IAB, WAA: Different Audiences, Different Missions

An interesting debate broke out about Web standards over the past week. David Smith, CEO of integrated media agency MediaSmith in one column asked why the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Web Analytics Association (WAA) weren’t working together to come up with combined definitions.

As the co-chair of the WAA Standards Committee, this was of special interest to me, as well as the others members of the committee.

Yes, in an ideal world WAA’s and IAB’s definitions around the Web would match perfectly. However, they serve two different audiences and purposes, so naturally they are going to have some differences.

The IAB’s tagline is “Dedicated to the Continued Growth of Interactive Advertising.” Its members have done an amazing job of doing that, and have helped the overall interactive advertising community.

David clearly didn’t do his homework. The WAA is talking with the IAB, and has had a few meetings during the past few weeks. But again, we serve different audiences.

I spoke with someone last week who had an interesting and accurate view on this. She said, “I think the main point to note is that the needs of those generating invoices from the data and the needs of those analyzing customer behavior are two different things. Not all Web sites sell advertising or publicly share their metrics with anyone. So truly, the needs are different.”

At the highest level, the IAB’s mission is to set compliance between advertisers and publishers while the WAA’s is to set a framework for the practitioner to analyze site performance for improvement. Attribution is a subset of those two higher missions.

The problem with attribution of advertising isn’t based on differing definitions between the WAA and IAB — it’s a matter of multiple advertising vehicles trying to take credit for the same conversion. Those advertising vehicles may be online advertising, promotions, partnerships, any of the many offline advertising methods, and even a sales rep or call center rep who says I spoke with them and then went on the site and purchased.

This can be a tricky issue, but it’s an important one to solve, or at least have a position on. The decisions on where to credit different conversions must come down to the site and business leaders of the individual companies. It’s not realistic to think that a standard can be set to determine the best way to credit different conversions across the entire Web industry when much of the influence lives off of the Web.

Jodi McDermott, an active participant on the WAA Standards Committee and an IAB member (and her day job is with Clearspring), summed it up perfectly by saying:

“You bring up an excellent point and one that the WAA Standards Committee has discussed ad nauseum. As a member of the WAA Standards Committee I can tell you that we have had conference calls with the authoring members of standards from the IAB and the MRC [Media Rating Council]. In fact, I’ll be sitting down to lunch with that same team at the IAB Measurement Forum this Thursday in NYC.

The WAA Standards Committee’s focus on standards does differ slightly from the IAB, but there is room for collaboration (and improvement of course). The WAA is focused on ensuring that the name of each metric and its definition is standardized across vendors. We allow for flexibility in what is included or excluded in the definition as all Web sites are not the same. An HTML page on one Web site may be considered a page view for one site, while filtered explicitly and not counted on another. The goal of the Web analyst is to analyze their site — the WAA standards are a guideline for assisting the analyst in the terminology that is used across vendors and the practice of Web analytics.

The IAB is focused on defining metrics in a manner that ensures compliance. As advertisers are paying for impressions, clickthroughs, and view throughs, the standards that this body sets must have a technical definition — and be audited by a credible third party. In the WAA’s discussions with the IAB regarding standards setting, we noticed several differences between the two bodies that drives the ability to document and enforce the standards that are set. The most notable ones are as follows:

  1. The IAB has a full-time paid staff. The WAA is almost 100 percent volunteer.
  2. The IAB is comprised almost entirely of corporate memberships, the WAA is almost 100 percent individual membership driven — and therefore volunteer driven in its efforts to research the space and set standards.
  3. The IAB is comprised of advertisers and publishers who require mediation of counting methodologies to ensure fairness and compliance. The WAA is comprised of practitioners who are seeking standards within the industry so that consistent business analysis can take place.

In an ideal world, the two bodies would work together to drive standards that overlap (such as clickthrough), but due to the composition of the bodies and their missions, this is not quite feasible.

What we can do (and are doing) is to communicate with each other and work through fundamental discrepancies between mutual standards. The WAA’s goal is to set standards that are consistent but allow flexibility for the Web analyst to operate within. The IAB’s goal is to ensure that advertisers get what they pay for. They represent different bodies of users within a common space. There is room for each body, but we agree that we must communicate with each other due to the issues that you address in your column. I am writing to let you know that we are.”

Jodi absolutely hits it on the head. Two different audiences, two different missions, two different purposes.

Ideally would all the definitions be the same? Yes. Should the groups be talking? Yes, and they are. But again we must keep in mind the mission of each group and what success means to their membership in their day-to-day work life.

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