Always the lightning rod of economic activity, the advertising and media sector has seen unprecedented changes in both audience behaviour and brand investment as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns across the world.
To what extent these changes are permanent is still unclear, but brands face a period of uncertainty and caution as they and their agencies take stock and assess what the new normal for media and advertising means. We hope that at the same time, the opportunity will be taken to consider what should really be measured in terms of media and marketing investment and performance. So much is changing, and COVID-19 is an immense accelerant.
During the last decade, the digital media industry has flourished as marketing dollars poured in based on the promise of quantifiable performance, but the entire edifice has been based on an arguably flawed fixation with micro-measurement and targeting.
Let’s set aside the issues that have led to the demise of cookies, concerns about privacy and fraud and focus on the other by-product of all of this, which is the neglect in thought about and understanding of audiences. The marketing industry’s fixation with the over-simplified, short-term correlation between what people click on and buy has resulted in huge gaps in our understanding of how brand messages and media content influence people.
If the financial crisis of 2008 prompted marketers to focus on efficiency rather than marketing effectiveness, and if we have learnt from that, then the COVID-19 crisis will hopefully prompt a significant re-alignment of the KPIs we measure, putting audience and effectiveness out in front of pure price efficiency.
Before COVID-19, there was plenty of debate about, and beginnings of some serious action to improve and evolve media measurement. Initiatives such as ISBA’s Origin project (the national activation initiative of the World Federation of Advertiser’s principles of cross-media audience measurement), has created admirable momentum as have BARB’s Dovetail and CFlight from Sky and Comcast.
Meaningful cross-media audience measurement represents a step-change for marketers in understanding the impact of their marketing investment, at scale. All of this, while showing much promise, is still at a tentative stage and it is becoming clear that not only will cross-media measurement initiatives need to accelerate, but that these are not the only solutions brands and agencies should be thinking about.
Google’s decision to remove third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022 ratcheted up the tension in the media industry about targeting, but COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on what we don’t know about audiences right now.
The lockdown has accelerated the structural changes in media consumption particularly concerning TV and online content. The blurred lines between linear TV viewing, on-demand and video content are even more blurred as lockdown created a huge surge in digital content consumption, traditional TV viewing as well as ad-free streamed box-set binging. The impact on BVOD commercial impacts is, however, less clear, as it remains un-measured. So, with rapidly shifting audience behaviours, the answer to the cross-channel “where is my reach” question continues to be as elusive as ever.
So how should brands approach these challenges and utilise audience measurement solutions that work in the current context?
Part of it is a mindset; a willingness to embrace collaboration, continual experimentation, and broader thinking are essential ingredients. Brands should not be afraid to seek out hybrid solutions, for example working with media owners using first-party data to build audiences insights around specific objectives. This offers a critically important third way to effective audience building, understanding and of course, measurement.
If the key principles are the need to understand audience behaviour, deduplicate reported impressions/impacts and get better at attribution, then here are a few areas brands and agencies should focus on:
- Explore multi-media optimisation – learn how to achieve incremental reach by adding extra channels to the media mix – and measure it! Understanding the right balance between TV and online video is crucial, but so is creating a detailed picture of how effective each channel is. Constant measurement and benchmarking are pivotal here.
- Close the cross-media and cross-platform insight gaps by using specific and transparent audience data to understand who you are reaching across different media and platforms through a specific campaign and build on what you learn for the next one. Again, audience measurement is the key ‘litmus test’ here. There are companies out there with robust approaches that can bring offline and digital audience data together now.
- Double-down on improving your understanding of the desired demographics for your brand, their relationship with it and what impact campaigns are having on this segment. There are simple tools which can be deployed on client sites to gain deterministic audience insights.
- Take a broader understanding of audiences – look beyond the obvious purchasers of a category to those who influence or have a particular interest in products and services in a professional or personal way.
Right now, we are looking at a future with less personalisation and data gathering and just as audience measurement is more crucial than ever, we have a disjointed picture of who is enjoying what media where.
The answer is to embrace experimentation in measurement and explore the new normal of audience interaction.