Targeting: From Seeing to Believing

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 28, 2006

Almost 40 years ago, the media community started negotiating television deals on gross ratings points for persons instead of households. Ten years ago, some intrepid buyers started to include the importance of unduplicated rating points, commonly called reach, in their negotiations. More recently, a few buyers began to target consumer ratings instead of demographic ratings.

The tools for this next step are still evolving through fusion and related technologies that connect consumption studies with media measurement tracking data. On the side, a whole business of marketing mix modeling has grown up to provide direction on which marketing techniques are driving short-term incremental sales. VNU/Arbitron's much discussed single-source Apollo pilot might become the centralizing force. It is meant to provide marketing, media, and purchasing observations in a single source, driving strategy and tactics for targeting and execution in real time without the fog and complexity of probability models.

In the same 10 years, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has struggled to define and steer metrics for Internet planning and buying. Where this digital business model will end up continues to be topic No. 1 at cocktail parties and in boardrooms.

Amplifying this sense of the Wild West is BusinessWeek's report that "most academics and consultants who study online advertising estimate that 10 to 15 percent of ad clicks are fake." What is real is that marketers are willing to pay significant premiums for consumers with specific intents. And everyone is crowding around the Internet because they believe its interactive structure can provide real-time data on qualified exposures and through tracking, from Nielsen BuzzMetrics to Cymfony.

The rise of the Internet's qualified clicks has led marketers to think more deeply about what to value. Engagement is the new buzzword. And attention for your message might be the thing to measure.

All this brings us back to basic questions. What to say and whom to target? If we can get some message-tracking capability that links message attention to specific media - or better yet, to specific delivery vehicles - we might start evaluating media on target availability to our message instead of unqualified target exposures. The focus would be to find where consumers are most likely to see or hear and be receptive.

The relationship between the message and the media is becoming more important again. From growth of shops like Crispin Porter + Bogusky to the implosion of operations like IPG Media, this reality is crystallizing. In some places like YouTube and blogs, the message is becoming the media. The questions become, "What is the content?" and "How can we most effectively distribute that content to make an impact?"

Media has blurred distinctions between selling, entertaining, and servicing. The "new, new thing" is for creative folks to think up high-impact themes and messages, and media folks to say where consumers are most available for these messages and which media should convey them. The more innovative teams include brand managers, who expand messaging beyond selling and entertaining to product distribution, servicing, and relationship management.

As Integration, the London-based purveyor of Market Contact Audits (a brand experience management tool), might say: That's a whole lot of touchpoints to manage. It's essential to centralize the data. Today's approaches are the single-source panel (Apollo), the third-party fusion database (ACNielsen/Spectra, Experian/Simmons, and others), the expanded Customer Relationship Management database (linked by Claritas/prizm, Acxiom/Personics, and others), and/or some future version of Google. Market structures and consumer segmentations mine these databases to quantify demands and map opportunities.

As evolving societies, markets, communications, experiences, and related data grow more complex, the importance of organizing and prioritizing increases. In this storm, targeting remains key. It connects messages, people, themes, and experiences, and provides the only hope of proactively managing the brand's soul.

Mark Green is senior vice president, media services, ACNielsen Analytic Consulting, and the founding partner of the Media Learning Institute. (

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