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Bridging the Data Gap

  |  June 22, 2009   |  Comments

In the communications ecosystem, there's a huge gap between what each channel is doing and knowing how it affects the whole.

If I've learned one thing in over a decade of writing about the advertising industry, it's that there's a huge gap between what people are talking about doing and what they're actually doing.

Take cross-media campaigns for (a huge) example. We all "know" they work. We all "know" we're supposed to be doing them. We all sell them to our clients all the time.

Going into a pitch these days without a strategy that includes TV, radio, outdoor, mobile, social media, Web, and e-mail marketing tactics spells certain doom. Unless you're dealing with incredibly unsophisticated clients, it's a given that "advertising" has expanded into a cross-media extravaganza of brand-building and direct response activities that must work together.

It only makes sense, right? Everybody's doing it.

Well, kinda.

According to a new survey of global marketing executives conducted by Eyeblaster and TMS, while 67 percent of executives surveyed revealed they were running cross-media campaigns, only 12 percent were actually taking steps to integrate the data generated by these campaigns. And because they weren't integrating that data, they're understandably frustrated about being able to measure overall campaign ROI (define) and cross-channel effectiveness. Big surprise, huh?

According to Eyeblaster's study, the inability to measure whether the cross-channel campaigns that we're all pushing these days are working comes down to three things:

  • 44 percent cited a lack of suitable metrics needed to measure effectiveness and ROI.

  • 37 percent pointed out that they couldn't find good cross-channel case studies.

  • 34 percent bemoaned the lack of good technology to measure effectiveness across channels.

Dan Ryan, VP of technology and media at TNS, summed up the whole problem best when he observed that "the days of distinguishing one channel against another for brand or response are behind us, and the next step is to fill the gap that sits between implementing cross-channel campaigns and measuring cross-channel effectiveness."

Bingo.

If you look at what most savvy marketers are doing these days, it seems as if we've finally put to bed those long arguments about what works for branding and what works to drive response. As most of us have known intuitively for a long time now, good digital marketing achieves both and good cross-channel marketing supports both synergistically, with each channel's strengths reinforcing the strengths (and minimizing the weaknesses) of the other.

But the evidence for this effect is only now trickling in. Last time, I wrote about the synergies between display and search in building brand and driving response discovered in a Havaas study. But as others like Bryan Eisenberg have observed when reporting on Econsultancy's "Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2009," "Good Web analysts are like yellow lobsters: they're very rare."

Bridging the data gap has to be the next big frontier to tackle in the ad biz. Tough economic times may be driving clients to demand higher (and more measurable) ROI, but even when things start picking up again, the march toward higher standards of measurement isn't going away.

What do we do about the data gap? That's a tough question (and has been for a long time now).

Our industry hasn't had to worry too much about it in the past, and most of us haven't been trained to deal with measurement across our functions in our agencies. Sure, there have always been those media folks with their spreadsheets who get a couple of minutes in a pitch to toss numbers around (usually inducing comas in the creatives in the room), and account executives, account planners, and brand managers have always had to have at least some high-level understanding of the numbers. But as a whole, actually collecting, measuring, analyzing, and acting on the numbers generated by our campaigns (even just at the level of individual results for separate channels) has never been one of the sexier topics when we're talking about what we do.

Sure, direct marketers have had to worry about this kind of stuff forever, but the rest of us? Well, it's a lot more fun to talk about concepts, branding, and the Next Big Thing in advertising technology. Numbers? Yawn!

It's time to wake up. Every day there's more evidence that branding and response are inseparable. Every day we get more pressure to prove what we're doing is working. "I trust you" has been replaced by "Show me." There's no going back, especially in today's cross-media world.

Instead of thinking about ads and where they run in specific media, we now must think of what we do to manage the communications ecosystem so that all channels work together, doing what each does best, to create a seamless whole that builds brand and drives response. In an ecosystem, individual elements (the critters that live there, the plants they eat, and the environment they live in) work together as a unit. Changing one element of the ecosystem impacts everything else that inhabits that system. Marketing in the communications ecosystem works the same way.

The key here is data -- being able to gather it, measure it, analyze it, and act on it from all sources in a single system. The problem is that even today most agencies maintain separate systems to do this for each channel. We measure response to online ads through tracking software, Web traffic through Web analytics software, call center and direct mail response through separate systems, and search marketing results through yet another.

The best media folks and planners struggle valiantly to cram all these results onto spreadsheets of epic proportions, and strategists burn the midnight oil trying to make sense of the numbers. But as far as being able to track campaign metrics across all media, the data gap remains a nearly uncrossable chasm.

And it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. New systems such as Microsoft's TV-tracking and addressable advertising tool will provide us with even more data to measure, but that data still only represents one element in the communications ecosystem. We need tools that allow us to channel the flood of incoming data, compare them side by side, and use that comparison to make intelligent choices about where our dollars should be spent based on the performance of both the individual media channels we're using and the overall performance of the entire cross-media campaign.

If you're among the 67 percent of people still with data, begin by looking at systems that will allow you to integrate your data. CRM (define) systems have been doing this for a long time (even if they aren't there yet when it comes to true cross-media data collection and management), and you don't have to break the bank to start using them. It's also worth keeping tabs on new tools, such as Intelliworks' system, which is a great example of a tool that can integrate measurement and response across multiple advertising and communications channels, including e-mail, IM, and social media.

There are also some interesting new integrated measuring tools, such as those available from CognoVision, which focus on out-of-home; Screenpilot, which provides integrated measurement of mobile and online advertising effectiveness mainly for the hospitality industry; and ongoing efforts from the Advertising Research Foundation to figure out how to bridge the gap between media and measurement.

We haven't crossed the data gap yet, but we'll have to if we're going to create truly effective cross-media campaigns in the communications ecosystem we all inhabit.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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