, analyze the data, and keep it up to date. No matter what model you choose, it’s not going to be perfect. But the sooner you get started implementing an attribution model, the faster you can start optimizing your event strategy.

How to implement a lead attribution model:

If you want to begin utilizing an attribution model at your company, here are some steps you should follow for the best results:

Choose your technology

There are many great tools out there when it comes to attribution technology. Depending on your organization’s goals, what type of lead attribution model you need, and your budget, you can find a tool that works best for you. 

Here are some of the most popular tools:

  1. Supermetrics
  2. Aggregates data across different platforms into one dashboard
  3. Creates meaningful data visualizations that helps quantify information and turn it into actionable insights
  4. Integrates with Google Analytics and other top tools
  5. Impact
  6. Offers advanced affiliate and partnership marketing
  7. Includes access to pre-built reports and performance tracking
  8. Uses cookieless tracking for data collection and ROI reporting
  9. CallRail
  10. Tracks inbound call data and attributes calls to specific campaigns
  11. Tracks web and form submissions alongside calls
  12. Offers ROI reporting
  13. ActiveCampaign 
  14. Includes email marketing, marketing automation, and email reporting
  15. Offers CRM capabilities, sales automation, and lead nurturing features
  16. Utilizes multi-channel behavior tracking
  17. Everflow
  18. Consolidates performance reporting from affiliates, influencers, emails, apps, referrals, and media buying
  19. Offers data visualization and analytics into what drives ROI
  20. Includes attribution models such as single-touch, multi-touch, cross-device and offline attribution models

Determine your goals and KPIs

What are your goals and KPIs for your organization? Most marketers trying to attribute leads to their event campaigns accurately want to increase ROI and generate more leads. The metrics you use to measure success should be reflected in the model you choose. 

Make sure you’re using trackable goals like:

  • Email and newsletter signups
  • Demo registrations
  • Downloads of event-related content
  • Contact form fills
  • Ad clicks

Analyze data and apply insights to your strategy

Once your campaign has had time to run, you should have a good understanding of how it performed based on the data from your lead attribution model. You can then take that information and begin to invest more resources into activities that performed well, and divert funds from underperforming activities. This will help you create a more customized experience and develop messaging that better speaks to your audience. 

Continue to optimize your model for best results

Your job isn’t finished once you select an attribution model — you need to continually evaluate your data. This will help determine your event strategy going forward and inform which messaging will reach your customers across the right channels. 

Look for other event marketing tools that track additional touchpoints

Events are all about networking, having meaningful conversations, learning, and generating leads. Unfortunately, the nature of events doesn’t allow for a lot of digital tracking on-site. For that, you may want to supplement your attribution modeling with an event-specific tool for a more holistic view.

Consider using an event tool that helps you pre-book meetings and track touchpoints at the event itself such as check-ins, no shows, and cancellations. 

Limitations of attribution models

Attribution models are incomplete on their own and lack visibility into every touchpoint. To get a more complete picture, you may want to run multiple models at the same time to collect data. However, with the amount of information gathered, you may end up spending more time analyzing data than focusing on campaigns.

Even within the event landscape itself, there can be contention among different roles. There are many people involved in helping a customer along the buyer journey and determining who gets credit for a conversion can be difficult.

Is it the event manager who set up the meeting rooms and organized the booth? Is it the SDRs who scheduled the meetings, or is it the AEs who are running the demos? 

An event marketing tool can give you more insight into these activities.

What should you look for in an event marketing tool?

Attribution models are just one piece of the puzzle. Lead attribution and event ROI can’t be measured in a silo but rather should be measured alongside other tools that provide a more detailed view of the entire buyer journey. 

Here’s what to look for in an event marketing tool

  • Look for a tool that offers a dashboard to monitor activities on the event floor, manage meetings, and send automated reminder emails for demos
  • Look for a tool that has a Salesforce integration that allows you to track check-ins and no-shows while keeping everything synced with your event campaign

Are you using an event marketing tool to manage your meetings? Talk to a Chili Piper expert to learn more.

How does lead attribution tie into ROI?

Knowing the value of each touchpoint can help you better plan your strategy and inform where to focus efforts and spending.

Once your attribution model has had time to run, you can begin to see what your ROI is. To do so, you’ll need to keep track of your revenue and costs, and use them to calculate your ROI for event campaigns. 

Here’s a simple formula you can use:

For example, if you invested $1,000 into exhibiting at an event, and you generated $1,500 in leads, you would divide your net profits ($1,500 - $1,000 = $500) by the original cost of the investment ($1,000). Your ROI would then be $500/$1,000 for an increase of 50%.

Remember, lead attribution isn’t perfect

Choosing a model that’s best for your business can be difficult, and if you have a complex customer journey, it’s even more imperative to get it right. Make sure you’re using the right messaging across the appropriate channels for your specific audience.

This means continually analyzing your data and optimizing your campaigns based on the intel you’ve gathered. While no model is going to be perfect, it can still have a meaningful impact on your strategy, helping you focus on what campaigns are working and what should be scrapped. 

Attribution models, alongside other event tools, will help you save time, money, and produce more effective content.

About the author
Kelli Diffenderfer

Kelli Diffenderfer is a Content Marketing Manager at Chili Piper. She is passionate about the power of words to tell stories and bring ideas to life. A Michigander at heart, she spends much of her time traveling to the mitten state, spending time outdoors and enjoying sunsets over the water. Connect with Kelli on LinkedIn.

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