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Best practice in measuring digital media

Twenty years after the birth of Google, in a far more complex and non-linear world, brands are allocating more media spend to a vast array of digital channels in an attempt to improve their customer-centricity.

Recent brand safety issues have highlighted the status of quality above cost and are compelling brands to reconsider their digital buying strategies. The complexity and fragmentation of the media supply chain has been exploited, all too often, at the client’s expense.

Although we know technology enables brands to target more cost- efficiently, this alone is no guarantee of delivering true optimal performance. While it is true that programmatic has transformed the way media is traded, ‘audiences reached’ issues persist around low-quality inventory, non-viewable and low-engagement advertising.

While the opportunities offered by digital media platforms and programmatic trading are significant, they have also created greater complexity for brand marketers, which, in turn, present additional challenges:

  • Data: Having multiple data sources across multiple digital platforms in varying formats creates a data integration problem.
  • Metrics: KPIs are in abundance and are evolving, yet measurement standards are variable and often incomplete.
  • Supply chain: Gaining full disclosure of investment information across platforms, technology, data, and inventory remains challenging.

So, with such high levels of media investment and increased complexity, what are the critical success factors for best-practice management, control, and oversight of digital media communications? Here is a five-step best-practice guide to better digital media management and performance, addressing the core pain points, with our recommendations to achieve efficient and effective digital media.

1. Ensure the right campaign objectives are set

Working with clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential and should be the immediate focus for any planned activity. KPIs must be measurable, objective-led, realistic and, most importantly, relevant to the desired outcome of the campaign.

The alignment of communication objectives, KPIs and optimisation strategies is critical to achieving desired outcomes. Many campaigns are planned against irrelevant, conflicting, or incomplete KPIs and therefore underperform at best, and destroy value at worst. For example, cost-per-completed-view (CPCV) is a useful efficiency KPI but needs to be combined with other quality measures to be effective.

Using a broader KPI framework that is both relevant to your campaign and specific to each platform, supports a more comprehensive and informed campaign planning approach, which is more likely to yield business success. We recommend that brands consider the following:

  • Alignment of KPIs to digital channels: VOD, programmatic, mobile etc.
  • Organisation: KPIs should be organised into categories according to type, such as cost KPIs (e.g. CPC (cost-per-click), CPL (cost-per-lead)), quality KPIs (e.g. viewability, brand safety), control KPIs (e.g. reach and frequency).
  • Prioritisation: Identify critical KPIs that will be used for optimisation.
  • Target-setting: Once this has been established, targets should be set for each KPI.
  • Augmentation: Combine multiple KPIs to create bespoke metrics that reflect your objectives – for example, a compliant impression (this is a combination of delivered impressions plus other quality metrics such as viewability and brand safety).

2. Get the most from your agency’s media planning

It can be hard to assess the effectiveness and neutrality of a digital media plan, given the vast array of choices, yet it is critically important to understand the available options in order to challenge an agency’s strategic approach. Assessing the agency’s decisions on budget allocation across trading platform, technology, data and inventory provides a clearer rationale so that the delivery plan can be achieved.

A clear understanding of what the competition is doing will also provide valuable contextual insights. Looking at spend levels, buy types, and format selection across websites, platforms, and channels and comparing them to your competitive set usually yields valuable insights and deepens the level of informed debate around media planning decisions. We advocate:

  • Understanding why decisions on media, creative, data and technology have been recommended.
  • Challenging the media plan if it lacks evidence, logic, or clarity.
  • Utilising campaign histories and competitor analysis to ensure full discovery in the media planning process.
  • Exploring new channel opportunities and setting up tests or trials for new media formats.
  • Probing the rationale for spend allocations, especially when buying undisclosed or unmeasurable inventory.

3. Make your media supply chain more transparent

In 2018, it is estimated that 82% of all digital media will be traded programmatically. In the current climate, this is problematic, as the trading ecosystem is an opaque environment where value is easily eroded through low-traffic, low-quality placements, and through overpriced data and technology. Transparency should therefore be a prerequisite, and all campaign plans should provide full visibility of investment on working media, talent, data, and technology costs.

Ensuring contractual direct access to ad-server, DSP and platform delivery reports is essential for improving transparency across the supply chain and for identifying where potential value leakage is occurring. We recommend:

  • Tracking channel investment to understand the full breakdown of costs for working media, talent, data, and technology.
  • Benchmarking working media investment ratios against your campaign history.
  • Insisting on a fully transparent supply chain in your media services contract and scope of work.
  • Getting direct access to your platform reports to identify where the value ‘leaks’ are occurring.
  • Challenging your agency’s investment in platforms they own or part-own.

4. Accept only quality, brand-safe environments

The industry is still recovering from the damage caused by recent brand safety breaches, with a recent study revealing that 95% of CMOs from leading brands have overhauled their digital strategies. While agency whitelists and blacklists provide reassurance, a 100% solution does not exist.

Most campaign reports show delivered impressions, yet this includes a large number of impressions which are either unviewable or not measurable. By removing the unviewable and unmeasurable and removing non-geo, fraudulent, and non-targeted impressions, the level of truly cost-per-compliant impressions (cCPM) is revealed, which can be relatively low.

Programmatic makes targeting easier but, without the right measures in place, can lead to brand safety and fraud concern. Therefore, brands should determine what level of quality compliance they need, and then should not pay for impressions which fall below their compliance standard. Only then can a digital impression carry the same weight and credibility as an equivalent offline placement. We recommend that marketers:

  • Determine what level of quality compliance your brand requires.
  • Ensure appropriate brand safety guidelines are in place and quality impression KPIs are set in accordance with custom standards.
  • Insist on full disclosure of audience and inventory verification data, plus in-view, geo and brand-safe analysis by site, format and creative.
  • Review inventory against blacklist, quality, and verification standards to reduce non-compliant impressions.
  • Introduce a compliant impressions (cCPM) KPI for your agency. Why pay for anything else?

5. Insist on active campaign optimisation

Digital is a unique channel in signalling and transmitting consumer/audience behaviours, therefore optimisation must be a key attribute of digital media planning and execution. A core requirement for the media buyer is to identify media investment from worst- to best-performing, site placements, hours and dayparts, media platforms and creative execution, all combining to optimise media performance.

The agency should actively improve performance over the campaign duration, learning from prior outcomes to enhance future improvements, and buyers should strive to optimise campaigns as efficiently as possible.

Taking learnings and moving spend from underperforming buy types into the better-performing buy types will improve overall campaign performance and reduce inefficient media placements.

If executed correctly, performance optimisation creates an upward trend on delivery of quality custom KPIs while optimising cost-efficiency, thus delivering the same performance for less, or better quality for the same. Our recommendations are to:

  • Understand what actions, tools, technology, and data have been utilised to optimise campaign cost-per-outcome.
  • Carry out full optimisation analysis across all sites, formats and creative.
  • As part of the post-campaign analysis, ask your agency to recommend how the next campaign can be better.
  • Undertake attribution analysis as standard practice.
  • Incentivise your agency to optimise, rather than let the campaign run uninterrupted.

Overall, brands require a multilayered, forensic and wide-ranging set of analytics from their advisors. Brands have realised that measuring digital media as a simple commodity against market averages is a false economy.

Organisations are now turning away from ‘audits’ and instead turning towards ‘analytics’.

With a deeper, analytical approach, brands can now achieve transparency across the media supply chain, drive more neutrality in selecting technology and inventory, select KPIs which drive improved outcomes, and review levels of media quality and improve campaign performance.

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