For example, the title of a recent MediaPost article screamed "Brand Marketing is Dead." Obviously a headline designed to attract attention, but not exactly a nuanced position. "Interaction rates," the passionate author went on to say, "and click stream and repeat visits" are what we should be measuring instead of well-developed metrics like brand awareness, favorability or purchase intent. Around the same time Mark Kvamme of Sequoia Capital was cited in another MediaPost article as saying CPA would be the sales metric of the future.
These references are just a couple recent examples of a steady drumbeat of Direct Response-focused commentary that has only been intensified by the present financial turmoil. What the authors of this commentary are getting at is that measurement is important and that whenever possible we want to drive toward direct metrics (e.g., ROI). I agree on both counts. But here's our collective challenge: the vast majority of retail commerce--nearly 90% overall in 2008 and much higher for key Brand categories like CPG and Automotive--still takes place offline. Thus, for the majority of marketers evaluated based on their success in driving offline sales, it's a bold statement at best--and simply false at worst--that interaction rates or click stream data or repeat visits (to a Web site) are more useful metrics than proven tools like brand awareness/favorability, purchase intent or even reach and frequency, for that matter. These metrics certainly are not perfect, but they are tested, well-understood and comparable to metrics from other media.
We all know how well online activity in a DR context can be measured. What those of us focused on Brand marketing don't talk about enough is how the Internet also can easily, accurately, and economically facilitate measurement of Brand metrics. Impression delivery, reach and frequency and composition metrics are readily available for those with the right tools/partners. Brand awareness, favorability and other attitudinal variables are also easily, accurately and economically measured online--much more efficiently than they can be measured offline. Finally, econometric measurement is possible for some categories (it's most advanced in CPG); by matching data about individuals' offline purchases to data about their online ad exposure, a statistically valid ROI can be calculated for an online media campaign designed to drive offline sales.
With the advent of econometrics have we reached the holy grail of online measurement? Hardly. Statistically valid econometric measurement requires media budgets well into the 6-figure range for all but the very largest brands. The results are aggregated for the entire campaign (not broken out by individual placements or time periods) and delivered up to 3 months after the media stops running, to accommodate the purchase cycle and calculation time. These state-of-the-art econometric capabilities are an extremely valuable bridge until online budgets get large enough to show up routinely in Marketing Mix Models, but automated creative/placement-level CPA optimization they are not. With the sample sizes, time lags and noise levels involved, they simply can't be.
The foundation is strong, recent progress has been tremendous, and as an industry online Brand continues to improve its measurement capabilities--but we still have a distance to travel. At Brand.net we recommend and manage a portfolio of measurement technologies to keep our clients on the cutting edge, but we also remain realistic about what is possible and practical about how we manage marketing spend given the tools available. So let us measure wherever we can, but not fear to act where we cannot yet measure precisely. And while we evolve, let us remember that Brand marketing fundamentals are as important as ever, even online.