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Magazines, Mix Modeling: More Level Playing Field

In the former Soviet Union, central economic planners issued production quotas for state-owned industries. A ball-bearing factory, for example, would be told to manufacture a specific tonnage in a given year -- with no thought given to which size bearings would actually sell in the world market. Led by such misguided "planning," no wonder the U.S.S.R. failed.

Imagine, if you will, a marketer using the total dollar amount of their annual print budget as a proxy for the gross ratings points that the print budget is expected to deliver when creating marketing mix models. Strange as it may seem, such imprecision happens quite often, along with the use of other inadequate magazine modeling input data. Given that 60% to 70% of marketers use marketing mix modeling, according to the Association of National Advertisers, it becomes clear why magazines are often behind the budget allocation 8 ball when compared to other media, particularly television.

But times have changed. The good news is that magazine audience data have become far more granular over the last five years, thanks to a number of advances in research techniques. The bad news is that because mix modeling isn't your standard water cooler conversation fodder, few people in advertising and media are aware that these advances can improve modelers' evaluation of magazine advertising's impact on sales. That's something that needs to change, as it's a win-win-win: for marketers -- who are always seeking more precise ROI metrics; for agencies, which are usually tasked with providing modeling data to the specialty firms that build the models; and for the magazine industry, which may be able to justifiably obtain a larger share of media budgets.



To appreciate the disadvantage that magazines have traditionally faced, compare them to TV. A TV program accumulates its audience very quickly. Moreover, gross rating points (GRPs) for TV can be reported on a local market basis each and every week -- the preferred option for most modelers because they use weekly sales data at the local level. Magazines, by contrast, accumulate their audiences over the course of weeks or months. And their readership has historically been reported in the form of average issue audience data, which -- when used in marketing mix models -- incorrectly assumes that each issue of a particular magazine garnered the exact same readership. Moreover, magazine GRPs typically have been computed on a national, not local, basis for marketing mix models.

Thanks to recent advances in magazine audience research techniques, all of the disadvantages cited above no longer represent obstacles to the magazine industry. Print planners now have issue-level audience metrics showing readership variation within weeks of a publication going on sale. They also now have market-by-market data showing readership estimates across all 205 DMAs in the continental United States. And frequently updated audience accumulation curves now measure the speed with which individual magazines build their audiences. All of this provides much more robust ROI feedback to marketers. And while generating magazine inputs for marketing mix models has traditionally been labor-intensive and time-consuming, particularly for advertising agencies, this too will change. Just as technology already has altered just about every aspect of media planning and buying, so will it facilitate the easy importing of print insertion schedules using weekly data based on audience accumulation curves, issue-specific audiences and local-market audience estimates.

To be sure, you probably won't hear about these magazine audience measurement improvements in office cubicle chatter, nor are you likely to read about them on Facebook. But you can view recent studies by the Association of Magazine Media), GfK MRI, media agency MediaVest and publisher Meredith Corp., in collaboration with Ninah Consulting, PHD and its associated modeling company, BrandScience, and research firm Millward Brown.

Even with all of the challenges magazine publishers face in an increasingly digitized world, the opportunity provided by more enhanced mix modeling data is real and exciting. Media vehicles that can prove they "move the needle" will always get a bigger share of advertising budgets. Magazines are now in such a position. They need to communicate that to marketers and their agencies post haste.


3 comments about "Magazines, Mix Modeling: More Level Playing Field ".
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  1. Sarah Federman from Telmar, November 22, 2010 at 5:48 a.m.

    We think the better the metrics the better. Good work MRI.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 22, 2010 at 9:16 a.m.

    Note: Many of the media salespeople do not have access to research that the larger agencies do.

  3. Fraser E from Opinions expressed herein are solely my own, November 23, 2010 at 8:27 p.m.

    I applaud the effort, but let's make something crystal clear: Improved audience measurement and granularity does NOT equate to "much more robust ROI feedback to marketers", at least in the minds of most of the marketers I've worked with in the past few years. They are dying for "X exposure leads to Y sale at Z profitability" kind of metrics, and the elephant in the room is this: If they don't get those metrics, they go to media where they think they can. And that means online and DR, at the expense of offline and even display online. It may not be right, but it sure is the way it is.

    I've had this conversation over and over again with print partners for a long time now, and I plead for their help; Give me case studies, give me success stories, give me best practices to share with marketers to help them fight the urge to whack magazines and other, more upper-funnel efforts just because they're harder to link directly to sales. I'm batting .000 for assistance on this front. It's a huge challenge that transcends the medium, affecting the very capabilities of marketing as a practive, and yet the dearth of solutions is saddening and stunning.
    I'm afraid readership granularity moves us an inch when we need to move a mile.

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