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What We Have Here is an Attribution Problem

What We Have Here is an Attribution Problem

This is an exciting time to be a multifamily marketer. Now, more than any time before, we have access to SO MUCH DATA. I live and die by the numbers and love following the path of the customer’s journey and the triggers that finally lead to conversions. Who should get the attribution? Was it the mobile display ad on Facebook? That one email in the drip campaign? The glowing reviews on ApartmentRatings?

Certainly, all of this data helps us finally solve the attribution mystery, right? In theory yes…but in practice, hell no.


With all of this data, the guess work is finally over, right? WRONG. At least not for me.

The problem isn’t with the data, it’s with attribution. You can choose last-click interactions, linear allocations, first interactions, last non-direct click, time decay or what did their mom suggest? {Not really that last one, but that’s an example of the influence that we can’t measure}

I really love when things are black and white. Write a formula, stick to the rules and get the desired outcome. But when it comes to marketing and attribution, there’s a little hiccup.  If there’s anything the last few years have taught me, it’s this:

There is no black and white when it comes to dealing with people’s behavior. TWEET THIS

Our prospective renters are exposed to ads and experiences throughout their customer journey. Each of those ads, experiences, and interactions have an impact on the buying decision that is ultimately made. And regardless of what attribution model we use, we are never going to have the full story about what combination drove us to the final sale.

While I absolutely love numbers, there’s a fundamental problem when using numbers to explain human behavior. People don’t follow the rules…And our renters’ behavior is far too complex to be understood in figures and stats. You can use the numbers to draw theory and create a hypothesis, but understand that the numbers are an oversimplified lens through which to view your prospective renters’ actions.

I’ll repeat it a hundred times: I love data. My favorite presentation at the Zillow conference this past year was the economist, Skylar Olsen. Data is an awesome tool to measure and observe trends. We don’t have a data problem.  Actually, we don’t even have an attribution problem.  The real issue is our mindset about attribution.

I guess most of us still have our leasing agents ask prospects ‘how they heard about us.’ Why? Has that ever actually given us good intel? Smart marketers are learning that the winning strategy is to be in front of our renters as often as possible with the right message for that stage of that renter’s journey. Like Sarah Greenough said in a recent interview, “You need to understand and embrace the path–NOT focus on giving credit to one magic bullet.”


What we’ve learned is that there are some elements of the customer journey that aren’t really what we would call attribution-worthy…And certainly not measurable. {Take mom’s opinion for example.} However, that doesn’t make those elements any less impactful to the renter’s ultimate decision. Focusing solely on attributable sources in your marketing assigns far too much credit to one segment of your strategy. This can be deadly for your budget and even more so for your traffic numbers. At the end of the day, this can lead to an unbalanced strategy of advertising v. marketing.

There’s another consequence…one we’ve all been overwhelmed with in the past year. It’s the desire for each advertising source to prove that their advertising is the single source of your leads. The antiquated attribution model that we are relying on has pitted them all against each other. It’s understandable considering the outlay of cash we all make on ad buys…each of these advertisers wants to maintain their line on the budget, thus the escalating vicious attacks against each other.

At Apartminty, we are taking a different approach. We understand the value of helping and holding the prospective renter’s hand throughout their entire journey. We are not focusing on our competitor. We’re not even trying to get top billing on your attribution model. Our goal is to help each property have an omnichannel presence. As everyone gets tired of me saying, “The best time to win your customer is when they have their hand raised, and they’re asking for help.” So you have to deliver some value during every step along that journey.

But…Attribution has some value, right?

Of course. Attribution has incredible value. Right now, multifamily just has an unhealthy fixation with it. TWEET THIS

Unhealthy, mainly because very few of us have the tools within our current software to actually measure anything beyond first touch attribution.

Focusing on your customer; their journey; their behavior; their research process…That and learning the latest behavioral trends are what create the real value. If we change our mindset, we change our {marketing} world. 😉

Also published on Medium.

About The Author


Not one to settle for status quo, Holli has spent her 20 year career shaking up the multifamily industry. From creating unheard of building amenities to designing lounge-like leasing centers, to major Pinterest fails in the kitchen, she is ever experimenting. It’s no surprise that she created a new way to match apartment renters with their perfect home. Holli is a featured speaker and session facilitator at regional and national industry conferences. When she’s not brainstorming the next marketing campaign, you can find Holli testing the limits of bottomless brunch or climbing the Peloton Leaderboard!

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