As students here in the US return to school this fall, marketers are also looking forward to some back-to-school education. What can the back to school season teach marketers about their efforts and results that they can leverage throughout the school year? Which messages were most effective?

With so many products to compete with, and so many channels on which to showcase their products, which platforms are most successful? How can a brand determine if its TV spots are hitting the mark or if its email marketing campaigns are earning them A’s?  The answers to these questions lie in customer path attribution, which allows a company to follow a customer from first exposure to conversion, and accurately attribute credit to each touch-point along the journey. Armed with this customer data, brands are sure to nail their current and future marketing campaigns.

Without the Data, Brands Just Guess

Marketing campaigns today are made up of multiple channels, both on and offline. In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, consumers are inundated with reminders that kids need the latest clothes and gadgets as they walk the school halls. Consumers see television spots highlighting the must-have looks for boys and girls this school year, as well as the latest technologies and devices. Inboxes are flooded with reminders that the school year is quickly approaching and time is dwindling to buy the latest pair of sneakers and college sweatshirts for football games. Web pages are full of display ads for the latest tablet, laptop or other electronic accessory that every college student must pack before making the trek to his dorm room. Social networks, like Facebook, house ads from retailers showcasing first-day looks and essential school supplies. While all of this marketing is great for brands to connect with customers, without the data about each interaction, brands can only make guesses about budget allocation, which can be expensive and ineffective.

For example, ‘Sally’s’ first day of school outfit didn’t just jump out at her off the rack; there was a much longer journey to that perfect look. She saw an ad on TV for a blue sundress, searched for the sundress on her smartphone, went to her tablet to read how customers reviewed the fit, and ultimately purchased it from her laptop. Skilled marketers understand that each marketing asset along her journey matters, and customer path attribution takes the guess work out of marketing by attributing value to each of the marketing assets.

Leverage Data to Improve Future

In order to succeed during this back-to-school season and subsequent periods, brands should review their old report cards. In school, we learn that history is bound to repeat itself, and marketing is no different. Marketers can leverage the data collected by attribution in the past to improve their futures. For example, Bonobos, a leading provider of online menswear, is leveraging customer path attribution to study customer behaviour patterns from its student campaign last year across all touch-points to change and optimise its student programme this year. Bonobos leverages marketing across social platforms (Facebook), paid search and email for its student programme. Due to its success last year, Bonobos is now implementing a similar student programme this year.

With customer path attribution, Bonobos can see the full paths to conversion, enabling the company to understand where customers came from and through what channels they are converting. This data allows Bonobos to understand what makes its customer tick and enhance its student programme this year, ultimately increasing sales.

A marketer’s job is not done when the first period bell rings. Companies need to continue to optimise their student-focused campaigns throughout the school year. The football, holiday, graduation and job-hunting seasons all offer opportunities for brands to connect with students yet again. A smart brand will leverage the data it collected during the back-to-school season to determine the best channels to convert students later. The back-to-school season can be a stressful time for marketers, but brands that leverage customer path attribution will glide into the fall and finish the school year at the top of their class.