What Does it Take to Measure the Total Audience?

Originally posted on Nielsen

When it comes to hot topics in the media realm, it doesn’t get much bigger than cross-platform audience measurement. And that’s just how Steve Hasker, global president for Nielsen, positioned the topic as he kicked off the first panel discussion at this year’s Consumer 360 event in Washington, D.C. He noted, however, that the topic is just as misunderstood as it is discussed, at which point he turned the floor over to the panelists for clarity around what it means, the challenges involved and best practices for media planning.

While the industry is rife with opinions and sentiment around the subject of cross-platform measurement, the panelists were quick to agree on one thing: the consumer needs to come first. And in order to do that, businesses need to put the consumer at the forefront of every discussion and decision – somewhat of a shift from how things were done in times past.

And that shift is something that everyone on the panel agreed needs to be at the center of business models going forward.

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“I don’t think that the way I think about measurement or digital has changed,” said Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of marketing science. “I think it’s really that the way consumers use digital has changed. And that’s why planning needs to be done around the consumer. So I really think that what we’ll see more of going forward is companies really looking at the consumer at all consumption points – really understanding the consumer.”

Digital clearly plays a pivotal role in holistic audience measurement, but from a media perspective, the panelists agreed that it represents only one avenue for marketers to consider. And from that perspective, Smallwood noted that media planning and ad spending can’t be based on arbitrary numbers or percentages.

“Media planning and spending has to involve a mix, but that mix depends on the brand and the audience,” he said. “We know it’s not just about digital. Instead of thinking about planning media around channels, marketers should be thinking about planning media around the consumer.”

Smallwood’s comments about digital as a media plan component resonated with David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corp., who stressed that traditional television remains the medium with the greatest reach. So for CBS, he said digital is a strong complement to a very loud megaphone.

“We see TV and digital as being very complementary,” he said. “Digital offers path to purchase opportunity as well as brand extension. Digital is also a way for us to reach our younger audiences.”

When it comes to reach, Poltrack stressed that traditional television remains the medium with the widest megaphone. That said, however, he noted that CBS views television and digital media as highly complementary, especially when it comes to brand extension and bridging the consumers path to purchase.

“If advertisers can get the attention of the audience with digital, the consumer can then take action immediately because they’re already connected,” Poltrack said. “And to that point, we’re beginning to experiment on the linear TV side with interaction so we can get that same type of engagement and interaction.”

But with all the data that people now generate as they go about their daily routines, the panel acknowledged a deep need for additional resources and bodies to help brands and companies better understand consumers. In fact, Dave Morgan, founder and CEO of Simulmedia, said a good first step would be for companies to stop looking at marketing as a cost center. He also cited the strides that up-and-coming digital companies are making as they work to build their brands, particularly those in the fantasy gaming space.

And as someone who knows what it takes to create advertising that gets heard in an overly crowded environment, Linda Kaplan Thaler, chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler, said the key to success hinges on people – a commodity that companies need to take stock of and reinforce.

“I always want more people,” added Linda Kaplan Thaler, chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler. “There’s so much ground to cover, and the collaboration that teams afford breaks down silos and creates unity. The other thing that people need to do is stop looking five years ahead. We need people, and we need people to look at what the consumer is doing and saying right now.”

Kaplan Thaler, whose firm helped Aflac boost its public awareness from next to nothing to about 97% with a talking duck, also noted that people are what drive lasting campaigns. In fact, she said the best way to get a great idea is to take a horrible idea and turn it upside down, which is exactly how that duck started talking about Aflac.

As the panel discussion wound down, Poltrack noted that he doesn’t believe measurement is the real challenge. Rather, he says attribution – how the pieces fit together – is the real key to successfully understanding consumers.

“It all starts with measurement,” commented Facebooks Smallwood. “It starts with understanding consumption across all platforms. That will give marketers the ability to plan and buy accordingly.”

“There is no magic wand,” Poltrack added. “We try to make things simple, but this isn’t simple. Ultimately, I think we’re going to get there.”

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