Commentary

Performance, Performance, Performance

Reach and frequency and the core concepts of traditional media planning and advertising: For a given site, program, channel, radio station, billboard, newspaper section, a target audience (the reach) is exposed to a certain number of occurrences of the media (the frequency). On the Web, these concepts manifest themselves in metrics collected and reported from a number of recognizable services: audience measurement firms, like comScore and Nielsen, Web analytics firms, like Omniture and Unica, to companies somewhere in between, like Quantcast and Google, all have reach and frequency data. Many new-media metrics can be used to proxy frequency -- from time-based measures, espoused by audience measurement firms, to concepts like visitor retention or the repeat visitor rate cited by Web analytics firms. On the reach side, companies refer to concepts like "unique visitors."

These data, of course, available in free or for-pay tools, are certainly helpful for planning campaigns. But reach measures can be dirty (cookies, unduplicated unique users, estimates from panels, coverage error). Frequency measures can be just as dirty (problems recording time in single page visits or visits on the last page, do page views really matter with AJAX and rich media, cookies again, and so on). We all are aware of the challenges.

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Thus using basic reach and frequency measures for planning or evaluating a campaign do not suffice. So advertisers and agencies target demographics, like gender, age, income, education, and job title. It's a given that advertising in the Robb Report reaches a different audience segment than advertising in Popular Mechanics.

These brave new days, we have "behavioral" tracking, too. By taking into account visitor activity across sessions, such as past actions taken on a site or a roster of previous purchases, we can attempt to deduce what a person or segment responds to or is interested in based on their behavior.

Even with reach, frequency, demographics, and behavioral data to help guide advertising and media buying, we are missing an important attribute for maximizing the potential success of our campaigns. We do not have an available tool, whether free or paid, for advertising or buying media on or across sites according to measures of past performance. Such measures include ad click-through rates, conversion rates, goal completion rates, delivered impressions -- and perhaps even harder-to-quantify financial measures like ROI, ROAS, and ROMI.

Sure, historic, tacit knowledge of campaign performance exists and is used by agencies or publishers. However, there is no shared industry source that can help us answer "how has a site for display advertisement historically performed toward goals based on the reach, frequency, demographic and behavior of its audience segments?" Interestingly, a company minting money right now, named Google, can masterfully demonstrate performance in paid search campaigning and help advertisers unify it with segmented reach, frequency, and demographics.

Outcomes based performance measurement unified with reach, frequency, demographics, and behavior is what is missing in audience measurement tools, not frequently reported externally by Web analytics tools or ad serving tools, and not available in ad planning tools. When advertisers can target display ads, or even video ads, to desired audience segments by reach, frequency, demographics, and behavior in the context of performance, media optimization for display advertising will become just that: truly optimized.

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