How Dark Attribution Solves DTC Marketers’ Direct Traffic Woes


Most marketers know this list by heart: Organic Social, Organic Search, Referral, Email, Display… the list goes on and on. At the risk of seeming like we’re trying to pull a fast one over the SEO powers that be, we brought it up to pose a question: what if that list is incomplete?

Sure, with 18 different recognized channels in Google Analytics 4 out of the box, and the potential to create custom ones, it seems like the digital marketer has pretty much all their bases covered.

At the same time, there’s that feeling at the back of every DTC brand marketer’s mind saying, “There’s something else driving growth here, but I just don’t know what it is.” 

But, you do know.

Most brands give out samples to influencers, buy billboards, and pay agencies to conduct media monitoring to figure out if they’ve been mentioned in a podcast or two. Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd brought $20 worth of branded cookies to a college campus to drive up app downloads and got her $1.9 billion app from 0 to 1 with similar bootstrapped, creative ways.

The only problem is that these are hard to measure and even harder to attribute to actual purchases and conversions. It’s the part of your funnel that you know exists but are in the dark about. And by the time you catch wind of it, it might’ve been too late to act upon.

Shedding Light on Dark Attribution

Dark attribution is a way of thinking about these other parts of the path to purchase, illuminating them, and rightfully attributing a share of your sales to these efforts. Without it, brands will continue to over-index on traditionally measurable channels—like the 18 that come out of the box with GA4—and discount nascent, potentially viral sources of growth.

How does this all work? We have to start by understanding data sources that go into attribution and data platforms like GA4 and Daasity. These are primarily first-party, and third-party data.

First-party data is information you collect on your audience. It usually comes in the form of purchase data, tracking codes that you embed on the header or footer of your site, and collected information on visitors to your page.

Third-party data is data you get from another organization separate from your own and has come under fire in recent years. Google is trying to deprecate third-party cookies, and the introduction of stringent data protection laws like GDPR and CCPA means that marketers should plan for a future where third-party data is all but gone.

Being primarily online sources of data, they fit neatly into the 18 boxes or channels but don’t really tell you about what else is driving your customers to purchase.

Enter zero-party data.

How Zero-Party Data Leaves Zero Doubts

Zero-party data (ZPD) comes straight from the customer, given freely and willingly. The best example of brands collecting ZPD is when they ask the customer, “How did you hear about us” or “What made you buy today?”

Customers don’t have to answer if they don’t want to, and if they do, it’s tied to a purchase record or a customer ID, not a nameless cookie. It’s both the marketer’s and compliance team’s best friend.

With ZPD, you hear straight from the customer about what they thought was the biggest driver to purchase, not a weighted average of 20 different touchpoints that they may or may not remember.

But, you may ask, how does that fit into the typical first-touch/last-touch/U-shaped/J-shaped attribution models? What should we do with this data?

ZPD isn’t going to replace traditional attribution channels and sources, but it will augment them and provide a more complete picture. So, while we could make ZPD fit a more traditional attribution model, it might also be helpful to rethink what that model looks like.

Using ZPD to augment traditional attribution is a great first step—many brands including Allbirds, Caraway, and Figs use ZPD to illuminate parts of the funnel that might be misattributed, like the dreaded Direct Traffic bucket. Decide if you’d like to reattribute those last touches to what the customer is telling you was their final point of inspiration before purchasing, or if you’d like to evenly distribute that credit through the funnel.

Next, rethink your attribution model to include new touchpoints that customers mention; these could be new sources of growth for your brand. If college students continually tell you that they installed your dating app after seeing cupcakes for it at a frat party, it’s time to start tracking that as a legitimate channel.

How to Get Started with Zero-Party Data

The easiest way is to ask at the point of conversion with a post-purchase survey or attribution survey. Customers are the most engaged at this moment, and once the first two questions have been answered, Fairing customers usually see up to a 90% response rate for subsequent questions—opening up opportunities to collect more data on NPS, CRO, and product research.

Traditionally, these questions would’ve been posed via email survey—but we can’t remember the last time we answered one of those, and neither can most customers. With one foot firmly in the door at the point of purchase, you are going to get more and higher-quality responses.

Thereafter, get ZPD from Fairing piped into a platform like Daasity for deeper slicing and dicing with our integration.

Need help illuminating your conversion funnel? Learn more about Fairing here.

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