Next-Generation Metrics: Assessing Brand Impact In A Cross-Screen World

Even by the constantly innovating standards of digital media, these are fast-paced times for metrics and measurement. As IAB and the industry reinvent the metrics by which PC-based digital is bought and sold, and standardize metrics for mobile, we realize that we no longer live in a world where things can be parceled out and measured tidily, medium by medium.

Rather, a cross-screen, omnimedia environment demands metrics solutions that enable buyers to understand how all the pieces of their campaign contribute to the whole, and even more importantly, how synergies accrue across and between those pieces. This is true of all metrics used in advertising, but for today I will focus on a single aspect of measuring ad effectiveness: brand impact studies.

Even in a single medium, understanding how a campaign changes a brand’s positioning and perception in consumers’ minds can be difficult. When “operators are standing by,” it’s easy to measure call volumes and sales to show the campaign worked. But emotionally resonant messages about sharing a Kodak moment or buying the world a Coke require subtler yardsticks to measure their impact.

Brand impact studies are the classic way to test this: establishing a sample of people who saw the ad and a “control group” sample of people who did not see it, and then asking them survey questions to identify differences in familiarity, recall and favorability. These days social buzz is another important way to assess whether a branding campaign has moved hearts and minds. And neuroscience lets us wire volunteers up to EEGs to see if their brains are lighting up the right way in response to creative.

In theory, the rise of front-facing cameras on everything from smartphones to Xbox Kinects enables our devices to start watching us as we watch ads -- to assess, for example by smiling or pupil dilation, if we like what we see. I think those days are still far off, but it’s technically possible.

Currently, brand impact studies are well established and well understood (and IAB has a resource center on doing them well), at least for one medium at a time. Back in the early 2000s, IAB pioneered extending brand impact methodologies across digital and traditional media in our XMOS (Cross-Media Optimization Studies) research.

This is trickier, since it requires identifying samples “exposed” (i.e., who saw the ad) on PC, on TV (or whatever the traditional medium is) and across both and neither of those.  It also demands sophisticated statistical modeling to enable comparisons across those samples. Adding mobile to the mix makes things yet more complicated, with seven possible combinations of exposure (eight if you include not-exposed-at-all).

This is the challenge the IAB Mobile Center has undertaken with our ongoing XSOS (Cross-Screen Optimization Studies) research project. For the past two years, the IAB, along with Insight Express, has been honing a research methodology to assess the real-world brand impact of cross-screen ad campaigns; recruiting a brave and curious group of sponsors and brand marketers to help us make it happen. We’re at a major project milestone now, preparing to go in field with our first live test.  I’m excited about this for two reasons:  at one level, having data to share that proves the brand synergies of a cross-media campaign is going to be huge. However, demonstrating that the methodology we’re using works in practice could have an even larger long-term impact than the results themselves.

Granted, the XSOS methodology probably isn’t something the average marketer is going to use for everyday campaign testing needs. It’s big and complicated, with many requirements to make it work. But often, a complex, highly customized research methodology paves the way for simpler, more streamlined and cheaper methodologies to follow. XSOS should spawn such tools for measuring cross-screen brand impact, and also benchmarks brand marketers can use to estimate how much synergistic bang they will get for their cross-screen buck.

I have yet to see anyone toss out the phrase “year of cross-screen” the way “year of mobile” was thrown around, though I doubt I’m coining the term. Regardless, the year of cross-screen is upon us, if not now, then soon, and buyers and sellers alike need measurement solutions that can support them. IAB’s upcoming Cross-Screen Marketplace will include conversations on the challenges of measuring across media. The companies sponsoring and participating in XSOS have a front-row seat as we start establishing those solutions specific to measuring brand impact in this brave new era.

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