The New Role Of Metrics: Comparing Apples And Oranges

One of the biggest metrics stories from the last few months boils down to two words: digital GRP. Whether it’s from Nielsen, comScore, or DoubleClick, one of the biggest challenges that digital measurement firms are trying to meet is helping traditional, brand-driven advertisers find a home for budgets online -- by making the vastly different worlds of digital and offline advertising finally comparable.

This is a major shift from the role we’ve traditionally assigned to digital metrics. From as early as the dot-com era, digital metrics’ leading goal has been to track user connections with ads -- through clickstream data, engagement metrics, or a variety of tools in between. With the birth of the digital GRP, the measurement business has announced that we’re going into a new line of business, as well: helping advertisers compare apples to oranges.

A TV to digital comparison is one of the most obvious examples of an apples-to-oranges comparison out there, but it’s not the only one. It’s also hardly the first example that the digital world has tackled. That’s a point I know from experience: AdBuyer, the firm I co-founded back in 2007 (and now a part of Mediaocean), was created to solve optimization problems across display and search.

But the new interest in digital GRP is such a watershed because it marks a clear interest in merging different channels that live in very different parts of the media landscape -- traditional on one hand, and digital on the other. The new interest signals that advertisers are really thinking seriously about the new convergence, and that marketers’ new role is ssupporting that convergence through making the comparisons meaningful.

This is the just the beginning of answering a serious need in the media world. What other apples-to-oranges measurement problems do we need to solve in the media space? Here are three that come to mind quickly:

The global sphere. The international brand is hardly new. But the brand with a single global P& L is a relatively new phenomenon -- and brands are looking to manage advertising globally as a result. There’s a lot of work left to be done on allowing true comparisons across the different global ratings systems -- allowing buyers to, say, easily translate from Nielsen to the U.K.’s Barb. (If apples to oranges doesn’t feel like the best analogy here, feel free to think of a better analogy -- say, dollars to pounds, or ketchup to Marmite.)

Cross-KPI.Ultimately, the point of metrics is to enable better optimization and spend allocation. That’s hard to achieve across different types of campaigns, with different KPIs, across different segments of a business. I see meta-currencies that help manage across very different goals as a significant new frontier here.

New media and traditional media. The digital GRP is, of course, an example of looking to sync new media with traditional media. But it’s really just the beginning -- as the rate of the birth of new-media channels means we’ll constantly need to manage across newer and older forms of media channels. How many click-throughs equals one share? How many app uses equals a page visit? How many check-ins equal a mobile site visit? These are the kinds of questions that already keep analytics professionals up at night, and get them out of bed in the morning. But with the rate of new media taking hold constantly, we’re going to have to think through meta-comparisons that allow media planners to rapidly include the newest of the new-media channels into multichannel modeling, quickly.

Again, these are just a few examples that I could shoot off quickly. But put more broadly, the goal of metrics going forward isn’t just to understand the path that consumers take toward our products. It’s about understanding how we manage across increasingly complex businesses, and increasingly complex sets of marketing channels, and making the holistic picture make sense. That means we’re going to be thinking a lot more about fitting apples together with oranges, as time goes on -- or else we’ll be stuck fitting a lot of square pegs in round holes.

2 comments about "The New Role Of Metrics: Comparing Apples And Oranges".
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  1. Nick D from ___, April 24, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.

    An interesting column - and one of many such pieces around the new landscape that we find ourselves in with digital GRPs. It's good to see that the industry is finally coalescing around a relatively transferable and easy-to-understand metric.

    My main concern is that this move is a case of two steps forward, one step back. Unfortunately, for many clients and agencies we're now seeing that "reach" is the end goal - with no recognition of the fact that you can 'reach' someone (ie put an ad in front of them) but have no impact on them. In print, R&F is used with the understanding that a full-page colour ad and a classified small-ad may have the same Reach (and Frequency) but very different roles and effects - we need to ensure very quickly that online brand managers and marketers understand that same point.

  2. Rob Schmults from Intent Media, April 25, 2012 at 10:09 a.m.

    Agree with Nick's comment. Both that Tim's column is spot on regarding the huge value of having true cross-channel metrics, but also (as Nick says) that we continue to focus on the right things and do not confuse means like "reach" with ends like customer acquisition.

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