"Share of voice" (SOV) is a metric long used to guide media buys. It attempts to quantify an advertiser's share of advertising activity over a period of time relative to others in the same market segment. For example, in television advertising, SOV may represent the proportion of advertising per advertiser for a 30-minute TV program.
Because SOV is one of the most common means of measuring audience attention in other media, it is no surprise that media planners have attempted to migrate this metric to the internet. Unfortunately, due to the non-linear nature of hypertext, measuring SOV online is difficult and the method that many media planners use to incorporate SOV calculations into media plans is flawed.
How media planners use SOV today
Media planners historically have used SOV targets to gauge effectiveness in their attempts to "break through the clutter." By achieving a minimum SOV objective, marketers feel that their message will not be lost amid the noise of other advertising.
The terms used in discussing SOV on the internet are arbitrary and prevent apples-to-apples comparisons across sites and across media. For example, language extracted from an actual advertiser RFP requires "a minimum 25 percent share of voice relative to section placement." While the advertiser is clear here in terms of the scope (section placement), what remains unclear is what they are trying to measure. Is it impressions? Is it unique visitors? Is it a particular media target? Is it relative to the total impression volume available on the site? Is it relative to competing products? Different sites will invariably interpret this language differently and responses will not necessarily be comparable.
The flaws of current use of SOV
The non-linear nature of hypertext means that internet users disperse their attention across many sites simultaneously. Unlike television, rarely is one site consumed at a time. Internet users often disperse their attention over dozens or even hundreds of sites each day. They don't just sit down at one site for 30 minutes at a stretch.
Plus, while viewing the advertising on a site, they are also viewing the content, in addition to having multiple browser instances and tabs open at any given point in time. Noone consumes a section placement without consuming a significant volume of other media simultaneously. The share of voice, or the analysis of the amount of clutter seen in addition to a given ad, must be looked at in the context of all the other distractions consumed in the process.
This is particularly true when analyzed through the lens of internet traffic patterns. Media consumption online tends to be interrupt-driven because significant internet traffic is generated while people are at work. As such, consumers often view a page here and a page there, never staying in one place too long and rarely going very deep. The result of these patterns is that a site may offer an advertiser 30 percent of the impressions in an area of a site, but that 30 percent may represent less than one percent of the media consumed over the course of an hour or day. Thus, the concept of owning media consumed by a consumer to a degree that your marketing is differentiated has not been achieved.
Finally, given the intermingling of impressions, absent tight linkage of creative and placement, it is difficult to draw differentiations in placement value. If a consumer is looking at email one second, an entertainment site the next, and then a social network after that, does it matter where the advertising is? Does owning a certain percentage of the impression volume on any of these three pages really matter?
The network solution
The biggest loser in the current definition of SOV is advertising networks. Because they buy more inventory than anyone and sell it in large, aggregated packages, they have more impressions per placement than any individual site. If they own tens of millions of impressions per day, for an advertiser with a modest budget, they can never compete on a share-of-voice basis with a niche site offering a small volume of impressions per day.
However, it is doubtful given the above analysis that owning sizeable share of a niche site is better than owning a smaller percentage of the network's impressions if it is more impressions in absolute terms. All of the media is being consumed simultaneously, so focusing on cost-effective quantity tends to yield better outcomes.
For advertisers concerned about their share of total media consumption, working with advertising networks can be one of the best methods to understand the actual share of voice. Because networks buy media everywhere and aggregate the internet so effectively, looking at consumption patterns across a network can give true insight into the actual amount of media consumed. In fact, the bigger the network and the more diffuse any given advertiser's share of voice in that network may appear, the more knowledge about true consumption can be discerned.
Due to the volume of inventory and the frequency with which media is consumed online, advertisers that work with networks are typically more concerned with frequency capping campaigns and limiting the ownership of media consumed than they are with trying to maximize their share of the frequency with which the network sees its members. Given the reach that a strong network can offer, only advertisers that commit wholeheartedly to a network model can achieve significant (and relevant) share of voice across the entire range of targetable consumers online. Those advertisers that have most cost-effectively captured share of voice online have consistently used broad reach networks to maximize distribution across the full range of sites that consumers visit.
Networks not only provide the necessary components to achieving share of voice, i.e. reach, to establish audience and exposure to gain ownership, they also offer the environment in which to measure it accurately; one that more accurately reflects the fragmented way consumers use the internet.
While single site buys certainly provide the targeted exposure, content relevancy and big, brand sponsorships sure to attract consumer attention, assessing share of voice online requires that we look at the entire universe of sites a consumer may visit. Until advertisers look at SOV in the context of total media consumption, managing SOV in a campaign will continue to paint an inaccurate picture of an advertiser's ability to capture mindshare of online consumers.
Brent Halliburton is director of network strategy, Advertising.com. .