With online advertising and marketing, I think we need to ask the single most important question about research: why are we bothering?
The Interactive Advertising Bureau - the single most consistent and important source of guidance for our industry - has just released a study into an advertising research method that many (all?) of us have used at some point: website intercepts. Its finding? Not so good.
Ends up that the practice of catching people on the Web and asking their opinions about brands, products, and (most importantly) ads has some serious flaws. In fact, the report points out three problems that are most prevalent and serious:
These are certainly not problems that are unique to online advertising research. In fact, many studies, academic, political, and otherwise, fall prey to these precise issues.
But, with online advertising and marketing, I think we need to ask the single most important question about research: why are we bothering?
Hunter Culture and Farming Culture
A key moment in the development of modern society was when humans began to hunt for their food less frequently, instead growing it in their own backyards. We’re on the cusp of experiencing a similar shift in advertising research. Over time, we should become less reliant on surveys and other data hunting tools and more reliant upon capturing and understanding the data that's within our own (digital) backyards.
All of the problems related to research methods stem from the fact that we - as researchers - were not able to directly observe the consumer engaging with the product (or the advertisement of that product), nor were we able to understand anything more about that person, solely from their connection with our brand.
But very rapidly, that's becoming untrue. We are overwhelmed by data today about the consumer. We can directly observe their engagement with our advertising, we can see actions they take after seeing that ad, and we can learn tons about them through social networks. As interactive technology continues to spread throughout our lives thanks to super-powerful mobile tools, that set of data is going to grow and grow.
Why, then, would we invest large amounts of time in hunting for more data? Why would we invest in hunting for more data that potentially has problems?
The simple answer is that we still don’t quite know what to do with all this data, let alone how to do it. Plus, all of this data tends to reside on different servers, in different formats. Blending data sets together today feels a lot like mixing oil and water.
We are, however, on a path that's leading us to a more comfortable place where we can be much more effective with this data. The platforms are slowly moving toward one another and, especially as they consolidate, we all have hopes they will get better and the data will be more flexible and usable.
I truly hope the IAB is considering this, as it goes deeper into this issue. One of the action items it has identified out of this research project is the formation of a task force to tackle the problem. But I hope it isn't going to solely focus on how to get intercepts to work better, but rather look at how to better understand consumers.
Otherwise, I’m afraid we'll simply have recommendations for improving the buggy whip.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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