digital, industry, measurement, performance

The Measurement Curse

That night, she learnt that size wasn’t everything.

It’s hugely ironic that what was being touted as the USP of the digital medium has now become a noose around our necks.

It all began a few years ago, when fledgling digital agencies and publishers – all eager to attract new business – began to tell clients, “It isn’t just cheaper – it’s more measurable. See?”

The flood of subsequent slides overflowing with page views, unique users, repeat users, average time spent, most popular content, average pages visited, bounce rate, page views by country, referring URLs, number of Twitter followers, number of Facebook fans, average number of comments on a post, average number of likes on a post, retweets, number of conversations, amount of influence, impressions, click-through rates, eCPMs, male/female ratios, et al, were usually more than enough to sell a client on the efficacy of the medium.

There’s no question that measurement tracking works. Good tracking helps us sell (the medium and the product/service) better, optimise our ads to increase performance, modify content on-the-fly to get more page views and much, much more.

It’s no surprise today that an advertiser’s key metric of success is, in a nutshell, more of everything. More visitors, more leads, more clicks, more searches, more page views, more likes, more fans.

I’ve even been in presentations where the numbers we bandy about become the basis for the client’s approval or rejection of the concept. It’s a fairly well-known fact in the Indian digital industry that if you promise better numbers than the next agency, you’ll win the pitch. Just read the part in this article where the client talks about why she hired the agency.

But is measurement all that our medium should be about?

And is ‘performance’ all that measurement should be about?

I believe that we owe it to ourselves to convince clients to examine the performance of digital in a new way – by the quality of interactions rather than the quantity. To focus on (and track) brand salience rather than ROI.

An interesting case in point is the recent Audi A8 3D integrated campaign from Creativeland Asia, where they built a website that showcased the A8 in 3D glory.

At first I didn’t quite get it. How many Indians own 3D glasses? Why would you do a campaign that would be so inaccessible to people?

So I reached out to Creativeland Asia founder and creative head Raj Kurup. On an early morning phone call, Raj told me that there were only a few thousand people in India who could afford the A8 (Audi’s most expensive car in India). And each of them would soon be receiving 3D glasses in the mail, so they could enjoy an exclusive, immersive and highly sophisticated experience.

What Raj and Creativeland Asia have effectively done is build a case that getting fewer hits is often better than getting more hits. Because the quality of those hits will count far higher, as they’re from the right people the brand wants to reach.

What’s more, they’ve created a sheen of exclusivity around the brand through the very nature of the idea. Going against the very nature of the ‘open’ web to do so.

While Audi is an ultra-premium brand with a niche audience, there’s no reason why advertisers who target the digital mass can’t learn from this. And set in place new metrics to judge their campaigns.

Another aspect of this is the lack of sentiment tracking done for online campaigns. Sentiment tracking can tell an advertiser how his brand is perceived online, and is a fair indication of brand salience. 

I’ve been reading through several case studies by Indian agencies. Their claimed performance data is impressive – number of Facebook fans increased from 100 to 1000, number of followers on Twitter grew by 150%, search queries increased by 300%, and so on. 

But nowhere do they say things like: the number of positive responses on Facebook grew by 180%; the number of positive blog comments increased by 105%; more than 70% of Twitter mentions showed that the brand was now younger/cooler/better/worse; comments indicate that 70% of the online audience believe that your detergent washes best.

To show you how easy it is to get an overview, I took 30 seconds just now to get hold of the following statistic:

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And there are plenty of other tools out there that will help you get a deeper understanding of the sentiment around your brand. Tools that will track brand mentions and comments on websites, blogs and various social media platforms, analyse them and throw up a comprehensive picture. Which will give an advertiser a real indication of how his campaign is doing.

To sum up – there will always be a place for measuring numbers in our business. The CPL/CPS/CPA/CPC campaigns so popular with the travel and finance industries bear testament to that. As do the brands that take great joy in achieving 100,000 fans on Facebook.

But there’s a bigger role that measurement can play. It can help position digital as a medium that can build brand salience and positive sentiment through high-quality consumer interactions.

And then, finally, we can turn our weakness on reach into a strength.