Should I Use Self-Reported Attribution for My Business?

June 2023

Money may not be able to buy you love, but spent wisely, it can buy you customers. In order to attract more business, you need to invest in proven marketing strategies that get measurable results. An optimized funnel is key for casting your marketing net but how do you back it up with reporting that accurately identifies which initiatives have the greatest impact?

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Money may not be able to buy you love, but spent wisely, it can buy you customers. In order to attract more business, you need to invest in proven marketing strategies that get measurable results. An optimized funnel is key for casting your marketing net but how do you back it up with reporting that accurately identifies which initiatives have the greatest impact?

Money may not be able to buy you love, but spent wisely, it can buy you customers. In order to attract more business, you need to invest in proven marketing strategies that get measurable results. An optimized funnel is key for casting your marketing net but how do you back it up with reporting that accurately identifies which initiatives have the greatest impact?

Self-reported attribution has become a fashionable but polarizing way to look at your marketing spend. It is exactly what it sounds like – asking customers to self-identify how and where they found you. Typically you’d collect this data in a contact form, or during an intro with sales. However, this method runs contrary to software attribution models which rely on data points created within your marketing tools to inform marketing decisions.

In this post we’ll define each and look at the strengths and weaknesses of self-attribution vs software attribution reporting. Is self-reported attribution the answer to your analytics and reporting woes, or do software based attribution models still reign supreme?  Spoiler Alert: It may depend on your business model.


Software Based Attribution

Most digital marketers  learn the basics of measurement and analytics via software-based attribution. These types of attribution tools allow you to track your users’ digital interactions with paid advertising campaigns and web properties such as web pages, landing pages and emails. They identify and assign credit to the various software tools and platforms that contribute to any of your marketing campaigns’ success.

Examples of Software Attribution Tools

Google Analytics: The most widely used web analytics tool, Google Analytics provides insights into website traffic, user behavior, and conversions. It offers attribution models that allow you to trace your customer’s digital footprint across your web properties, and identify which channel is driving the best outcomes on your website.

Marketing automation platforms: Platforms like HubSpot, Marketo, and MailChimp allow you to monitor the effectiveness of your email campaigns, social media engagement, lead generation efforts, and other marketing initiatives.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software: CRM systems like Salesforce, Zoho CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 offer attribution capabilities to track customer interactions, lead sources, and conversion rates. You can attribute revenue and conversions to specific marketing campaigns or touchpoints.

Ad attribution platforms: Google Ads and Facebook Ads Manager are tools that offer attribution models specific to their advertising platforms. These tools help you understand which ads or campaigns contributed to conversions so that you can optimize your ad spend.

Call tracking software: Examples of call tracking tools include CallRail and DialogTech. These applications assign unique phone numbers to your various marketing campaigns and track which campaigns drive phone leads.

Where Software Based Attribution Works

Software based attribution is good at identifying which channels and tactics are driving your customer’s digital interactions. For instance: it can tell you that 60% of all of your website traffic comes from Organic Search. It can even tell you that 10% of all of those searchers found you by looking for your brand name.

Software’s strength is its ability to make sense of the tangled webs of digital interactions that ultimately lead to desired conversion actions. Additionally, it allows us to look for trends in behavior without involving the inevitably biased input of human beings.

Software attribution tools are also handy for testing. You can use cookies and tracking pixels to run A/B tests and segment audiences to view different content types. This valuable data gives you a clearer snapshot of what content users are more likely to interact with.

Where Software Based Attribution Fails

Despite the relative ease of implementing software attribution, getting your software to recognize and track the more nuanced touchpoints of the customer journey can be difficult. As a result, you may see inaccuracies and limitations in the attribution data that could lead to misinterpretation and flawed decisions.

It can be difficult to create context around software based attribution. For instance, you may see a 200% increase in direct visits to your site one month, and a 100% increase in your branded search traffic. But, that doesn’t necessarily help unless you understand what activities led to these surges. Perhaps you sponsored a fundraising event or your CEO appeared on a talk show. Maybe a new TV ad campaign went gangbusters. It’s important to create a narrative around your data.

Additionally, software attribution doesn’t take into consideration interactions outside your domain or offline behaviors. It won’t measure the impact of engagements that take place in organic social, on review sites or by word of mouth. Software attribution could never report if your customer bought your product because of a podcast they listened to.

Self-Reported Attribution

Self-Reported attribution in marketing examines your pipeline through the lens of your customers. By having your customers “self report” on how they discovered your brand along with the funnel steps they took before converting, you can gain more personalized insights into the impact of your marketing efforts.

Through one-on-one interactions, you also give individuals the opportunity to attribute their own behaviors or actions to internal factors, such as personal characteristics or preferences, rather than external influences. Ideally this type of marketing attribution model illuminates the cognitive bias that people often rely on to make sense of their own decision-making processes.

By leveraging self-attribution, marketers can design campaigns and strategies that align with consumers’ self-image, values, and aspirations. This can involve creating advertisements that emphasize personal agency, individuality, or unique experiences to encourage consumers to attribute their purchase decisions to their own desires and preferences.

Examples of Self-Reported Attribution Tools

Post-Purchase Surveys: Conduct a survey after a purchase to understand the reasons behind it. Your questions might explore factors like product features, pricing, brand perception, or personal preferences along with what channels the customer traveled in before converting.

Focus Groups and Interviews: Using qualitative research, you can conduct focus groups or interviews to delve deeper into consumers’ perceptions and attributions. This data can provide insights into self-attribution and how consumers perceive your marketing efforts.

Social Media Listening: Monitoring and analyzing conversations on social media platforms can provide valuable, first hand self-attribution insights. By examining user-generated content, comments, and discussions, you can gain a deeper understanding of how consumers view and interact around your brand.

Online Surveys and Feedback Forms: By incorporating self-attribution-related questions into online surveys or feedback forms, you can directly collect data on consumers’ behaviors. For example, asking customers why they decided to click on an advertisement, subscribe to a newsletter, or engage with a particular content piece can provide insights to inform your marketing optimization efforts.

Where Self-Reported Attribution Works

Self-reported attribution works best when examining “dark touchpoints” or the areas that software attribution can’t effectively measure. It’s a crucial marketing attribution tool if you’re trying to strategically grow your brand through podcasts, events, word of mouth, social media groups or online chat forums like Discord.

Monitoring these channels and getting direct consumer feedback can help you optimize your content to appeal to the people most likely to want your product or service. To be successful, you’ll need open field-type reporting that allows you to log subjective viewpoints. This could be as simple as asking the followup question “How did you hear about us?” in your intro/qualification conversations with new prospects and then recording the answer in your CRM.

Where Self-Reported Attribution Fails

Self-reported attribution gets messy. Success depends on you asking the right questions to the right people and getting the right answers. However, customers don’t always have the time or patience to form articulate and informative answers. Even if they do, there’s no guarantee they will remember where they first heard about you or which online discussion persuaded them to buy your product.

Additionally, it can be more challenging to manipulate self-reported attribution data into valuable reporting. There are less off-the-shelf tools that make it easy to work with this data and create context around it.

Finally, this self-reported model can lead to tunnel vision. If you focus only on the touchpoints your customers mention, you fail to see the entire story of where they may have clicked. This is where software analytics works better. It can quantify the number of visits to any of your online assets along with the time spent at each. Regardless of how many people say they read a blog or went to a landing page, you won’t be certain without hard data. Content you may not see as important may be ranking higher than you think and assets that you’re prioritizing may not be winning the conversions you had hoped for.

Metrics vs Insights

Metrics – whether from software or from self attribution – are a helpful starting point but interpreting those metrics is key to understanding your campaigns’ performance. Seeing the traffic to a particular piece of content doesn’t necessarily tie neatly with the revenue you see downstream. However, increased performance across certain channels can correlate with more leads and conversions.

To best use your reported data, you need to create a narrative around it that speaks to the business trends you’re experiencing. This is where an experienced marketing agency can excel. They can see the big picture and tweak campaigns, create assets and optimize messaging to attract more prospects.

Your marketing and channel strategy should be guided by the way your ideal customer wants to research and buy your product. That should then inform your measurement strategy. Not the other way around.

Is Self-Reported Attribution Right for My Company?

There’s not a right or wrong answer here. The key is to align your measurement and attribution approach with the channels and tactics that you’re using to drive growth.  A small and agile marketing agency can use the insights from your reporting to attribute successes and failures. By analyzing the data and creating a narrative around it, they can pivot resources to the most effective channels. Contact Gemini today and ask about our transparent reporting practices. We use reporting to make your marketing dollar go further.