Walking the Walk

I recently had the opportunity to discuss heady measurement issues with Peter Daboll, president of comScore Media Metrix. We covered everything from the often-hidden benefits of search marketing to the latent impact of Web advertising and the evolution of online measurement systems. The following are highlights from our conversation.

Everling: With all of the attention being placed on media usage shifts and the increasing visibility given to marketing accountability, how do you feel heading into 2004?

Daboll: I think we’re entering a really exciting time. We have a smarter group of folks on the client side at agencies and publishers utilizing the sophisticated marketing capabilities of the Web. At comScore, we’re there to answer increasingly complex data analysis questions in this space. We want to expand the concept of online audience measurement into a standard component of relevant business metrics.

And I think online marketing has played a significant role in the trends to evaluate offline media campaigns on tighter ROI [return on investment] and to mix in pay-for-performance models for agencies.

Everling: Speaking of which, one pillar of your strategy is addressing agency demands for online-campaign planning tools. What is the top priority from this constituency?

Daboll: Ad agencies and media shops have told us that online measurement metrics need to be on par with the measurement systems used for evaluating other media. It’s imperative to provide transferable metrics for comparison across media options, especially for reach and frequency.

Everling: But for traditional media planning, reach and frequency is dominated by pre-buy demographic consideration, with a little psychographic data maybe thrown in for good measure. How do you reconcile these tenets with the additional, dynamic campaign information the online medium affords?

Daboll: We’re behavioral purists. In other words, what we provide is customized behavioral segmentation in the online space. Yes, this includes standard demographic definitions, but our newest version of AiM (Audience insite Measures) combines that data with discrete lifestyle characteristics and online usage patterns. In fact, we’ve seen that consumers brand themselves not just by their online media preferences but also by their online actions, which in turn mirror their lifestyle, in general, outside of the Web environment.

Everling: How does that sentiment apply to measuring the value of search engine marketing?

Daboll: For all of search’s success, I still believe we are looking at its impact in too narrow a context.

Everling: How so?

Daboll: The industry tends to applaud results generated by Google, Overture, et al., only for their immediate impact based on straight linear calculations, without consideration of the subtleties across category, product, or even the search engines themselves.

Additionally, what is tremendously undervalued in the dynamics of purchase intent is the role search plays over time. For example, with our qSearch product, we took a look at the top search keywords for travel-related searches and the sales results over a two-month window. Did the keyword submitters make a purchase? How long did it take? We saw that while same-session conversion from search to purchase produced 38 percent of the sales, because travel is a highly considered and oftentimes collaborative purchase, 62 percent of purchases were the result of indirect conversion.

This mix of direct versus indirect purchases differs by category, but if you’re looking at search from an instant, sales-close push only, you’re missing an important, and in many cases larger, part of the bigger picture.

Everling: How broadly accepted is the concept of “latent impact” in general for online advertising?

Daboll: You’re talking about view-through. The agencies we work with clearly recognize that value, especially for their clients with multiple sales channels, several target audiences, or longer consideration cycles. It’s just another example of the significance of expanding the realm of audience measurement to include identifying online behavioral patterns relevant to bottom-line business metrics.

Everling: Now you’re talking about the expansion of conventional wisdom regarding online marketing. For our final point, how have online measurement systems matured over the past three years, and what lies ahead?

Daboll: The obvious expansion we needed to make is to encompass brand equity in our metrics, not just direct response performance, which we’ve done. We were almost too good at measuring direct response early on, but the industry didn’t fully appreciate the residual value beyond the click-through.

For the future, I’m excited about comScore playing a role in developing a clearer, stronger picture of why people go to the Web. Specifically, I see an increased emphasis for reporting by daypart, which will prove to be a big area of promise in the coming year.

Everling: Thank you for your time, Peter.

Daboll: My pleasure, Larry.

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