During the last decade, the digital media industry has flourished as marketing dollars poured in based on the promise of quantifiable performance, but the entire edifice has been based on an arguably flawed fixation with micro-measurement and targeting.

The marketing industry’s fixation with the over-simplified, short-term correlation between what people click on and buy has resulted in huge gaps in our understanding of how brand messages and media content influence people.

If the financial crisis of 2008 prompted marketers to focus on efficiency rather than marketing effectiveness, and if we have learnt from that, then the COVID-19 crisis will hopefully prompt a significant re-alignment of the KPIs we measure, putting audience and effectiveness out in front of pure price efficiency.

Meaningful cross-media audience measurement represents a step-change for marketers in understanding the impact of their marketing investment, at scale.

While showing much promise, this is still at a tentative stage and it is becoming clear that not only will cross-media measurement initiatives need to accelerate, but that these are not the only solutions brands and agencies should be thinking about. In fact, there have been numerous well-researched articles during the COVID-19 crisis extolling the virtues of brand building at this time, and this key measurement will be equally important as we emerge.

The lockdown has accelerated the structural changes in media consumption particularly concerning TV and online content. The blurred lines between linear TV viewing, on-demand and video content are even more blurred as lockdown created a huge surge in digital content consumption, traditional TV viewing as well as ad-free streamed box-set binging. The impact on BVOD commercial impacts is, however, less clear, as it remains un-measured. So, with rapidly shifting audience behaviours, the answer to the cross-channel “where is my reach” (aka “how can I grow my brand more?”) question continues to be as elusive as ever.

So how should brands approach these challenges and utilise audience measurement solutions that work in the current context?

In the absence of a catch-all currency, brands should not be afraid to seek out hybrid solutions, for example working with media owners using first-party data to build audiences insights around specific objectives. This offers a critically important third way to effective audience building, understanding and of course, measurement.

If the key principles are the need to understand audience behaviour, deduplicate reported impressions/impacts and get better at attribution, then here are a few areas brands and agencies should focus on:

  • Explore multi-media optimisation through experimentation and measurement: Learn how to achieve incremental reach by adding extra channels to the media mix – and measure it!. Understanding the right balance between TV and online video is crucial, but so is creating a detailed picture of how effective each channel is.
  • Close the cross-media and cross-platform insight gaps: Use specific and transparent audience data to understand who you are reaching across different media and platforms through a specific campaign and build on what you learn for the next one. Again, audience measurement is the key ‘litmus test’ here.
  • Double-down on improving your understanding of the desired demographics for your brand, their relationship with it and what impact campaigns are having on this segment. There are simple tools which can be deployed on client sites to gain deterministic audience insights.
  • Take a broader understanding of audiences: Look beyond the obvious purchasers of a category to those who influence or have a particular interest in products and services in a professional or personal way.

To emerge stronger, we need multi-lateral collaboration which will enable all participants to better understand and evolve their value in the ecosystem. We all know that improvement in anything comes from measuring and observing results, and finding strategies to improve results next time. Audience behaviour has changed and will not go back to the ‘old normal’ – so practices for improvement must evolve too.

Martyn Bentley is Commercial Director at AudienceProject.