Get a Life, Publishers: The Internet Is Measurable

What is a media buyer’s dream is an online sales rep’s nightmare: measurability. It’s the thorn that keeps reps thinking about whether or not they’ll be able to make their next mortgage payment and where their next meal is going to come from.

I can see why online sales reps are moving back to other media like print — print is easy to sell. After all, who can’t sell something that you can’t prove works or doesn’t work? It’s extremely difficult to measure branding effectiveness, but traditional media have certain tools that help media planners explain why specific media should be part of the buy.

It’s time for online B2B publishers to grow up, and with growth comes responsibility and accountability. Online B2B publishers should wake up and implement the tools to help media planners prove that online advertising works, even if the objective of a campaign is branding. Online B2B publishers are missing advertising dollars that could make or break their revenue goals and are losing sales reps to other media that are more profitable to sell.

If a campaign’s objective is branding, media planners are always asking themselves two questions: Does this site really hit my target? If the client asked me why I chose this site, could I defend it?

Call me a skeptic, but I’ve been in too many rep meetings where the rep tells you just about anything you want to hear about the publication’s demographics, just to sell a print ad. In the print world, demographics are easily verified by a Business Publication Audit statement.

Many times, media planners have to rely on the site to provide its own demographic information. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an auditing body for the online B2B world where media planners can verify by third-party audit what the reps are saying regarding their demographics? Well, there is. Demographics are now sometimes verifiable, as BPA International provides web audits to document general traffic for non-registered sites, demographics of registered users, advertising activity across an entire site, and ad-specific traffic.

The second question is a little trickier. No matter how much you tell clients who are branding on the Internet not to put much stock in the back-end results, they ultimately take those reports as gospel. So how do you get around that?

For one thing, if your clients have enough money for branding on the Internet, they also have enough money for the proper market research that will tell how them how they are doing. The key is to establish objectives before any work is done. Once you have objectives, you can establish how your campaign will be measured. Get buy-in from your clients on your measurement methods early in the planning process.

Measuring branding on the Internet is not that hard. There are various free market-research software tools you can use to measure awareness, attitude, and usage. You can send a survey to your existing customer database, or you can draw responses from visitors on the sites where you advertised. But this may be too much work for our overworked, underpaid, underappreciated media planners and probably the last thing on their minds, since they have to get their plans out ASAP.

An even better solution is for sites to begin offering services like market research. Hey, there’s a novel idea. Aggregate your advertisers, and perform a market research study with your visitors for a given period. Offer it as a value-add to your advertisers. You might be surprised at the results, and it would certainly give some of your frustrated sales reps the data they need to help sell your site more effectively. Or maybe online publishers can convince the company that does the Harvey Study (a study used by print publications to measure recall and awareness) to extend its services to web publishers.

With this being said, we are on the brink of an even newer medium: wireless. Those companies involved in promoting wireless advertising should take notes from the traditional companies as well. The sooner you begin establishing those standards, auditing bodies, and measurement tools, the more successful you will be. Look at how far we’ve come with Internet publishers, and they still haven’t implemented these initiatives.

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