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Playing to the Wrong Metrics Is Hurting Your Business

CRAIG_BENNER_075R2We’ve all heard the expression, “actions speak louder than words.”  That phrase rings especially true in the ad tech space, as the industry intuitively know what it should be doing and how it should be acting – but defiantly stands back and does little to fundamentally change.

To preface, I’ve been in the audience targeting space for a long time.  Long enough to see the radical maturation process of both audience targeting itself and how it fit into digital media in general. I saw first-hand the rapid pace of invention, most notably in the past 3-4 years, and the changes have been astounding. I saw how this rapid innovation, specifically aimed at trying to solve the modern marketer’s problems, were often times self-serving and stood in contrast with a marketer’s true and ultimate goal – to help their brand win.

To better illustrate this divide, below is a list of core topics and themes that we MUST all be thinking and talking about.  Following is a comparison between how a CMO and most of the actors in the ad tech industry might address these topics and themes.  This helps makes it abundantly clear – we are not on the same page.

First – let’s look at viewability. If an ad is seen, it’s more impactful than one that isn’t, right?   The CMO (and any sane, logical person) would say yes, unequivocally. This concept of viewability should take priority; every other metric is pointless if it doesn’t follow a viewed ad.

While the concept of viewability continues to gain widespread acceptance, the general industry sense is that viewability is still only an element of a campaign’s overall success measurement plan.  This drives the wrong behavior, as viewability should be the starting point. This lack of priority creates several inherent problems.

First and most damaging is if you use typical cookie-based success measurement, non-viewed ads can and usually do perform better than viewed ads when measured by certain popular metrics.  In that model, it’s not about someone viewing and being influenced by an ad; it’s about getting a cookie on a machine.  So not only are those non-viewable ads not truly driving results, but partners will optimize to them – exacerbating the problem.

CMOs are also aware that research shows most people do not research and buy on the same internet-connected device.  This makes cross-device targeting and measurement critical.  From an industry perspective, a campaign is successful if an ad exposure and conversion take place on the same machine, yet we acknowledge that this rarely happens. This legacy, singular-device measurement approach is ineffective, and a shows a complete misalignment between modern consumer behavior and how we track digital advertising success.

Similarly, CMOs realize that most commerce still happens offline – around 94% according to the US Commerce Department.  This means that there is a huge opportunity to measure the impact that online advertising has on in-store sales.  The problem is (again), the industry uses cookie-based measurement, and cookies can’t go into a store and buy something.  This leads to digital advertisers focusing on e-commerce, the smaller play.  Or best case, it leads to surveys, proxies, and modeling to try to measure offline impact. Such an approach produces results that are directionally sound at best and don’t tell a complete story.  In either scenario, a CMO is judged on overall marketing ROI, so online and offline convergence is key.

These are 3 simple examples, but there are more.  All in all, the world is completely different than it was as recently as a couple years ago, so the industry should be, too. We need to divorce ourselves immediately from the last-cookie measurement model, whose architecture was developed in 1995. Think about it, tens of billions of dollars in media spend is transacted based on a concept that was created 20 years ago. I think we can all agree this has to change.

This disconnect dominates the industry and holds us back from our full potential. All of the ad tech innovation out in market today is laser-focused on becoming the best player in a completely flawed game. If we invest our resources to solve real industry problems versus trying to simply game the system, we’ll be in great shape.  Let’s focus our attention on viewability, verification, cross-device measurement, online/offline convergence and proper attribution. Digital metrics and true business performance will align, creating success for advertisers, agencies, and publishers alike.

Let’s be better and start working together to measure everything differently.  Start embracing identity-based targeting and measurement immediately.  Everything we do should track back to business outcomes, as those are the only metrics that truly matter. Measurement drives behavior and behavior drives results. The tech is not the obstacle, it’s our own thinking and burned-in tendencies that hold us back. We can be better, and I know we will be better. As an industry and as leaders, let’s collaborate and listen to one another to make metrics matter.

To this, many will say ‘I can’t afford to make wholesale changes in how I do things!”  To that I’ll say ‘you can’t afford not to.’

Craig Benner serves as Senior Vice President for Viant. In his role, Craig leads all strategy and execution across the Western, Central, and Southern U.S. markets.  An eight-year veteran of the organization, Craig has helped architect countless successful media programs and strategies on behalf of major brands and agencies within the territory. 

  • David Cristofaro

    Thank you for the very interesting article, Craig. As a market researcher, I find it heartening that the focus isn’t just on making an impression through an impression and on whom the impression is being made. This means that the effective development of personas is a mission critical task for marketers, and to validate their hypotheses through gathering data on the back end on further consumption of content and actual buying or prescribing behavior in all channels.

    Content marketing is a powerful force, but it has to be done right. Doing it right means insuring the activities underlying a content marketing strategy actually lead to the desired business outcomes. To know this means having the right metrics at your disposal and performing real effective marketing research to fill out persona profiles more completely or modify them and re-measure.

    I don’t think anyone can afford not to do this, given what must be invested in the execution of content marketing.

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