Commentary

From 30 Day Total Reach to Loyal Audience: What Does this Mean for Publishers?

It’s time to put away childish things. Last week, the Online Publishers Association published a very compelling white paper titled “Internet Metrics: The Loyal Audience.” The paper clearly demonstrated that the 30 Day Total Reach numbers -- that are still being embraced and promoted by the online media ratings services -- are no longer relevant metrics in communicating media value. As the paper pointed out, the numbers dramatically inflate the apparent reach of a website and do nothing to communicate the true value to advertisers, the size, make-up and loyalty of a site’s “loyal” audience.

What’s next? What if the industry accelerates its shift towards Reach and Frequency and GRP-based metrics? If we abandon terminology like “unique visitors” and “eyeballs,” what will we replace them with?

I think that it’s time to make online media metrics as close to traditional media as possible, and only then add metrics that demonstrate that online can do more. This means equating our “loyal audience” to well known concepts like “loyal viewers” and “loyal readers” and providing all of the classic demographic and psychographic analysis and segmentation that TV and print deliver. And then, only after establishing comparability, should we add all of the key differentiators, like interaction and direct sales.

Of course, this would mean that publishers would not only have to track their Loyal Audience by quantity, but would need to collect appropriate data on their audiences as well. To date, few online publishers can tell advertisers very much specific data about the audience that they are trying to sell.

But, what if site publishers could tell advertisers who is on their site at any given moment, what content they’re interacting with, if they have ever bought anything online, where they live, how old they are and what gender? This is information that resides all over most sites (or in their servers) but hasn’t been pulled together so that publishers have a clear idea of who comprises their traffic and how advertisers can take advantage of it.

The reason this data hasn’t been pulled together is that most sites were/are built out of component parts. The home page content alone could be coming from 10 or 15 different sources depending on whose news you license, whose weather you serve, whose horoscope you import, etc. An outside vendor probably serves your ads; your email client probably comes from another company, and not the one that sends out your newsletter or who collects your registration data. In all likelihood the data about users collected by EACH of these component parts is unique to the component program and can’t be merged with other component program data. So, while publishers have lots of data bits, they haven’t been able to compile them into profiles that can be sorted and merged with other similar profiles then segmented into audiences according to advertiser needs.

Imagine all this was possible. Web publisher would then have more data on their site audiences than any magazine has on its readers, than any TV show has on its viewers, than any radio station has on its listeners. Yes, there are service that go out and ask audiences about themselves in order to give media properties some profile of their audiences, but it is only a small sample base and in any audience guesstimate there always will be enormous waste. By contrast web publishers would have first hand information about every site visitor based on real action, based on real observation, based on real data, not projections. Plus, if they play their cards just right, publisher will have an inexpensive, effective way to reach each one – email.

If site publishers could bundle together site visitors with similar profiles to target say, female business travelers who usually buy their tickets online, check the weather in their destination cities, research their hotel rates online, book restaurant reservations online; have a Gold American Express card and live in area code 10022, wouldn’t that be very attractive to a host of airlines, hotel chains, car services, restaurants, dry cleaners, stock brokers, insurance companies etc, etc.?

It’s time for the industry to move forward. Dump 30 Day Total Reach. Deliver Reach and Frequency metrics against a known loyal audience. Deliver data and results like no other media.

Dave Morgan is the President and CEO of Tacoda Systems, Inc.