Musings on media, advertising, measurement, and optimization

The tracking of an advertising spend has traditionally been the personification of a lost cause, with everyone harking back to the old cliche that half of advertising works, no one knows which half.

I’ve blogged my anger over the high degree of precision which agencies and vendors hold internet advertising to, when print publishers and other traditional media have no idea other than specious reader surveys, fudged circulation numbers, newstand sales, and that ultimate in fuzzy logic: “pass along” figures to base their efficiency case. When I was an online publisher I basically wanted to tell the advertisers and their agencies to go take a flying leap at a rolling donut, and made a good initial kick off to the Forbes Digital Tool by selling flat day-sponsorships with competitor blocks and no guarantees of impressions, and certainly not click-throughs.

Move ahead a decade and now I’m the buyer of the impressions, not the seller. And you know what? It’s the measurement and precision, the promise of optimization that is exactly why internet advertising is the fast form of advertising in the world today. I’ve been looking at the results of some recent campaigns we’ve run in the general, business, and IT press and it is truly astonishing the variance in click-throughs (the diminutive number of click-throughs, measured in basis points), and the lack of measurement on our end of what happens to the click-through once it lands on our pages.

This will change and it will change soon. We should be able to track the life-time value of a visitor from first arrival via a search term or banner clickthrough, across multiple sessions and repeat visits. I’m not marketing impulse buys — no gums and cigarettes — but serious durable goods that the user expects to hang onto for at least three years. That means my marketing spend — if measured only against initial action — can’t show a true ROI or expense to revenue ratio if I don’t keep tracking that user from first click to checkout.

This is basic stuff, it falls on me, not the publishers, and …. it means I need to get much better at getting my messages in front of those people who are in the market for my stuff at that particular point in time. This is where Battelle’s theory of the “database of intentions” and search engine marketing comes in. This is where the chimera of behavioral targeting comes in. This is why the smart people at Yahoo know that the most valuable impression in the world is a car ad at that point in time every four years when the average American turns to the web to help them decide what four-wheeled vehicle they will buy next.

It’s statistical chess and it’s hard. But the people who are good at are few and far between. This is going to be an education as we reform our spending, our measurement, and our optimization.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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