The question of how to utilize reach is actually one that is probably more easily debated than frequency (and I welcome the debate as this is a much trickier discussion). In traditional advertising, we were taught that your initial campaigns should never attempt for exposure beyond 50% Reach (Coverage) into your target audience. This reduced the risk of over-exposure on your first campaigns, it allowed for word-of-mouth advertising, and it also allowed for some initial feedback to offset the performance of the campaign. Of course, the costs for achieving a 50% reach into your target audience would also depend on the audience itself as the out-of-pocket costs for this level of spending, especially when factoring in the frequency question, could be quite high.
The other consideration in offline Reach planning was market share. If you were a company that controlled a significant portion of the market share, you needed to spend enough money to at least defend that market share, if not expand it. Companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi spend much more money to defend market share from the competition (each other, in this case) because they have no choice.
Reach has appeared to be a secondary thought for most online advertisers since very few companies spend enough money online to truly consider market share as a determining factor. Most advertisers are still spending small budgets online, maintaining very DR metrics and measuring the ROI rather than the overall effect of their advertising. Online Reach planning seems to me more a factor of 3 elements:
In my personal opinion, Frequency is still the most important initial consideration when examining a budget plan, as Frequency guides what we can consider to be the most effective exposure level. Once you have determined what is effective, than the budget is what drives Reach. As more and more advertisers begin to stray away from a purely DR planning model and begin to use the web for Brand Development and/or Continuity Planning, Reach may become more than an afterthought and the desired levels for R/F will drive budgetary planning rather than budgets driving R/F considerations.
Until we get to that stage of maturation, we must recognize that the web is mostly underutilized by advertisers. Very few, if any, advertisers are effectively achieving a 100% reach and an “effective” frequency level for their campaigns. In the current state of affairs, the short term goals of testing the space and testing messages drives initial reach considerations while longer term campaigns are still falling short of their potential by only focusing on a small segment or portion of the total audience online.
The other factor is competition. Advertisers always examine the spending levels of their competitors, mostly utilizing AdRelevance or some other tool, to determine what they should be spending online. The problem with these numbers is that they are rarely correct. Dollars are typically overstated and segmentation of the online audience, which is much more easily accomplished here than in any other form of media, makes it difficult to accurately determine who is the audience. If you cannot clearly define the audience, it becomes difficult to estimate the reach that a campaign is achieving.
Reach will become a more important element of the planning process as budgets increase and media planners determine how to effectively integrate the web into the media mix. As planners begin to utilize the web as a continuity medium and increase the budgets, than Reach will be more of a consideration… don’t you agree?