Measurement and holistic digital advertising
As a media technologist and analytics practitioner, I support web measurement and data insights as much as the next guy. There's certainly a ton of directional evidence that can be used to best plan and buy digital campaigns. But, (and here comes the "but") I'm constantly floored with how much emphasis this industry puts into the absolute numbers. There are just so many discrepancies and footnotes with how data is collected and viewed that I could fill 10 columns on iMediaConnection. For example, consumers now use an average of 10.4 different information sources before making a purchase -- and use multiple devices (I've heard between four and seven) to access digital content. Most of these touch points are untrackable, or if they are trackable, they can't be perfectly integrated into the overall measurement strategy.
The analogy I use most often in this discussion is the U.S. Economic Index. The Economic Index is a set of ten key variables that the government (and most economists) uses to judge the health of the American economy that include things such as the unemployment rate, building permit registration, consumer confidence, etc. But no economist in their right mind would narrowly focus on a single variable and declare any confident conclusion.
Recently, comScore's Josh Chasin remarked that everyone on Madison Avenue knows "that digital is the most measurable medium," and then made the observation that the corollary is, "that sometimes digital ends up being the medium with the most measures." At some point in our industry's past, we forgot that the metrics were there to help us build informed insights. Instead, we have spent our time trying to affect the metrics. Not to say that conversions aren't important -- they are, especially for direct response dollars in a strictly, online-only business, but you have to know what you're actually looking at to make any concrete conclusions.
Advertisers, you should know that your agency is going to tell you how they feel but are going to do what you say. It's very hard for an agency manager to try to reset this complex topic with their own colleagues, let alone with clients who have been working in a metrics and conversion focused world for years. It's not anyone's fault -- the entire industry has pushed this direction for years, and to change this mindset is going to take a lot of work on both sides.
I think most experienced agency execs would rightly say that you need to pick and choose your battles, but a unified measurement approach is one of the most important needs facing our industry. A lot of folks are simply winging it and are focused on getting your metrics up without necessarily forwarding the true campaign goals. It starts on the front lines with agencies and clients having this dialogue. When agencies don't feel like they can have this dialogue, the entire industry is held back.
Advertisers, in many cases the metrics you're tracking might actually be perfectly suited for your campaign. But a good place to start would be to ask your agency what they really feel about the metrics they're presenting to you every month and provide them a safe forum to bring up some of these more debatable ideas on measurement like attribution. You might have to prod them a bit. They have to feel that they won't get their knuckles wrapped if you disagree with what they present. I'm not saying all of the numbers need to be thrown out -- just make sure that both of you aren't completely evaluating campaign success on arbitrary metrics going up or down. Evolve the conversation and you will get rewarded for it.