Attribution means “to regard as arising from a particular cause or source.” Yet, for more than a decade since attribution solutions first appeared in the marketplace, advertisers, analysts, agencies and vendors can’t seem to agree on a common understanding of attribution for marketing.

Some of the confusion may be due to the complexity of the subject matter. Or, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, the result of deep-rooted agendas set by those in media planning and buying with millions of dollars or euros at stake.

Whatever the cause, the industry is more confused today than ever. One need not look further than publications from Gartner and Forrester to find examples of two competing perspectives that leave marketers scratching their heads.


Gartner’s perspective, as defined in its Market Guide for Attribution and Marketing Mix Modeling, recognizes multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling as completely separate – but potentially integrated –  marketing endeavors.

Gartner identifies multi-touch attribution as focused on addressable media at the user level, but largely isolates user-level media to digital only.
It suggests that, “Multi-touch attribution is most useful when a marketer has user-level data for both the media and the goal. For example, when most of the media is digital and the sale happens in a digital channel or offline channel, that eventually can be directly and decisively tracked to a user and her/his activity.

“On the other hand, marketing mix modeling is most useful when user-level information is not readily available for the media and/or the sale, such as retailers and car companies whose media is both digital and offline (e.g. TV and print) and whose sales happen offline.”

Gartner further states that, “Increasingly, marketing leaders use both methods — either in parallel or unified within the same platform — to expand the scope and precision of their measurement.”


In contrast, starting with the Q4 2016 report, Forrester Wave™: Marketing Measurement And Optimization Solutions no longer covers attribution by name. Instead, it focuses the evaluation on “Marketing Measurement and Optimization” vendors’ ability to connect a “bottom-up” and a “top-down” measurement approach.

The criteria used for evaluating such vendors have changed dramatically from previous reports due to Forrester Research’s fundamental belief that vendors should have the ability to combine multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling into a “unified measurement” approach.

According to Forrester, “Empowered consumers easily absorb information from all forms of media and multiple devices, and they comfortably straddle the digital/traditional media divide. Past measurement approaches that excel in only one of these domains no longer meet marketers’ need to understand where to invest their budgets to keep pace with consumers. Since Forrester first defined the concept of unified measurement in 2015, the methodologies have matured, marketers have embraced it, and new competitors have leapt into the market.”

Forrester Research’s view is based on the assumption that a single model can be used to effectively measure and optimize both addressable and nonaddressable channels while providing a ‘people-based’ data architecture.

Most of the industry defines the de-duplication of users across multiple devices (desktop, mobile etc.) as ‘people-based.’ This definition generally includes the ability to establish a unique user identifier (UID) that can be used to sync with multiple data sources.

However, Forrester Research’s definition involves the association of all data down to the customer level even though the exposure of a given advertiser’s marketing and/or media is not independently tracked at the individual level, nor can it be applied at scale.

Unlike Gartner’s view, Forrester Research’s Wave report does not delineate between technology providers and services providers, further blurring the lines between what marketers can expect to solve via technology and what requires a heavy dose of consulting services.


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