The Measurement Problem

It is a paradox that measurement, a discipline so predicated on objectivity, can  sometimes be so subjective.

Measurement has long been a subject of debate, not so much for how it should be conducted, but because of what it truly means.The basic debate surrounding “the measurement problem” -- a term that arose among the great physicists of the early 20th century -- is the question of whether measurement is a “mirror” reflecting an independent existing external reality. Or is it a “veil of perception,” shaped by the prejudices of the viewer?

The question is critical to our industry in this age of data and Big Data. That's because our growth to a great extent will come from advanced measurement and, as we know, we can only measure what we are looking for.

And that is where the subjective element -- the veil of perception -- comes in.  If you enter into measurement looking for one thing, you will look for only that and may miss seeing something else of equal if not greater importance.

What then, should we be looking for, beyond the obvious “numbers”? How can advanced measurement lead to growth? By helping us to innovate advertising itself and the manner in which we find those exposed to it.

Consider, for example, that digital media ad trends certainly suggest we are moving toward a one-to-one marketing environment where advertising is becoming increasingly personalized and customized to one’s presumed preferences. Audience fragmentation, technological enhancements in ad distribution and targeting, as well as the rise of Big Data and RTB are certainly catalysts. We are seeing the rise of programmatic buying not only in digital, but in TV as well.  This will certainly change not only the nature of ad buying, but the nature of advertising itself over time. Right now, the emphasis, rightfully so, is on efficiency.

Big Data -- and there is no clear definition of exactly what Big Data is -- and  enhanced technologies,  allow advertisers to target consumers with near-pinpoint accuracy.

It is reasonable to expect technology will drive advances in cost efficiency more quickly than the return on that investment.  Management, after all, has direct control over costs.  But you can only reduce costs so much, while “theoretically” sales has no cap; therefore, over the long term, return on investment will be driven by advertising effectiveness.

Remember, we are pursuing more addressable advertising, not just because technology enables us to, but because through digital the consumer has been preconditioned to expect all content to be customized and personalized to their tastes and world views. 

And that is where innovation in advertising itself must catch up. It must meet the innovation in media buying that technology is allowing us to achieve.

Despite the ability to deliver more relevant advertising, advertising is still operating under the concept of having to be disruptive to gain attention. That is a vestige of traditional media and is counter to the way consumers are engaging with digital content today. 

The pathway to better targeting and message content is through relevance. If we can unlock that through measurement and innovation, then the potential for increased ad expenditure is significant, since advertising will become more accepted, and new doors to using digital to build brands and not just awareness will be opened.

Measurement can also help identify new revenue through new audiences.

Certainly, we know that audiences are being under-counted in some platforms, ssuch as in the migration of print to e-readers. We also know that standards for viewability on digital media, including mobile, are very much still in flux.

So we need better ways to look at total media.  With enhanced measurement techniques, we can gain a more accurate representation of exposure -- and with it, sellers can more effectively monetize their audience and buyers can more efficiently reach them.

We are experiencing an innovation in platform development and content dissemination.  When we can match that innovation with developments, not just in advertising delivery, but in a re-imagination of advertising itself, and find more effective ways to measure its reach and impact, then we can realize the potential for growth I believe is already inherent in our industry.

But we have to know what to look for. This is the best way to address “the measurement problem” and turn it into “the measurement solution."

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3 comments about "The Measurement Problem".
  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein , October 23, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
    Amazing just how big this measurement problem is!
  2. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , October 24, 2013 at 4:38 a.m.
    No, Big Data does not "allow advertisers to target consumers with near-pinpoint accuracy" - maybe this will be possible in future, and there are certainly large gains made today, but we had such accuracy today then there would be very much less advertising, because none of it would be wasted. On the wider issue, the general quality of marketing stats is dreadful, with cherry-picking a particular problem because so much information is self-reported by companies. Here, c/o Wikipedia, is a useful checklist: "To assist in the understanding of statistics Huff proposed a series of questions to be asked in each case: Who says so? (Does he/she have an axe to grind?), How does he/she know? (Does he/she have the resources to know the facts?), What’s missing? (Does he/she give us a complete picture?), Did someone change the subject? (Does he/she offer us the right answer to the wrong problem?), Does it make sense? (Is his/her conclusion logical and consistent with what we already know?)"
  3. Dave Rodgerson from iSign Media , October 24, 2013 at 8:26 a.m.
    We always have to ask the questions... is this information accurate? If so, is it also true. A subtle difference but the two are not necessarily co-existent.