Gaining Momentum

December 1, 2014

How the marketing industry is proceeding in its quest for cross-platform measurement standards

By David Ward

The combination of big data and new digital platforms has not only transformed the advertising landscape, it’s been the catalyst for a sea change in how brands, agencies, and media companies look to measure and compare each and every touchpoint along a consumer’s path to purchase.

From large organizations like the ANA, American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), to individual companies, the marketing world intends on coming up with new measurement standards that provide more accuracy.

The hope, from a brand perspective, is that better benchmarking and metrics ultimately lead to better data-driven decisions on how each and every marketing dollar is spent.

“Right now it’s an incredibly complex media consumption environment,” explains Advertising Research Foundation President and CEO Gayle Fuguitt, adding that everyone in the advertising ecosystem sees the need for high-quality standardized metrics. “There’s not a lot of true dissension. Everyone is scrambling to figure it out — and no one thinks that any one segment within the industry or any one organization has it right.”

One initiative doing much of the heavy lifting, on an industry-wide level, is Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS). Spearheaded by the ANA, 4A’s, and IAB, 3MS works to systematically develop a new set of principles surrounding measurement, and then turn those into standards and best practices that put everyone on the same page.

The Media Rating Council (MRC), an independent body founded in the early 1960s to conduct audits of media measurement companies like Nielsen and Arbitron, has been put in charge of coming up with those measurement standards.

3MS, in conjunction with MRC, has taken some impressive early steps to develop a viewable impression standard for display, and is working on a gross rating point standard for digital marketing that should be ready next year. While both standards focus on digital marketing, MRC Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director George W. Ivie stresses that the new metrics are not designed to promote one type of advertising over another.

“We’re media agnostic,” he explains, though he suggests that the majority of the new standards are aimed at platforms like display and mobile. “One of the goals is for the digital space to become friendlier, measurable, and comparable to other media so that it encourages brand advertisers to use and trust digital more. If all that is successful, possibly more dollars will flow that way.”

Others suggest that high-quality measurement standards across the industry could be the rising tide that lifts all advertising platforms. “The development of industry-wide metrics will actually push marketers toward a more well-rounded media plan,” predicts Michael Macri, marketing science manager at Ford Motor Co.

Apples, Oranges, and Attribution

The 3MS initiative is welcome news for some marketers who have been patiently waiting for a way to accurately compare ROI across platforms, e.g., a mobile pre-roll video ad, a full-page placement in a national print magazine, and a programmatically placed 30-second spot that airs on regional television. For most others, industry-wide measurement standards present a great way to compare and contrast with metrics they’ve used for years.

“Industry standards are great reference points and benchmarks so we can evaluate and tailor our programs to our specific needs,” explains Judith Breisch, staff marketing operations analyst at Citrix, creators of popular web-hosted services such as GoToMeeting, GoToAssist, and GoToTraining. “There are also peer group subsets that we can use to develop benchmarks for us.”

Interestingly, most companies are not looking for a way to instantly and accurately compare a consumer liking a Facebook page to clicking on a banner or seeing an outdoor billboard. Instead, brands want these industry-wide standards to help them develop accurate attribution metrics so they can measure and analyze the often dozens of touches a customer may have with a brand during a period of time.

“The attribution model is understanding not just the number of consumer contacts that took place, but the order of those contacts, and the platforms that they’re seen on — and then understanding how all that plays out in the consumer decision,” explains Fuguitt. “Then it becomes a matter of literally matching the consumer decision process to purchase with the executive C-Suite decision-making process.”

Some companies, like Ridgeland, Miss.–based diversified technology company C Spire Wireless — winner of the 2014 Marketing Analytics Leadership Award, have had success in measuring cross-channel attribution. (Read “In Good Company,” on page 5.) “In our industry it’s always been very hard to get attribution between digital behavior and a consumer’s in-store activation,” explains Lisa Flynt, director of brand marketing and growth strategy at C Spire. “We knew that a large percentage of our customers were going to our website before they went to our stores but we could never quantify and track that path to sale — now we can.”

Gathering accurate attribution metrics is a complex process for any brand because of the multiple messages and multiple channels generally involved. “It certainly is a large endeavor to merge those measurements between online and offline,” explains John Hershberger, interim enterprise data and analytics officer at financial services company USAA. “We’re now able to see cross-channel in a much more meaningful way but the volumes and click-trails make the process far more time consuming and challenging to sort out.”

Attribution metrics can be an eye-opener for marketers who, in the past, may have only cared about the contact that triggered a response, whether it was the first or the 80th contact with that consumer.

These kinds of metrics require that media planners, media buyers, and the overall marketing department show a bit more patience, which can be challenging because they tend to want to know instantly what’s working and what isn’t.

“When you execute a program you have to give it time for the results to be seen. Determining the attribution window is a key requirement,” Hershberger says. “You have multiple channels being executed simultaneously and you often have waves of communication in any channel. It all makes it very difficult to parse out the stimulated and incremental yield from any activity and requires the gathering, measuring, and analyzing of a much broader data set than in the past.”

Ford’s Macri adds that attribution metrics also mean educating marketers whose day-to-day work may be limited to only one channel. “When you start to talk about media attribution at a higher level and comparing traditional print or TV with digital, a lot of people can’t get their head around something that is still relatively new,” he says.

Whether they’re developed internally by a company or are part of an industry-wide initiative, good metrics can bring focus to the marketing department, explains Antony Barton, a director of marketing research at Intel Corp.

Several years ago Intel decided to reevaluate its marketing metrics, so it worked with global management consulting firm Bain & Co. to study how successful worldwide brands such as Coca-Cola and Samsung measured results. That research led to the internal development of a measurement platform known at FIT (Flexible, Impactful, and Transparent).

“On a quarterly basis, we now look at any major spend programs — so that’s $5 million and above — with someone from the campaign coming in and explaining their metrics,” Barton says. “One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was getting some of our partners in marketing to articulate what the goal of the campaign was — because we can’t get accurate metrics until we understand what they’re exactly looking to accomplish with the campaign. Now our approach to metrics is forcing them to come up with a very clear, concise statement on what is the purpose of this marketing campaign.”

For every campaign, Barton says that he and his department try to focus on a handful of the most relevant metrics to track. “We try to limit it to two or three,” he says. “There are a lot of other things we can measure but most of those are probably more tactical.”

Barton was among those eager to see some industry-wide measurement standards, saying, “It is important to have standard metrics on things like ad recall or brand name likability or confusion, because you always want to see how you’re doing relative to your competition. But in the absence of those external norms, we do have our own historical metrics so we can see how we’ve done before.”

Best Practices

Even with the eventual arrival of industry-wide 3MS standards, most brands will still continue to tailor their own metrics. The goal is to integrate external and internal metrics, similar to current practices with data, in which third-party input is combined with proprietary information marketers collect in their customer base.

At Citrix, Breisch explains, “We have a very layered approach to measurement. We have traditional aggregate marketing mix models, we do general attribution, and we actively experiment to close the loop and validate the market. One of our big challenges is being able to collectively and holistically view all of those things and relate them back to our customers and how we’re impacting their buying habits as well as their engagement with us.”

Breisch adds there is an imperative within Citrix for more data-driven decision making, suggesting that support from executives outside of marketing is key to developing a great metrics platform. “One thing that is important is involving your cross-sectional stakeholders rather than driving the whole thing from within the media team,” she notes.

That notion was echoed by C Spire’s Flynt, who adds, “It can’t be seen as just this marketing thing. It has to be seen as something that supports all functional areas and is part of all strategic business decisions. Because it does cost money and it does require a lot of resources — we used a lot of our IT resources to build out our measurement platform. And when you do start to begin to make decisions based on data and get out on the ledge, you need to have people behind you saying, ‘Guys, we think this is going to work.’”

Although measurement departments need company-wide support, Intel’s Barton says they can’t be afraid to take on marketing if the ad campaign is not making its metrics. “One bit of advice is to position your measurement team as an objective third party,” he says. “We don’t, for example, believe that agencies should be measuring their own work. You also need to have a playbook of objective metrics that you can always refer to.”

For Macri of Ford, a good team is paramount when it comes to maintaining a consistent form of measurement across a diverse range of media. “You need resiliency, patience, and strong subject matter experts, including data scientists who really understand data structures,” he says. “And then you need IT to be your best friend and help you decipher what is possible with existing data structures and how they can be stored and transferred.”

Hershberger at USAA says a good working partnership is needed between the measurement/analytics department, the chief marketing officer, and the finance department. “It really is a collaborative effort to establish the measurement framework,” he says, adding that measurement teams can’t be afraid to step back to see if they’re on the right track. “One process that we’ve developed internally is a pretty strong orientation for external benchmarking, so we’ll have folks from time to time come in and take a look at what we’re doing and compare and contrast our efforts to other systems they’ve seen in this space.”

USAA’s measurement and analytics platform is best in class, having won the 2013 Marketing Analytics Leadership Award. Still, Hershberger says he welcomes the arrival of industry-wide measurement standards.

“Standardization of marketing measurement benefits all. When there are generally accepted approaches that are widely used by a broad audience, you end up with more accountability,” he explains. “Accountability is best served by having standardization around techniques and approaches and the type of information used for marketing measurement.”


"Gaining Momentum." David Ward. ANA Magazine Spotlight. December 2014.

You must be logged in to submit a comment.