In today's third millennial media world, and with thanks to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the metric. However, when it comes to online advertising the future of digital metrics needs a lot of help when it comes to standards and definitions.
And there are consequences to this: if we, the interactive community, cannot get these metrics issues resolved, then we're going to lose our opportunity to define what counts when it comes to media and advertising.
There are a whole lot of traditional media folks out there, and they are zooming into interactive. If we cannot resolve interactive metrics, the traditionals are going to take those issues back.
In the future, all media will be digital.
This means that all media will be trackable. It won't be very far off before TV, radio, print and outdoor all have digital tracking capability in place. Whether this turns all media into direct response vehicles still remains to be seen. We do know that those on the client side want to measure ROI wherever they can.
Digitization will be enhanced by increased bandwidth, cheaper storage (for example, Hitachi just announced a one-terabyte-sized drive for $399), multiple processors on a single chip (we already have quad, how high can this go?), as well as massively parallel computing like that deployed effectively by Google and which captures unused capacity through peer-to-peer computing, where every machine on the net becomes a server.
All of this will facilitate even greater consumer control and more user-generated content, followed by user-generated advertising.
This increased power will also change the world of media research.
Companies like Quantcast are already talking about census rather than sample for their research model. This means visibility of millions rather than the tens of thousands of sites that comScore and NetRatings currently provide.
The AdEx initiative being promoted by the IAB will measure all web competitive media spending, and it will not be dependent on bot sampling to provide us with competitive metrics.
Modeling of campaign effectiveness and econometrics modeling -- formerly dependent upon market research sampling -- will be outmoded by companies like BlackFoot gathering digital information on a census basis.
The new Agency of Record (AOR)
I believe that advertisers will soon need a new agency of record (AOR: a single agency responsible for coordinating efforts across all agencies of a specific client). This will be an analytics AOR.
Already, there are issues with multiple agencies claiming attribution for their various channels. If you doubt this, try launching a DRTV (Direct Response Television) campaign, an ROI Web campaign and a search campaign with three separate agency vendors.
The new analytics AOR will need a dashboard so that the lead analytics agency, the other agencies and the client can all access and see the data they need to see when they need to see it.
Repeat after me, "We need standards! We need standards!"
We finally have a standard for impression definition, thanks to efforts by the IAB, AAAAs and the MRC. There is discussion of a standard for clicks which is sorely needed. If you doubt this, try launching a campaign measured by Atlas on the agency side and Falk on the site side.
We need to add viewthrough or post-impression metrics to the click measurement initiative for, as you know, campaigns do not survive on clicks alone.
Only by doing this will we have clear definition of advertising-driven traffic.
We need to finish development of models for reach and frequency based on actual campaigns. The measurement of sites -- which the current R/F models facilitate -- is simply not enough when we are only buying segments of sites or a rotation that represents only a percentage of the cumulative potential of a site.
We also need to establish some standards in analytics or back end metrics. This is the data provided by companies like Coremetrics, Web Side Story, Webtrends, Omniture and others.
Since data passback and dependence upon back-end analytics is so important to judge a campaign's effectiveness today, the IAB, ARF, AAAAs and MRC should be making sure that these systems are consistent with the metrics standards being established for third party ad serving (see impression definition above).
Standardized use of pixels or ad tracking codes must be a part of this initiative. The hijacking of tracking attribution by these back end programs to show that internal webmaster-driven efforts (rather than advertising) get credit for bringing in the customer needs serious industry examination.
There is a need for the back end or web analytics systems to use the same metrics standards as the research companies and the ad servers. Efforts by Blackfoot, Theorem Analytics and others will help in this effort.
Here at Mediasmith, we call this "Multiple Attribution Protocol." This protocol will look at the full life of the relationship with the consumer, providing a weighted attribution, and crediting the most significant points of contact with the sale or consumer interaction.
I have outlined issues and futures with research, ad serving and back end metrics. These are the buckets that counting issues fall into. But each impacts the others, and nothing can be defined in a vacuum.
The above represents only a few headlines on some complex issues. Over the next few months, I will be writing and speaking about these issues at various venues. I look forward to engaging others in a dialogue to move the metrics needle ahead and into the green.
David L. Smith is CEO and Founder of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco based Media Agency. Read full bio.