For some time now, I've wondered when the digital media industry will see those oft-promised exponential revenue gains versus the incremental growth of the past few years. Seeking clues, I tend to overanalyze every bit of news, client feedback and analyst report that I can lay my hands on. In particular, I am looking for some form of innovation that reframes the digital opportunity and unlocks media budgets for unprecedented digital spending.
Earlier this month, I came across a ThinkEquity report featuring commentary from Ed Montes, managing director of Havas Digital. Sadly, Montes confirmed that we're still in search of that breakthrough innovation. He reported 8-14% growth in Q2 year-over-year for digital spending, which is nice but still incremental. He also identified the leaders (travel/retail) and the laggards (automotive/CPG), with CPG brands still hesitant regarding online media, given that consumers don't transact online, and online couponing remains limited in the category.
Interpretation: For products where purchases occur in offline channels, marketers continue to struggle to connect the dots between online advertising and brand and/or sales impact. This connection is easy to see when a brand's website is the first and final place a consumer visits when making a purchase. However, once a distribution channel enters into the mix, marketers cling to their old belief systems and online media is relegated to direct-response status. This isn't new news, but despite efforts across the industry, it's a barrier to big growth.
In my last submission I described "The Big Brand Theory" as an initiative we are leading at the behest of our clients and partners to find, measure, and evangelize innovations that make it easier for global brands to invest online. To be clear, CPG and automotive brands do advertise online, but they certainly haven't invested to their full potential. Consumer opportunity and technical capability abound for these brands, but demand has yet to materialize. So our goal is to surface and share examples of where new research techniques are paired with creative user experiences to engineer real brand and sales outcomes.
One idea that our Big Brand Theory attacks is the notion that online media can't be used to drive the very brand metrics that CPG, automotive and other channel-reliant marketers depend on. Despite terrific online advertising effectiveness solutions from companies like Dynamic Logic and Insight Express (and countless publisher studies), brands are still dubious about the benefits of digital advertising. But what if we could expand our measurement approach to incorporate new measures of impact, including:
· What brand-relevant activities exposed consumers conducted -- for instance engaging with a fan page or other social content about the brand.
· What purchase-related behaviors exposed consumers performed, for instance searching, reading reviews, or shopping for a product on a third-party retailer site.
· Cross-tabbing and benchmarking these insights against brand metrics from prior campaigns and industry norms.
In short, by broadening the definition of what constitutes impact, brands could measure and ascribe new value to online media campaigns in a way that strengthens the connection between online investment and real-world ROI. The exciting news is that this capability is possible now, powered by integrating pixel-based ad measurement with panel-based consumer measurement. Compete, comScore and Nielsen all have integrated clickstream-survey ad effectiveness measurement solutions that connect these dots.
And while measurement innovation does not itself validate the existence of new marketing opportunities for the biggest brands, there is compelling data, led by Dynamic Logic, which shows this is a promising new path for brands and media companies alike. The research from Dynamic Logic dispels old myths and demonstrates:
Direct-response ads have brand impact: Comparing the performance of brand-centric ads with ads that had a clear call-to-action showed that there were no differences between brand awareness and purchase intent metrics of each ad category. This held true for even the top performing ads that were tested in the study.
Online response is indeed a brand metric: In looking at the performance of a campaign for a sports drink, exposed consumers showed a 7% lift in brand awareness as reported via a survey, with more than 400% lift in visits to the brand's Web site and 33% lift in product-related searches for the brand. This argument is even more compelling when you include social media interactions as a measure of online response.
Online behaviors identify ad impact that surveys may not: Using an automotive campaign as an example, the research quantified the impact of increased exposure on awareness and purchase intent. Interestingly, while self-reported purchase intent did not increase at higher frequency levels, actual online consideration for the brand did steadily increase. Simply put, expanding the metrics used to measure the impact of a campaign adds new and critical insight.
The Big Brand Theory postulates that the new digital universe cannot materialize until an "innovation explosion" occurs. This doesn't necessarily mean that all of the old principles or techniques are extinct, nor does it devalue other media or research per se. It does mean that exponential growth requiring bold innovation -- like including clickstream behavior as a valid brand measurement metric -- is required for the next big growth phase. And with new, more comprehensive measurement, marketing as a whole can flourish.