February 24, 2012

Death by Data : What Advertisers and Media Planners Need to Know

By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

The internet is likely now the world's largest mass medium with more viewers and broader reach than radio, television and without question magazines and newspapers.

So why is it that advertisers have not whole-heartedly embraced internet ads? Why don't we see branding campaigns all across the mobile internet?

The answer to these questions lies in the numbers . . .

  • Media planners traditionally demand demographic and psychographic data that enables them to plan advertising campaigns targeting specific groups of consumers.
  • But these measurements are not readily available in the digital world. Instead, digital publishers rely on a completely different set of metrics -- from CPAs and CPCs to CPMs and CPDs -- which often confuse media planners.
So how do we bridge this gap between digital publishers and advertisers?

Old School Advertising

Marketers who wish to influence consumers know that they must first build brand awareness among a large audience. Typically, this translates into mass media brand advertising. A segment of this mass audience will then commit to buy the company's products, often after seeing another more targeted ad campaign.

Prior to the arrival of digital advertising, the media planner’s job was a lot less complicated. It was primarily concerned with Audience, Reach and Frequency and is based on a model that dates back to the time of “Mad Men”.

The role of the media planner has been to identify media properties with audiences that match their product's target market as closely as possible. For example, a media planner might run an ad in magazines read by “women between the ages of 23 and 25 who live in urban areas, have a disposable income of at least $2000 per month and go clubbing at least once a week.”

Planners also place media buys in a range of publications to meet set targets for reach (how many people view an ad) and frequency (how many times a person sees or hears the ad).

Publishers and broadcasters meanwhile accommodate the media planners' needs by compiling rate cards that detail a media's demographics. This information is based on annual user surveys, which while often criticised for inaccuracies, are assumed to be true for the basis of planning.

So why doesn't digital media work this way?

While audience, reach and frequency remain as crucial as ever, the digital age adds a new layer of interaction data as well as real-time measures of a campaign's effectiveness, such as

  • Sales
  • Downloads
  • Registrations
  • Facebook likes
  • Twitter followers
  • Unique visitors
  • Repeat visitors
  • Search queries
  • Visits to a particular page

Consumer usage patterns on the internet meanwhile are far more fluid than that of print, radio and television. Readers generally show less commitment to most media properties. If a site runs a promotion campaign, it can experienece incredible short-term growth. The number of visitors will spike . . . but they often do not stay for long. And thanks to search, consumers can be attracted to a granular unit of content within a title rather than the media property as a whole. For example, let's say that I'm a huge fan of organic chocolate, so I do a search for organic chocolate in Asia and find an article about it on baliadvertiser.biz. I check out the article, but the rest of the site doesn't interest me, so I am unlikely to return to it.

So the interactive nature of digital media makes it more difficult to provide advertisers with a clear, stable portrait of a site's audience. Publishers fail to answer the basic questions -- “Who are your readers? How do we know who we are reaching?” -- which in turn makes media planners hesitant to commit dollars.

The solutions

There are three changes that need to take place in our industry, the first two by advertisers and a third by publishers.

1. Media planners need to set clear digital campaign objectives. This changes the entire discipline. The clearer the objective, the easier it is to plan a campaign and measure success. There are many choices and metrics including:

  • Increase sales by x percent
  • Grow brand awareness by x
  • Banner views
  • 'Likes' on a Facebook page or Followers on Twitter
  • Number of Clicks to Call – actual telephone calls to your sales agents
  • Downloads
The measure of success is now often built into the type of media buy: CPM, CPC, CPD, CPA, etc.

2. Empower media planners.

The role of a media planner is no longer simply executional; it needs to be more strategic. Traditionally, once a media plan was signed off by a client, the planner's job was done. Nowadays, once the planning is out of the way, their job has only just begun. 

Media planners need to be empowered to make changes based on the real time performance of ads. No longer can a company run a single approved ad designed by the creative director. Companies need to create multiple versions of an ad, monitor which ones perform best as measured against clear objectives and be ready to replace one creative with another in mid-stream. Media planners need to be able to adjust and shift the media mix, reallocate budgets and move placements to increase performance.

Since interaction on the internet is hyper-measurable, the media planner can fine-tune campaigns in real time, based on analytics and data. Not doing this can easily translate into wasted money as a poor-performing choice eats through your campaign budget.

Media planners should also work with the team that manages the client's site, providing feedback on ad performance and possibly requests for unique landing pages based on a particular ad creative.

3. Content publishers need to meet advertisers half-way. Start by understanding your readers better and presenting the information clearly to advertisers. There are ways to profile users in the digital world. Social media users, for example, regularly share personal data – which is what makes properties like Facebook so valuable. But regular mobisites can still encourage registrations and poll users. More about this in Delynn's upcoming post.