The attribution you can (and cannot) get from package inserts

The attribution is very similar to podcasts, but there’s some upfront work to getting the attribution right.

For a quick overview of the below, check out this article we wrote with Fairing, the leading post-purchase survey attribution company, that goes into more depth about the importance of a post-purchase survey.  

Attribution.  It’s everyone’s favorite topic.  If I had all the answers to attribution, I wouldn’t be writing this article right now.  I’d be sitting on my private island somewhere.  With that being said, I doubt there’s a company that knows more about package insert attribution than we do.  

Let’s start with the basics.

Direct Attribution

Every insert we run has a combination of these direct attribution elements on the piece: Phone number, promo code, QR code, and/or URL. The more the better.  That way consumers can connect with your brand in whatever way is most natural to them.  

In addition, you need a unique identifier per program that you run in, so if you are in 15 insert programs, you need 15 unique promo codes, URLs, and QR codes.  That way you can evaluate each program individually.  

Many DTC brands these days want to do unique codes per piece, which means if you print 1,000,000 pieces, they want to include 1,000,000 unique codes.  That can be done, but we don’t recommend it, because it raises the printing prices substantially, and our #1 priority is keeping costs as low as possible for brands.  

The Limitations

The #1 hurdle for inserts when it comes to attribution is that, unlike direct mail, there is no matchback.  Direct mail is easy.  You mail 400,000 people and you do a matchback, often with a hold out group, to see how many of those 400,000 people converted during the time the mail hit mailboxes and shortly after.  So how do you replicate that methodology without the ability to do a matchback?

For those of you that are thinking “Can't this integrate into my multi-touch attribution tools like Rockerbox or Measured?” the short answer is… Sadly no.  We’re big believers in multi-touch attribution tools because they give proper credit to the channels that deserve it, but because they just pull in basic URL data from offline channels like inserts, they are missing a large part of the attribution.  

Post-Purchase Survey’s

One of the first questions we ask when onboarding a new brand is if they have a post-purchase survey set up.  The majority of companies we work with use Fairing and KnoCommerce, but some more tech-savvy companies make one themselves.  

The post-purchase survey is the critical piece of the puzzle.   The first question in a post-purchase survey is often “How did you hear about us?” with several options like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts, Word of Mouth” and any other channel a brand is actively spending in.  We have two potential recommended additions to the survey:

MAIL (Postcard, Flyer, Insert): If a brand is just starting to explore offline marketing, this is the language we recommend.  It covers all types of offline marketing, and will ensure that, no matter what you think a package insert is, you choose this option.  

Flyer In Package: This is the most basic way to explain what a package insert is, and we use this if a brand does other offline marketing like direct mail or shared mail.  

Once that’s added, we just get access to their survey so we can see, from the first day our ads start inserting into packages, how many people choose “MAIL (Postcard, Flyer, Insert)” or Flyer In Package depending on what other advertising they are doing, and that’s it!  

A Real Example

The chart below outlines real results for a pet food brand we work with.  

On average, for every person who uses our URL, promo code, or QR code (the CPA – Promo Code Only column), two more say they heard about us from the "Flyer In Package" (CPA – Including Post-Purchase Survey column). That's a 3x multiplier, which is typical for insert media, and as you can see is the difference between this channel hitting CPA goals and not hitting CPA goals.  

For digital-marketers, you can almost think of this as your view-through conversions, but much less inflated than view-through conversions.  

Here’s a quote from a marketer we work with explaining why they utilize our methodology:  

“We know there's a halo-effect to offline channels that last click attribution certainly doesn't capture, and even multi-touch attribution doesn't plug neatly into inserts, so utilizing a post-purchase survey is 100% the way to go.  Once you can show your internal teams the data and prove inserts deserve more credit than just the people using a promo code, it's so much more powerful than just explaining that anecdotally.”

P.S. – If you don’t have a post-purchase survey set up, and have no intention of setting one up for your campaign, a company like Incremental Media can help provide you benchmarks for a multiplier (the difference between the CPA based on direct results and the CPA including the post-purchase survey).  

Ultimately, Marketers Need Data…

… and this methodology helps prove that inserts work, oftentimes much better than other offline channels like direct mail.  The key is not JUST judging the performance of the direct attribution, or else you are destined for your campaign to fail.    

P.P.S. I’ve also never found a multi-touch attribution service that’s been able to properly attribute package inserts.  All of them just try and give the attribution to just the URL, promo code, or URL on the piece, which is clearly not giving proper credit to the channel, and since there’s no mailing list to ingest like direct mail or even shared mail, these systems aren’t good at properly evaluating inserts.  If anyone knows of a company in this space, like Rockerbox, Measured, or TripleWhale, who can incorporate inserts into their methodologies, please let me know.  I will gladly refer several brands their way.  

Eric Smith is the SVP of Growth at Incremental Media.  Want to share your thoughts or pick the brain of the author of this piece?  Email Eric Smith at

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