Taking A Stand Against Standards

Every brand needs metrics that matter.  It's a simple fact of modern marketing and the fast-paced, fact-based media culture we all live in. But just as every brand has its unique value proposition and even digital DNA, each has its own metrics that matter. It's a huge universe. And while digital marketing has some serious measurement issues to overcome in order to accelerate the brand dollars migrating online, standardizing the metrics that matter is not one of them. Take digital marketing attribution, for example. Current efforts to standardize them are not serving anyone's current growth priorities. Brands and agencies need latitude to craft and execute against their own metrics. Restrictions simply won't enable more advertising or even more success. 

The move toward standardization has long-been rumored and was articulated about a month ago with the Bain & Co. report "Making Measurement Make Sense," which is supported by the IAB. Among the five principles set out in the report is  one that recommends the IAB "determine interactivity 'metrics that matter' for brand marketers, so that marketers can better evaluate online's contribution to brand building." In theory that's fine. Every brand needs metrics that matter. However, the report goes on to say that the industry must "identify and define the specific metrics most valuable to brand marketers and define and implement reliable standards for existing metrics."

That's not making sense. It fact, it strays into trouble. Implement standards for attribution metrics, which is clearly part of this statement, and you get a very small definition of success when that definition needs to be a very wide strike zone. Here's an example. Suppose a cruise company runs a TV network campaign focused on the 65+ customer segment and features an 800 number. It also runs a display ad campaign on travel sites and features a web link and an accompanying search campaign. Suppose 25,000 people call that 800 number and analytics show that the most recent exposure they had was the display ad on a travel site. That doesn't mean the display ad should get complete attribution. It's impossible to say that the TV ad didn't add to the awareness of the company and the campaign. But when you standardize that process, it's tempting to see the last click gets the credit.

Now let's take a car dealership. If formal established standards and practices for attribution trend toward the actions taken at the bottom of the sales funnel, that dealer may focus on discounts, when what's really needed is overall awareness of the dealer's location and brand affiliation. The dealer would be influenced by practices that work for some companies -- but not for his. 

Establishing best practices for digital marketing is called for in the attribution debate; standards are not. Formalizing attribution metrics is actually an anti-standard. It goes against the concept of defining and publicizing best practices. The one thing the digital marketing business should standardize is a pledge to stop the obsession with last click and last view attribution. Marketers need to see the entire funnel, not just the bottom of it.

Business collaborations and trade groups should have one goal in mind: accelerating the brand dollars spent on digital media.  Let's let the market decide on which forms of attribution modeling work best. Pegging down standards may ultimately limit progress.

1 comment about "Taking A Stand Against Standards".
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  1. Pat Lapointe from Growth Calculus, September 6, 2011 at 8 p.m.

    This is the "every snowflake is unique" argument that draws on the fundamental belief that innovation and creativity are constrained by metrics. Wrong. Innovation and creativity can be constrained by the WRONG metrics. But when creativity and innovation are applied TO selecting the right metrics, success blooms through more rapid iteration. This is what the ANA and Bain are trying to do. The main obstacle to this common framework emerging is not the complexity of the logical challenge. It's the politics. All measurement is political. Someone is always threatened by any new approach to measurement. Yet in time, new ideas supplant the fears and progress is achieved. And the fear mongers wind up getting left behind.

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