How do I figure out customer attribution?

One thing we come across surprisingly often when talking with marketers about their customer acquisition strategy is a lack of clarity on where companies are actually acquiring their customers. Most people have a general sense of where they believe their customers are coming from and almost 100% of companies use some tracking tool like Google Analytics which will show they where their traffic comes from, but doesn’t necessarily explain the messy reality of how people initially hear about the product or service out in the wild.

If you have a product or service that is a lower cost or a quick sale, some of this basic web tracking may suffice since many of your users may in fact convert in their 1st session. If you have a higher priced product or one that requires a bit more explanation about what it is – you probably need to go a few layers deeper in order to understand the combination of channels your customers are exposed to, that drive them to actually purchase.

Just ask them!

In the current marketing landscape we get caught up with using technology or complicated tracking and attribution models in order to try to answer the basic question of “where are your customers coming from?”

The solution we use has little to no cost or effort while having a huge impact on your understanding of your business mechanics. It’s pretty obvious once you hear it but many companies actually don’t do this. Our stupidly simple way of figuring this out is to just ask your customers. As marketers our gut instincts are usually right but that will never hold up in our current environment where hard data is king, so here are a couple easy steps to collect this qualitative data.

Step 1

Run a basic survey using a tool like Typeform. This is our preferred survey tool but there are many others like SurveyMonkey for example. Once you pick a solution, start to build out your survey. We like to keep our surveys to one single question that branches based on how they answer the first question. The question we recommend is “How did you first hear about us?” And we have a multiple choice set of responses based on what we believe is true. To figure out what to include as options think about the following:

  1. Where are you currently running paid advertising?
  2. How do you think your customers are finding out about you organically?
  3. Look in google analytics at “new users” and break down where the traffic is coming from

It is super important to include an “Other” option as these could surface ways that people are finding you that you didn’t even know about.

We start with a single question simply to increase the completion rate – people are busy and while a lot of times they are willing to help, they will not be willing to spend more than a couple minutes filling out your survey. It is super important to include an “Other” option as these could surface ways that people are finding you that you didn’t even know about. As you can see in the above example these options are pretty broad and technically could be mixing organic exposure to these channels with paid exposure. For instance someone that googled what you offer may have clicked your organic listing or your Google Ad. The way to solve for this is to create a branch based on their answer with a followup question:

Customer acquisition survey example

It’s important to include “couldn’t tell” because we don’t want to force a false positive on organic or paid attribution. With the way that ads are becoming more and more native to the regular customer experience on these platforms it’s often hard to tell what is and isn’t an ad.

Lastly, for the people who are willing to share more with us and spend a little more time explaining, we pose an open ended question to them:

Cross-channel attribution question

This question will really help to unlock additional context around why they answered the multiple choice question the way they did, and very often this question will start to unlock how customers are being exposed to your product across different channels. It’s very common for us to see something like:

“I think I first saw something on instagram several months ago, but then a friend mentioned the company to me again so I googled {your product here} and found you guys again.”

Insights like these are super valuable to understand the path to purchase your customers are taking.

After you launch your survey and collect your data points, you can easily create visualizations like the one below which you can use to drive better awareness around your customer acquisition throughout your company.

Distribution of marketing channel attribution

Take it a step further

The steps above are super low effort and can have a huge impact in creating more clarity on what channels are working, how to allocate budget, and which channels may be over-or under-attributed. However, you can take it a step further by marrying this survey data to your actual internal database to understand down-funnel metrics like churn and LTV. Survey tools like Typeform allow you to pass an invisible field in the survey and we typically append their email address to their survey responses (easy to do when you distribute the survey via email).

What this allows you to do is then parse things like churn rate and LTV by attributed channel. It can be extremely enlightening to see this data outside of standard click attribution, and you can make financial decisions on how to adjust budgets or adjust priorities around organic initiatives.

Here are a couple more resources that are useful in helping you unlock the truth around your customer attribution path.

Google’s guide to their click attribution within GA:

Attribution Modeling Overview

Another recommended article:

An In-Depth Look at Attribution Modeling in Digital Marketing

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