Understanding Attribution's Role in SMS Marketing for ROI

Learn how attribution assigns credit to touchpoints leading to sales, quantifying SMS campaign impact for optimized strategies and budgeting.

Mathew Gorka

By Mathew Gorka

October 9, 2023

11 min read

Understanding Attribution's Role in SMS Marketing for ROI

Understanding the impact of each channel and campaign is crucial for optimizing your strategies and maximizing your Return on Investment (ROI).

What Is Attribution, and Why Does It Matter?

Attribution is the process of identifying and assigning credit to the various touchpoints or interactions that lead to a specific conversion or action—typically a sale. Conversions can also be sign-ups, replies, or even delivered messages. What your company chooses to track is dependent on its goals. (He’s our article on smart KPI setting if you’d like to explore that subject in more detail.)

The key takeaway about attribution is that it's the journey map that helps you understand which channels, campaigns, or strategies are driving results, allowing you to allocate resources effectively.

Why Attribution Matters:

Data-Driven Decision Making

Attribution reveals which marketing efforts are delivering the most value. It does this by tracing the customer journey and identifying the touchpoints that contribute to conversions. In the context of SMS marketing, this means understanding how SMS messages fit into the broader customer journey and contribute to specific outcomes.

For instance, attribution can illuminate whether a customer made a purchase after receiving an SMS message, clicked on a link in the message to visit the website, or engaged with another channel, such as email or social media, after receiving the SMS. Armed with this knowledge, marketers can pinpoint which SMS campaigns or messages are most effective at driving desired actions.

With this actionable data in hand, businesses can allocate their budget and resources strategically. Instead of spreading resources thin across all channels, they can focus on the ones that deliver the best results. If SMS marketing consistently proves to be a top performer in terms of conversion rate or ROI, it makes sense to invest more in SMS campaigns.


By tracking customer interactions and attributing conversions to specific touchpoints, attribution exposes the weak links in the marketing chain. If certain SMS messages consistently fail to generate conversions, it's a clear signal that these messages need optimization. Perhaps the messaging is not resonating with the target audience, or the timing of the messages needs adjustment.

Attribution enables marketers to conduct A/B testing and experiment with different SMS content, timing, and targeting strategies. Through these experiments, marketers can refine their SMS campaigns to maximize their impact. It's a process of continuous improvement that leads to significant cost savings and revenue increases.

ROI Measurement

Effective attribution allows marketers to connect the dots between marketing spend and revenue generated. By attributing conversions and revenue to specific marketing touchpoints, attribution provides the necessary data for precise ROI calculation.

In the context of SMS marketing, attribution answers critical questions like: How much revenue can be directly attributed to SMS campaigns? What is the cost of acquiring a customer through SMS marketing? What is the lifetime value of a customer acquired through SMS?

With these answers in hand, businesses can measure the exact ROI for each SMS marketing initiative. This not only validates the value of SMS marketing but also informs future budget allocations and strategic decisions.

The Impact of Attribution for SMS Marketing

SMS marketing, characterized by its high open rates and immediacy, can be a game-changer for businesses. However, its true potential can only be realized when you understand the role it plays in your overall marketing mix. Attribution helps you achieve this understanding by showing how SMS contributes to conversions and customer journeys.

Understanding Attribution Calculations on Various Platforms

Different marketing platforms and tools may calculate attribution differently. It's essential to comprehend these variations to accurately assess the performance of your SMS marketing campaigns. This is especially true if you aggregate your marketing and sales data. Whether your team has custom dashboards or you’re relying on a single SaS platform to provide them, different measurements kill any accuracy or reliability in that data.

For a non SMS example, imagine migrating from web analytics “tool A” to web analytics “tool B”. Your first platform defined a ‘bounce’ as a person who landed on your page and then left before 60 seconds. You switch to a new tool and see that your bounce rate has improved dramatically. You later find out that your improved metrics are false, because your new platform defines a bounce as a person leaving before 30 seconds. This happens all the time, with most metrics and all platforms.

Let’s look at the most common types of attribution. Understanding these terms means knowing what to look for when setting your KPIs. As you’ll see, each method has its own benefits and flaws.

Last-Click Attribution

This method assigns credit for a conversion to the last interaction a customer had with your brand before converting. While simple to implement, it tends to oversimplify the customer journey and may not give tools in your martech stack like SMS marketing their due credit, especially if it's not the final touchpoint.

First-Click Attribution

In contrast, first-click attribution gives credit to the initial interaction that led to a conversion. This approach can be useful for understanding how SMS marketing contributes to the awareness and consideration stages of the customer journey.

Multi-Touch Attribution

This method acknowledges that customers interact with multiple touchpoints before converting. It assigns credit to various interactions along the customer journey, providing a more holistic view of SMS marketing's role.

Understanding these attribution models and how they apply to SMS marketing is critical for making informed decisions about campaign optimization and budget allocation. When choosing your customizable attribution window (below), keep in mind these different attribution models and the nature of your business.

Customizable Attribution Windows: Tailoring Attribution to Your Needs

One size doesn't fit all in the world of attribution. As we just discussed, your team may want to define what a term means. In this instance, your marketing team or marketing director may want sales attribution to only have a 30-day limit, or a 5-day limit. This can vary depending on your typical sales funnel and process.

For example, if you are a country club, there are numerous touchpoints between the initial inquiry and sale. Your service and goods have a high price tag and you have a discerning customer. A single sale may take several phone calls, a free round of golf, dinner at the club with that person’s partner, and so-on. Over this lengthy process, a 3-day attribution window would seem silly. Of course the inverse is true. If you’re an ecommerce or digital product where self-signup cycles are short, then a 60+ day attribution cycle would be an equally bad fit. Hence, the beauty of customizable attribution windows.

Attribution windows, which define the time frame within which interactions are considered relevant for attribution, should be customizable to match your specific business goals and customer behaviors. Note that not all SMS platforms, or marketing tools in general, allow for adjustable attribution windows. As a long-time customer of martech solutions, non-customizable attribution is a non-starter for any tool that I look at.

Why Customizable Attribution Windows Matter

Here is a more granular look at the above example with the country club versus the ecommerce store.

  • Accounting for Purchase Cycle Length: Some industries have longer purchase cycles. Customizable attribution windows allow you to capture interactions that occur over an extended period, ensuring you don't miss valuable touchpoints.
  • Aligning with Customer Behavior: Customers in different industries and markets may have varying research and decision-making processes. Customizable windows allow you to tailor attribution to your audience's unique behaviors.
  • Adapting to Campaign Types: Not all campaigns are created equal. For instance, a flash sale campaign may have a shorter attribution window than a long-term branding campaign. Customization enables you to reflect these differences accurately.

The Significance of Attribution in SMS Marketing

Attribution is not just a nice-to-have; it's a must-have for SMS marketing success. Here's why:

  • Optimizing SMS Content: Attribution data can reveal which SMS messages are driving conversions and which are falling flat. Armed with this knowledge, you can fine-tune your SMS content to resonate better with your audience.
  • Budget Allocation: Attribution helps you allocate your marketing budget intelligently. You can invest more in SMS marketing strategies that are proven to deliver results and reduce spending on less effective channels.
  • Campaign Timing: Attribution data can highlight the best times to send SMS messages to maximize engagement and conversions, ensuring your messages reach your audience at the right moment.
  • Enhancing Customer Journeys: Understanding how SMS fits into the broader customer journey enables you to create more seamless and effective cross-channel experiences.


Attribution is your compass, proving the efficacy of your marketing efforts and guiding you toward success. It not only quantifies the impact of your SMS campaigns but also empowers you to optimize, allocate resources wisely, and enhance customer experiences. By understanding how attribution is calculated on various platforms and embracing customizable attribution windows, you can harness the full potential of SMS marketing and drive exceptional ROI. In the data-driven landscape of modern marketing, attribution is your key to staying ahead of the competition and delivering measurable results through SMS messaging.

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