As an industry, we have made several promises that we have yet to keep.
The promise of accountability, while realized for direct response marketers, is still a conundrum for most brand marketers. In our somewhat-modern digital marketing age, we have not yet overcome a number of measurement challenges, some of which are never acknowledged by the very strategists and media planners managing significant media investments.
Brand equity is immensely valuable. Stronger brands produce stronger business results. This is as true today as it was a generation ago. Of course, the attributes and consumer experiences that define a brand have changed, but that’s a topic for another column.
Branding and awareness are valid, albeit generic terms that are often used too freely to amorphously describe media objectives. This is the starting point where media investments can begin sliding down a slippery slope, as an often-misaligned measurement approach is applied.
The Mix Matters
It’s impossible to discuss branding objectives for digital media without understanding where digital fits in the greater context of the media mix. This is one part strategy -- deciding the role a brand wants digital to play in the mix -- and one part modeling. Ideally, a media mix is optimized as a result of long-term and consistent econometric media mix modeling. Unfortunately, this is both expensive and resource-intensive, since most brands don’t live in that utopian version of reality.
To be fair, a significant number of brands do not measure the impact of their traditional media with anything but the bluntest of benchmarks: aggregate sales and market share growth year over year (blunt, yes, but these are the desired end result of a working media mix). While a segment of the largest marketers do embark on media mix modeling efforts, the reality is that most brands do not. So don’t feel too bad. There are some creative ways to approach digital media measurement.
Your Approach Matters
Branding effectiveness starts with a planning question, one that the digital media industry has failed to consistently answer: How effectively has my media plan reached my target consumer?
Traditionally, the answer to this question is based on a standard media currency, the GRP. Of course, the GRP is ripe with its own issues, but we should not allow that to sidetrack the measurement conversation. (read: "In the Beginning, There Were GRPs). The IAB, ANA and 4As are working on the Making Measurement Make Sense initiative to address this issue - the uphill battle of migrating to an audience based currency.
Subsequently, once the media is running, the more important question becomes: How effective was the campaign in influencing consumer attitudes and/or behaviors?
The latter question relates to performance measurement, which essentially falls into the following hierarchy:
Branding Effectiveness Metrics: If your campaign has a branding objective -- awareness, preference, or purchase intent -- then ideally branding effectiveness measures should be used. While not the panacea of branding accountability, you will gain a directional read on the impact of the exposure to the campaign, rather than the slim response or engagement that results. The tools we use to measure branding effectiveness, intercept surveys, are fairly crude and really don’t capture the complete picture. But it’s the best we've got.
Proxies for Branding Effectiveness: While the cost of branding effectiveness measurement is dropping due to increased competition, many brands ignore this approach, struggle to allocate budgets, or don't take the time to adjust their workflow to execute the studies. Others only take snapshots in time and don’t really develop material insight. For some brands, like luxury brands for example, intercept surveys are an inappropriate mechanism to subject an affluent and sophisticated audience to. In these instances, proxies that combine components of reach and frequency and engagement metrics can be used, which may or may not actually reflect branding effectiveness. In this instance it is important to clarify the objectives as brand engagement rather than brand awareness. If you aren't prepared to measure it, it shouldn't be your objective.
Misaligned / No Measurement: Directly or indirectly, many “awareness” campaigns are not using any measurement at all. Sure, reports are provided with impressions and clicks and maybe even post-click/impression actions, but none of these are solid KP’s. Misaligned measurement is the same as no measurement at all. I don’t need to regurgitate the fact that neither clicks nor impressions, nor cpc or cpv are valid proxies for branding effectiveness.
For various reasons you may not be measuring branding effectiveness for your "awareness" campaigns. However, if you have been operating based on the misaligned approach, it’s time to climb out of that abyss and take a step up.
Getting Creative About Measurement
Next week I'll provide a blueprint for developing a weighted KPI that combines various engagement, reach and frequency, and commerce metrics to create a useful digital media performance score. Sometimes you need to get creative, even with measurement.
How has your brand or agency approached the gray area between direct response and branding effectiveness measurement? Share your story in the comments or hit me on Twitter @jasonheller.