Measurement Is The Medium

Originally posted on MediaPost

In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase “the medium is the message” to suggest that the medium in which a message or communication is delivered many times influences or overshadows the message itself. Thus, the fact that a politician’s speech is broadcast on television has a bigger impact on how an audience receives it than the message of the speech itself. I think that if McLuhan were to look at the digitizing and transforming advertising media business today, he would say that the measurement is the medium.

In our business, there has always been a distinction between “measured” and “unmeasured” media, with measured media being channels like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines that had industry-accepted and verified currencies. Unmeasured media was virtually all other commercial communication channels or tools that didn’t have “ratings” or “audited circulations,” but were bought and sold and measured on ad hoc or individualized currencies or metrics.

Today, as the media industry grapples with the reality of a digital, data-creating world, the notion of measurement is taking on an entirely new role. Media measurement is no longer about the simple publication of regular rankings of a few dominant consumer mass media products; it is increasingly shifting to the “customer creation” results that each individual medium delivers for advertisers. It is all shifting to outcomes.

Thus, the outcome of media exposures – medias emerging measurement – is now redefining what each and every medium means to advertisers and their agencies. Sure, folks say that we’ve always thought that way in the business, at least strategically. But I would argue that we’ve never really systematically acted that way tactically, and I would also argue that’s all going to change soon.

All of our media today – even our “unmeasured” media – are becoming increasingly measurable, at deeper and deeper levels of granularity, and becoming more and more linkable to resulting consumer behaviors, whether purchase, store visit, search, website visit, etc. Within a few years, data will be widely available – though probably quite expensive – which accurately predict and report on every media channel or product at the person, impression and resulting behavior basis. No more will media measures be about last years black-box-derived marketing-mix-modeled attribution of sales based on media type.

Instead, sales attribution media measurement will be near real-time. It will not only measure each and every media channel, but measure each and every campaign, each and every media vendor, and each and every impression to each and every individual consumer. Yes, we are entering a phase where all media will be measured on outcomes at the person and impression level.

In an outcome-defined media world, the medium itself matters much less than the outcome it creates. In that world, measurement is the medium.

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