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Nielsen’s pivot reveals the future of measurement

The Drum 12 Aug 2020 04:00
Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Nielsen’s new cross-channel measurement approach is kind of a big deal. Here are the three directions Nielsen is leading us and what it means to marketers, per Salesforce SVP Strategy, Martin Kihn.

Around the time Taylor Swift dropped her Folklore album – although admittedly to less attention – Nielsen announced an equally pivotal ‘overhaul’ of its cross-channel measurement approach. Positioned as a way to power ‘flexibility’ in a market overwhelmed by indecision, the announcement was a dramatic preview of the future of media measurement.

Despite well-known struggles keeping up with consumers’ hyperactivity, Nielsen remains the gold standard of media ratings. Some $70bn in US media are bought and sold based on its ‘currency‘. Its various ‘Total Audience’ products, introduced five years ago, layer in viewing on mobile, streaming and on-demand platforms using a combination of panels and direct data collection.

Early and often, TV studios and ad agencies questioned the raters’ ability to capture the full range of modern media consumption: on smartphones, tablets, connected TV (CTV), out-of-home. NBCUniversal’s outspoken head of ad sales, Linda Yaccarino, famously compared the situation to a frustrating football game: “Imagine you’re a quarterback, and every time you threw a touchdown, it was only worth four points instead of six.”

Still, every marketer is in a sense in Nielsen’s (and Comscore’s) position: having to report some kind of measurement of reach and response across an array of channels. We’ve all had to adapt to abrupt changes in consumer behavior, data availability, and tools over the years. We can learn from Nielsen as it points us to what to do next.

Reliance on partners

Whatever the outcome of the current Congressional probes, few industry observers believe the open web is poised to grow. Growth is in the gardens, which already hold a dominant share of digital ad spending. In the US, about two-thirds of such ad spending goes to Google, Facebook and Amazon, according to eMarketer.

What this means: Make a map of all the proprietary ecosystems, including big publishers, that see your audience. Develop a detailed understanding of the data provided by each one. If you have scale, lobby for more access, or ask your agency to do it.

Admitting nobody really knows what’s going to happen, COO Karthik Rao revealed a major goal of his team was to build “a flexible platform that we can adapt to new technology, data and regulatory changes.”

So, we admit that a single MTA vendor “silver bullet” – so hyped in a decade ago – won’t work. Whether we want to or not, we will all need to use more sophisticated econometric and media mix models (MMM), in-house or through an agency. There are too many unpredictable variables for simple models to succeed.

What this means: Develop a distinct approach to measuring individual channels, including big publishers. Incorporate these into a larger measurement framework based on econometric principles.

Ratings are important, but the goal of measurement is to determine impact: did the campaign or ad view cause incremental sales, or improve brand perception? In the absence of complete data at the individual level, marketers will have to execute more in-market tests to measure the incremental impact of ads.

There’s still a lot of noise, but our methods have improved. And it’s reassuring to see that Google now encourages testing to determine the impact of ads. In a recent blog post, the company said marketers should strive for the “gold standard” of using treatment and control groups: “Experiments ... should play an important part of an advertiser’s attribution strategy.”

If all this seems like an admission that the future will be more complex and unpredictable than the past, that’s because it will be.

Martin Kihn, SVP Strategy, Salesforce Marketing Cloud

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