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What is position-based (U-shaped) attribution?

Article originally published in July 2023 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in February 2024.

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Definition of position-based (U-shaped) attribution

Position-based (U-shaped) attribution is a model used by marketers to track and assign credit for a sale or conversion across multiple touchpoints in a customer’s journey. In this model, the first and last interactions a customer has with your brand are given the most credit, typically 40% each. This is why it’s often referred to as U-shaped, as the weight of the attribution is heavier at the beginning and end of the customer journey.

The remaining 20% of the credit is evenly distributed among the other touchpoints in the middle of the journey. This model recognises the importance of the initial and final interactions, but also acknowledges that other touchpoints contribute to the final decision. It’s a useful tool for marketers who want to understand which strategies are most effective at attracting and converting customers.

An example of position-based (U-shaped) attribution

Here is an example of how it works:

Growth Method, a SaaS company, launches a new software product. They use various marketing channels to promote it.

First, they send out an email campaign to their existing customers. This is where John, a potential customer, first learns about the new product.

Next, John sees a sponsored post about the product on LinkedIn. He clicks on the post and reads more about the product on Growth Method’s website.

A few days later, John sees a Google Ad for the product while browsing the internet. He clicks on the ad and visits the website again, but he doesn’t make a purchase yet.

Finally, John receives a promotional discount code in his email. This time, he decides to purchase the product.

In a position-based (U-shaped) attribution model, 40% of the credit for John’s purchase would go to the first touchpoint (the email campaign), 20% to the middle touchpoints (the LinkedIn post and Google Ad), and 40% to the last touchpoint (the promotional discount code). This model recognises the importance of both attracting the customer’s initial interest and sealing the deal.

How does position-based (U-shaped) attribution work?

Position-based (U-shaped) attribution works by assigning more credit to the first and last touchpoints in the customer journey, while the remaining credit is distributed evenly among the other touchpoints. This model is based on the belief that the initial and final interactions are the most influential in the customer’s decision-making process. For marketers, this means they can identify and focus on the channels or strategies that are most effective at attracting potential customers and closing sales, optimizing their marketing efforts for better results.

Expert opinions and perspectives

Here are how some of the world’s best marketing and growth professionals, and companies, think about position-based (U-shaped) attribution.

  • “Position-based gives 40% of credit to both the first and last ad interactions and corresponding keywords, with the remaining 20% spread out across the other ad interactions on the path.” https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/6259715
  • “The position-based (U-shaped) approach divides credit for a sale between the two most critical interactions: how a client discovered your brand and the interaction that generated a conversion.” – https://www.searchenginejournal.com/perfect-attribution-model/217893
  • “If you have a business model or advertising objectives which values first and last interactions much more than the middle interactions then you can use the position-based attribution model” – https://www.optimizesmart.com/position-based-attribution-model-in-google-analytics/

Questions to ask yourself

As a modern growth marketing or agile marketing professional, ask yourself the following questions with regard to position-based (U-shaped) attribution:

  1. Am I allocating enough credit to the first and last touchpoints in the customer journey?
  2. Is the U-shaped attribution model the most effective for my business, considering the nature of my customer interactions?
  3. How can I use the insights from the U-shaped attribution model to optimise my marketing strategies?
  4. Are there any touchpoints in the customer journey that are undervalued or overvalued in the U-shaped attribution model?
  5. How can I ensure that the middle touchpoints, which receive less credit in the U-shaped model, are still effectively contributing to the customer journey?

Here are some related articles and further reading you may find helpful.

Additional reading

Here are some related articles and further reading around position-based (U-shaped) attribution that you may find helpful.

  1. “Understanding Position-Based (U-Shaped) Attribution” by HubSpot
  2. “Position-Based Attribution Model Explained” by Optimizely
  3. “Attribution Models: The Ultimate Guide” by Smart Insights
  4. “How to Use a Position-Based Attribution Model” by Marketing MO
  5. “The Definitive Guide to Attribution and Mix Modelling” by Neil Patel

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