The Myth of Digital Measurement.

by Doug Weaver on June 28, 2011 at 3:23PM

Every time that some new aspect of digital media/marketing gets hot, the measurement crew rolls onto the scene and tells us how they’re going to make order of the whole thing.  Lately my Twitter feed and inbox have been bulging with stories about “last click attribution” and “media mix modeling” and next generation brand research.  But like Big Foot, Nessie or bi-partisanship, it’s time for us to see digital measurement for what it is:  a myth.  But before you rush off to find kindling to begin burning me at the stake for heresy, let’s look at the facts:

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PubMatic,which empowers publishers with one holistic platform to sell advertising more intelligently.

Fact One:  Digital is Permanently Dynamic. Not only do digital capabilities constantly evolve, but the pace of that evolution is constantly accelerating.  Which leads us to…

Fact Two:  “Measurement” Can Never Keep Up. All of the models we discuss seem rooted in recreating some form of measurement from the stable marketplaces of the past.  As long as we’re trying “update” or “reinvent” the GRP, market mix modeling, attribution and the like, we will fail. And these will never be truly compelling because…

Fact Three: We’re Always Onto the Next Thing. At the exact moment something in our world becomes stable enough to be measured in a scalable way, we lose interest in it and it becomes commoditized.  So there’s actually a value in NOT being measured.  (Just ask Facebook, which has written its own rules on ad sizing and measurement  to the tune of $2.1 billion in ad revenue).  Add to that…

Fact Four: Measurement Supports What We Already Want to Do. Marketers use research the way drunks use lampposts:  More for support than for illumination.  The idea that better score-keeping and more accurate numbers are going to tip spending is a lie.  What’s missing is not math or science, but rather a narrative analysis.  So take a look at…

Fact Five:  The Future of Measurement is Soft.   We need to radically alter our thinking about measurement in the world of digital marketing.  I think the real value lies in a model that’s both impressionistic and analytical; that draws in many data points and trends to help understand what just happened and what’s likely to make more of it happen in the future.

Think I’m nuts?  Believe that I just don’t “get” the subtleties of the measurement world?  Then consider that we’ve spent over 15 years focused on linear mathematical measurement and what do we have to show for it?  The click-through, last click attribution and advertisers doubling down on their TV spending.  You stick with Bigfoot.  I’m interested in something new.

Reader Comments (6)

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  1. rex briggs June 29, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Yes, Doug, you are nuts.

    Measurement is not a myth. In fact, I recall you using MY data and analysis liberally to make a presentation where you separated “myth” from “reality”. Remember that IAB presentation you penned? You used analysis to ward off the myths.

    Yes, there are crappy measurements that do stupid stuff (like last click attribution instead of proper holistic attribution). Or, foolish approaches that look backwards and force fit new marketing value creation into old world frameworks like GRPs for the purpose of using 80s type mix models — but don’t tar ALL measurement firms with the same brush. My firm has invented cross media measurement, and it has extended very well to measure social media, and many new concepts for more than a decade. Marketing Evolution invented holistic attribution over 5 years ago, and linked exposure online to sales online & offline. Remember the 1800 Flowers case study, Ford F-150 cases studies, as examples?

    The problem is that proper measurement can be expensive, and many want a cheap solution. Well, *you get what you pay for*. That’s not a myth, that’s a reality.

    Rex Briggs, CEO, Marketing Evolution

  2. Mark McLaughlin June 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Agreed, black box media mix modeling is an inside joke designed to make the procurement executives happy. All 3rd party media research services are 4 laps behind the consumer when it comes to realistic insights into media consumption patterns.

    We’ve generally done a good job as marketers evolving from “testing” to continuous learning and iterative change. The tip in revenues from analog media to digital media is a clear trend that is supported by continuous learning systems. Digital sellers feel that the tip is too slow but sellers don’t get a vote. Only marketers and their media investment consultants (media agencies in most cases) have a say in the overall allocation across channels. Sellers whine that these people are stuck in the past but they also fail to talk to these people about VALUE in the context of real marketing objectives.

    Digital sellers would rather insult the client for their consistent determination to use demographics for targeting strategies than to align with the buyers decision. There is a price that is paid for that kind of belligerence and, frankly, ignorance.

    The perception by sellers that marketers only value display advertising using click data is legitimate – this is true because the large majority of digital spending is sourced from direct response media budgets, not the budgets for investing in brand equity.

    Rather than complain that advertisers are dinosaurs for doubling down on their TV budgets, how about focusing on value creation that is aligned with the ways that TV works to lift brand equity scores?

  3. Doug Weaver June 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Rex Briggs….I thought I might hear from you on this. Rex, if you pull out of the defensive crouch for a minute, you’ll realize that your post actually reflects more agreement with my position than disagreement. What I’m attacking are simplistic, anachronistic measurement models that seek to use pure math and science in the service of attribution. That’s never been what you or Marketing Evolution have been about. As you said in this post, you are focused on “holistic attribution” and “linking” — that’s exactly where I was going with this post. You’ve always been up there on the rampart leading the revolution in measurement — don’t stop now and defend conventional approaches. We still need you!

  4. Jeff Einstein June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Nice piece, Doug. I’ve always maintained that marketing metrics are much less about what actually works and much more about what can be sold. Beyond that, the real reasons why brand advertisers buy TV over digital are twofold: first, because TV still delivers the scalable brand reach that big advertisers need and can’t buy elsewhere (with one notable exception), and second, because the media business is predicated primarily on convenience and expediency, not performance, and few things on the planet are less convenient than digital media.

    The fact that Facebook will eclipse $2.1 billion in ad revenue hardly speaks to the efficacy of measurement one way or the other. On the contrary, their success perfectly illustrates both the points above: very few big brand advertisers will commit big branding budgets to any franchise (like Facebook) that can’t deliver scalable reach, while the inherent convenience of the do-it-yourself advertising interface makes it possible for one out of every one hundred Facebook subscribers to purchase $300 of advertising.

    At the end of the day, measurement is (for the most part) how media professionals mitigate risk and hold onto their jobs.

  5. Harmandar Singh December 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Dear Doug, Love your piece! I sent you a message on your site. I’m doing a conference in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia on Feb 29 and would love to invite you as a speaker. I am a publisher of Marketing magazine here, President of the International Advertising Association Malaysia and Hon Advisor to the Malaysian Digital Association. I can send you more details. Thank you.


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