Can Social Media Prove Brand Advertising's Effectiveness?

Many people, myself included, have outlined the astounding discrepancy in standards applied to traditional advertising spend versus online advertising spend. The performance metrics required to demonstrate a successful online advertising campaign, most of which aren't even possible (forget required) to buy television/print/outdoor/radio, have seriously retarded the ability of brand advertising dollars to be efficiently allocated against the market for consumers' attention online. Far worse, even, advertisers' growing addiction to performance-based metrics has created, and will continue to create, an Internet in which ad units and Web sites designed to optimize these performance metrics will dominate -- and thus create -- a self-fulfilling prophecy of the Internet being a bad place for brand advertising and an uncomfortable place for people.

Rather than trying to get new-media outlets held to the same standards as traditional media outlets, as an industry we should instead be focusing on reevaluating attempts to tap the unique attributes of new media to deliver metrics that can actually measure the effectiveness of brand advertising. The problem with many attempts to date is that most online branding metrics have been mere adaptations of performance metrics (I am looking at you, "engagement"). New media can do better.

Let's start at the beginning. If the goal of advertising in general is to sell more products/services, then the goal of brand advertising is to sell more products/services at higher margins. While online performance metrics work great for the "more products/services" part, new media has yet to successfully address the laundry list of difficult-to-define metrics that traditional advertising has created to measure brand advertising effectiveness, i.e. brand recognition, awareness, perception, lift. The difficulty is that each of these metrics requires an interactive dialogue with large numbers of people to create meaningful measurements. Wait a second -- that sounds exactly like what defines new media!

The ability of new media to create a dialogue with massive audiences should already enable us to measure branding metrics to a degree of efficiency never before possible. In fact, the ability of new media (and social media in particular) to deliver real-time market feedback on brand perception and brand creative effectiveness can not only help to create more efficient markets for brand advertising online, but it could very well prove to be the tool advertisers are looking for to improve efficiency in their advertising efforts through traditional media. Imagine the ability to support creative and buys for television based on your social media branding campaign metrics and results.

There are two vital elements required to bring about the branding metrics that will unlock brand advertising's spend on new media. First, systems (what we call marketplaces at my company) must be set up where people are easily able and properly incented to participate in the right type of brand dialogue over the proper period of time. Second, there need to be better systems by which we capture, analyze and feedback what people are saying to measure the effects of brand advertising and refine brand advertising efforts.

New media has the potential not only to be a great branding medium, but to revolutionize the efficiency and accountability of branding efforts across all media. For this reason, new media should be held to a higher standard than traditional media by brand advertisers -- but that doesn't mean brand advertisers should be forced to accept repurposed performance metrics.

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