Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Inquiry Attribution

In our last blog post, we touched on the challenges of attributing sources to inquiries. Data is king, but there are other – subtler – elements that must be incorporated to make final marketing decisions. The goal of attribution is to report accurately the financial return of any marketing communication. Seems simple enough: Track all campaigns, and when inquiries are received, see where they originated from. But some sources that can be translated into an inquiry are not easily tracked. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t account for it.

Confused? Don’t worry, we are here to help! In this post, we will lay out our list of the “Do’s and Don’ts” for lead attribution and ideas to keep in mind as you build out a solid reporting plan for your marketing outcomes.

The Do’s:

  • Decide what data you would like to collect in reports and make sure those data points align with leadership on how they make decisions.
  • Agree on a data model: Are you attributing leads at the first touch, last touch or multi-touch entry stages? We at Norton Norris tend to recommend multi-touch attribution. It’s important to ask a prospect how they heard of your school. In many cases, it took that person being hit with the brand several times before they made the decision to inquire.
  • Connect all data (if possible) in a single attribution database. Reporting can quickly turn out to be cumbersome if you have to pull data from multiple entities.
  • Define duplicate leads. Is it within 30 days? When is a duplicate lead a new lead?
  • Develop definitions. Think like an accountant who is developing a chart of accounts and creating rules around the classification of expenses. Then apply the same principles to inquiry attribution.
  • Train staff on the above. Remove the ambiguity and the natural tendency for staff to categorize the same source differently. What’s the difference between an organic web inquiry, a Google search and an internet lead? Make sure those are well-stated.
  • Refine lead categories. Many schools have too many lead categories. Streamline to main buckets such as TV, web, PPC, outdoor, print, etc., or decide how you plan to handle subsets and deactivate old channels that are not being used.
  • Measure “pre” and “post” as you launch campaigns. What happened to overall lead flow when you added Pandora? Did it increase? Decrease? Stay the same?
  • Decide how to count leads from campus events, fairs and community events. Will they all be lumped into personally developed lead categories?
  • TEST! Again, all of this is not 100 percent science. So test and tweak to fit your school and business goals best.
  • Separate Personally Developed Inquiries and Referrals. These are entirely different inquiry sources that are too often lumped together.
  • Track voice-to-voice conversations – especially if you are using lead vendors to any extent. Knowing which vendors send leads that you can actually talk to is an important (and un-tracked) metric at many schools.
  • Consider tracking numbers. Use discrete and dedicated numbers on your digital and print properties to determine effectiveness.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t forget engagement. It’s easy to always look at conversions, but don’t forget the importance of brand awareness via clicks, views, out-of-home views, engagement on social media, etc.
  • Don’t confuse inquiry method with source. An organic web lead is the method the consumer used to request information. It’s not necessarily the original source. As an example, they may have seen a TV commercial then performed a search online.
  • Don’t cut a test too short. Look at a longer term. Some initiatives will take longer to yield results. We’ve seen dismal results in the first three to four weeks of adding TV – only to witness impressive wins in weeks five and six. Ninety days is a good minimum test period to start with.
  • Don’t lump personally developed leads and referrals into one bucket!
  • Don’t just look at your test and overall marketing strategy in week-over-week views. Compare month-over-month and year-over-year.
  • Don’t ignore how seasonality impacts inquiry volume and reporting. In the higher education industry, there are always trends around holidays: Back to School, New Year, summer, etc.
  • Don’t forget that budget fluctuations impact reporting as well. There are direct implications to inquiry volume when budgets are cut.
  • Don’t ignore duplicate inquiries. Do you know the increase in propensity to enroll when a prospect inquires more than once? Of course, duplicates sometimes occur with just programming errors, but oftentimes the prospect has been doing their research on multiple sites and they are anxious to get in touch! Set out to learn this metric. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Properly attributing lead sources to conversions is critical to understanding which components of marketing programs are the most effective. But we know that this process can be difficult and frustrating, particularly when our students don’t convert on their first visit. Just remember to focus not only on the sources for visits that convert, but take note of which traffic sources expose people to your site and assist in building awareness that eventually leads to conversion. Make sure all of your staff and key decision-makers are well-trained and on the same page with how you are classifying a lead and what data is being captured. That is crucial to define how the company is going to move forward.

The main message is: Attributing sources to inquiries is not a matter of tracking only. This analysis is deeper and requires a lot more understanding and interpretation of consumer behavior. And although it can seem too demanding or complicated, dedicating some time to it can result in more conversions and better results.

Interested in seeing some of our favorite inquiry attribution reports? Email or call 312-262-7420. We’re always happy to talk marketing and inquiry attribution.

Written By: Vince Norton and Lindsay Barnett

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