I was extremely disheartened last week to read an article by Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer, who announced that he was finally coming around to the belief that digital marketing must submit to be measured and compared according to Gross Ratings Points (GRPs), which is a way of counting the number of people who are exposed to an advertisement. Although he stopped short of calling GRPs the only way to measure, his comment signals a step back in both digital in particular and marketing overall. It’s a sign that more and more new media leaders are giving up on the medium’s potential to change the marketing rules, and have succumbed to the traditional, interruptive model in hopes of speeding the move of dollars to digital. But I’m not about to cave in, and instead would like to promote the cause of a new marketing measure: engagement.
In his article, Ramsey claims that his mind was changed after interviews with numerous smart people in the media buying and measurement field. Examples include:
- “At the end of the day, we ultimately need a standard…. We need a metric that will allow marketers to mix and match and to allocate dollars across whatever the platform is….” —Pam Horan, CEO of the Online Publishers Association
- “…If you don’t have [GRPs], I don’t see how you can really understand the intricacies of your media plan or compare it across media.” —Gian Fulgoni, Chairman of comScore
Ramsey claims that marketers want two questions answered: First, “How successfully and efficiently did I reach my target audience?” He calls the GRP, a measure of reach and frequency, something that can answer this. The second question is tougher: Did my advertising influence the intended target’s attitudes, perceptions, or behaviors associated with the brand?” The GRP doesn’t address this.
I agree with the overall points of these experts: Marketers do need a standard measurement across media, and we do need to know how successfully and efficiently they reached their target audience. But measuring eyeball impressions is no longer good enough for any form of marketing. In a world of 3,000 ad messages a day and technology that allows unprecedented ad skipping, the “impression” is less and less able to sway purchase habits. It is failing to answer Question #1, above, and has decreasing impact on Question #2.
Ironically, while the digerati are giving in to the call for GRP measures, at least one big traditional media buyer is heading in the opposite direction. In a recent Ad Age article that suggests the recession is leading marketers to “hit the reset button” on where they put their dollars, Phil Cowdell, head of WPP media agency Mindshare, says:
I feel we could be facing an inflection point in our industry. The often contradictory forces of procurement-driven cost reductions and the marketing departments’ calls for more, smarter and better [approaches] will create an increasingly uncomfortable and potentially less effective operating zone for agencies. The only viable way forward is to shift from the procurement-oriented benchmarks of input measures such as CPMs [or cost per 1,000 viewers] to more output-oriented measures such as cost per hand-raiser and cost per lead. We need to move away from pure cost to a more-considered value equation.”
Meanwhile, data continues to show that the only way to successfully sell product is to get people to willingly engage with marketing. Instead of capitulating to the old-world measure of impressions, we must measure digital—and all marketing choices—according to the higher standard of engagement. Reach and impressions represent the wallpaper of a consumer’s day. But engagement is your welcome foot in the door of the consumer’s mind.
While there is no firm consensus among new media gurus on the definition of “engagement,” most sources point to a common theme: When people willingly direct their attention to your marketing, you have achieved engagement. There are many types of engagement and some can be more meaningful than others, for example:
- Reading text (consciously)
- Watching video (consciously)
- Playing games
- Creating text/graphics/audio/video
Every item on this list requires the consumer to choose to pay attention to your marketing.
While admittedly imperfect, engagement is the closest thing we have to the next holy grail of marketing measurement. It fits with a common-sense belief that when people get more personally involved in your marketing, they are likely to develop a more favorable impression of your brand and learn something important about your product or service. Engagement is extremely measurable thanks to digital tools that can gauge everything from time on site to number of video views. And engagement is versatile enough to work across all forms of media. For example, Facebook apps can read how many people are using the code, and TiVo and Nielsen are now reporting which TV commercials are skipped and which are replayed.
Finally, changes in consumer media habits suggest that engagement will become even more important going forward. We are spending more of our media time in “lean-forward” mode. According to a Forrester report that called engagement “marketing’s new key metric”:
…Passive consumption of media is waning. Individuals dismiss or ignore marketing messages in lieu of information available from an ever-increasing number of resources, such as product review sites, message boards, and online video.”
The biggest downside to engagement is that it requires thought and processing, rather than just counting eyeballs. Engagement is multidimensional, and marketers and their media agencies must work together to define the right measures for each program up-front. And while it is important, engagement is merely the beginning of a robust measurement program. From this starting point, brands must build metrics to ensure that this foot-in-the-door leads to closing a sale.
It’s not easy for Ramsey and other digital-marketing leaders to change the media measuring and buying habits of thousands of marketers, but it is the right thing to do for our clients, our businesses, and the people who buy our products and services. Who’s with me?