Syndicated research holds a critical role in the development phase of any campaign. Once the key business challenges have been identified and a competitive audit has been conducted, the industry landscape begins to take shape. Then comes the elusive, key question: Who is the core target, really? Where are they going; what are they doing? Thinking? Eating? Listening to? Watching? For how long? And how often? Never mind the psychographics, it’s a lot to take on.
Empires have been built helping marketers answer these questions: Simmons, Nielsen and ComScore to name the major ones. Their data fuels just about every media department — at considerable cost. A year’s subscription to ComScore is larger than some brands’ media budget. But it’s our bible, providing “apples to apples” and keeping us honest and consistent no matter what campaign we work on.
Challenges. If we think about it, though, there are aspects of these methodologies that leave some pretty big holes. Rationalize it all you might — there’s no other choice in many cases — but the facts are clear:
ComScore doesn’t account for viewability, ad fraud, or bots (good or bad). When we run a report, there’s a good chance that a significant portion of those traffic numbers never actually happened.
And innovations in browser tracking, via Google or otherwise, are far from perfect. For instance, Google happens to think that I am a 54-year-old man because of some of the searching I do for work, not the 30-something female with a Subaru, cat and two kids who I happen to be. Who’s out there paying for those irrelevant impressions?
Simmons and MRI still rely very much on memory for their audience research. Humans are expected to remember what they were doing over the past seven days, four weeks, 30 days or 12 months, and to report on those behaviors as accurately as possible. Well, memory is imperfect, some of the methodologies are leading or fishing, and some questions are so open-ended that the participant is left with nothing to do but to pull answers out of their you-know-what. (I have trouble recollecting whether I responded to that meeting invite my account team sent 10 minutes ago.)
Not to say that measurement isn’t improving. Broadcast is making headway with set-top-box data. Out of Home measurement now takes into account much more than Daily Effective Circulations. And mobile is helping to weave it all together. But even though the third parties are doing their best to keep up, it’s just not very integrated because foundationally the systems are still super separate.
And even if we’re getting closer, think about it: the consumer is eating breakfast, watching TV, checking Facebook on her phone and getting ready to make her daily commute — all at the same time — and none if it means anything if she’s not truly paying attention.
The point is that when it comes to accurately gathering the research, much of what audiences do offline is forgotten or, at the very least, remembered quite poorly. And what they do online or via mobile melts into a sea of questionable traffic and activity that has the potential to skew data beyond recognition. Marketers are left holding the bag, trying to piece it all together when it may not mean much in the first place.
Enter Big Data. Syndicated research will not be with us for long. And big data is well poised to replace it.
This is a real opportunity. Not only are consumers learning to track their own behaviors — via wearable tech, mobile and setting media preferences across every device — but providers are increasingly able to monitor those behaviors so that they can better adapt their offerings to the user’s interests (and yes, push and sell more product). All of this is happening on a much more accurate level than anything a human could ever report from memory.
It’s no longer about what someone may have done 15, 30 or 90 days ago. It’s about automating, aggregating, analyzing and correlating every second of every day, accumulating billions of data points and optimizing towards an advertiser’s ultimate Key Performance Indicator — the transaction, the video view, or whatever it might be.
There’s a whole book’s worth of argument on why we need to marry these capabilities with true psychographic research to best position ourselves for successful communications strategies.
But first we have to figure out how to successfully manage and utilize Big Data consistently. And we just might have to look to the syndicated research behemoths and understand how they championed standardization to do it.