Media Metrics: Boardroom, Meet Blogroom
By now, much of the advertising world is hip to the benefits of digital media, even if it's hard to keep up with each new iteration. We've all traveled pretty quickly from digital experimentation to proven return-on-investment to the need to closely integrate online and offline communications.
But all of this merely scratches the surface of digital's full potential. Why shouldn't the digital realm be the starting point for all of our communications planning initiatives? The reality is, new technology has made online advertising look a lot more like offline anyway. Video units have replaced GIFs and rich media has replaced Flash. My agency's thesis is that if something proves to be true about your clients' customers in a digital environment, in many cases you can improve your total planning process for all communications by using the digital world as a test bed for informing your entire portfolio, both online and offline. You can learn to drive efficiencies in such areas as creative, customer relations, design and development, media planning, messaging and understanding consumer perceptions.
One of the basic differences between online and traditional media is the measurability of online. But what are we measuring? It's not good enough to merely use the results of what we do online just to improve our online advertising. What we should be measuring is real action - what people do online after they've been exposed to online messaging, even if they don't interact directly with your creative. This is much different than trying to apply theoretical results testing from a focus group. If you could find out what happened after each person looked at your client's magazine ad - whether or not they went into a store and bought the product - it would sure beat doing a focus group to find out what people say they would do, while sitting in an airless room eating free food. What if you could also find out what the folks who saw your client's ad said to each other about your product/service when they were jawing with their friends? Well, there is already a great deal of information about your consumers' attitudes available in the digital world. The information that blogs, forums, search engine behavior and chat arenas can provide, if mined appropriately, combined with data that can be gleaned from creating messaging online and testing the action or inaction it generates, can be used to optimize overall advertising effectiveness. And while this model is still formative, we're finding that consumer media consumption behavior and subsequent reaction is largely consistent online and off.
The idea is to use information gathered online and combine it with traditional research information, competitive information, planning goals, etc., to develop a messaging platform (or two or three). Then develop creative against that messaging and run it online. Study the results. What did people do? How many clicked and sought more information about your client? How many came back later looking for more? And in which environments did they do so? How did one message perform relative to another in a real environment, not a theoretical one like a survey or focus group?
In the accompanying diagram, the blue elements represent the traditional communications planning process. The red and green elements above are what my agency has added, and they come first. The sequence is Inform, Test and Execute. It's worth noting that only agencies that have complete control over a brand's total communications planning can use the entire process to optimal effect. It goes without saying that our process will only work for agencies that can effectively plan, develop and execute digital as well as traditional solutions using an integrated team that understands all of it and how it works together. The traditional silo approach to agency operation renders the process useless.
So let's take a look at this model in practical application. For Dave & Buster's, the national restaurant/entertainment venue, the digital arena proved to be a perfect research extension of traditional consumer focus groups. We developed five brand campaign concepts - which we called "Blind Date," "Distraction," "Food & Fun," "Grapevine" and "Summer Games" - and in tried-and-true fashion we tested the concepts in focus groups in California and Texas. But as we all know, one of the major shortcomings of focus groups is that we are relying on consumers to tell us how they would react - which is often completely contradictory to how they actually do. The two concepts that rose to the top as the strongest were "Blind Date" and "Summer Games." But we also simultaneously took our rough concept animatics and developed simple Flash banners out of them, finishing with a call to action: "We'd love to know what you thought of this idea. Click here to tell us." Then we asked respondents to answer questions such as "What prompted you to click on this idea?" and "Was the offer understandable?" We ran the banners on various online networks using channels such as Entertainment, Movies and TV, Music and Radio, and Sports and Recreation. The cost for the whole thing was minimal (less than the focus groups - including media and production), and the results were very interesting. Based on click-through rates, "Blind Date" and "Summer Games" resonated the best - giving us more ammunition for our final creative decision.
But from a media standpoint, the highest click-through rates came from the Movies and TV channel, in fact about 50 percent higher than other channels. While the lowest click-through rates came from channels devoted to things like sports. This told us is that our media planning targets might be more along the lines of the E! cable network than ESPN.
Yes, our model is formative, but the pieces can be used on an ad hoc basis: Blogs can be mined for information about your consumer attitudes. Search keywords and descriptions, as well as post-click behavior, can be tracked to learn more about what messaging garners what response from your target - as can clickstream behavior on your Web site. The point is, leverage the real-time benefits and rich information available in the digital world first as part of your overall communications planning process.
Owen Hannay is founder and owner of Slingshot LLC, a full-service advertising agency located in Dallas. (firstname.lastname@example.org)