Image courtesy of boo cru

This is my first NMA column for the year and its about measuring the effectiveness of digital campaigns. Obviously there is quite a tongue in cheek theme about bringing the digital geeks and the research geeks together but the serious points are about looking beyond intermediate metrics, the folly of accountability and need for greater ambition in digital campaigns.

As ever, enjoy.

It goes without saying that two of the words digital people seem to loathe the most are ‘advertising’ and ‘research’. Advertising because digital-kind believes itself to be above such a grubby and discredited approach to selling things. And research because this hardly suits the buccaneering spirit of the digital frontier where gut feel and instinct get results.
So it was no great surprise that at a recent conference on advertising research run by the eminent people at the World Advertising Research Centre there wasn’t a single soul from the digital fraternity on the delegate list.
Now, the truth is that attending a conference like that wouldn’t have even begun to flicker across the minds of most people in the London digerati. I mean, who in their right mind would swap a slap up lunch at Shoreditch House for listening to a bunch of boring research people droning on about how you evaluate engagement online? However, this sort of disinterest is symptomatic of the chasm that exists between the digital world and the research community. Which is a shame because you could be so good for each other.
Sure, many research people carry the pallid complexion of those that spend too long sitting ruminating in dank basements, emerging blinking into the light merely to collect data or submit a paper for peer review. Sure, they tend to wear suits that were mildly fashionable in the years preceding decimalisation. And sure, they have a curious way with Powerpoint that involves cramming so many words onto a slide than you’d have difficulty reading them with the Hubble Telescope. But they might, just might, have the answers that you are looking for, or at the very least a way to help you to find them.
And of course number one on the list of questions that need answering is how to prove the effectiveness of digital campaigns and specifically the value of engagement. Not with terminally intermediate metrics like click-through, pass-on rates, average dwell time and the like. Nor the entirely reprehensible habit of multiplying visits by length of visit, finding out the cost of buying that ‘engagement’ with conventional media and calling the result of this sordid little calculation ‘Return on Investment’. But real attempts to prove the commercial value of immersing people in a brand’s world and having them interact with this world and share it with others. Not to mention the means by which to model the sales effect of digital activity and prove its contribution to the client’s bottom line.
Now you may feel that you are happy with your click–throughs, pass-on rates and average dwell times. After all aren’t they proof of digital’s accountability? And isn’t that what clients are looking for?
Well in my book accountability is rather over-rated. What clients really want is an effect – a real sense that the marketing activity they undertake is selling goods and services. Not shifting a few here and there but manifestly affecting the momentum of their business. Advertising agencies have always understood this and not only have they historically valued bigger and longer term effects over short term movements in the metrics but they have set out to get them, and develop the research tools and models to prove that they have been delivered.
If digital wants to move beyond mere accountability and prove that it can deliver the real results clients are looking for, it must engage properly with the research community. Digital folk, it is time to discover that the boring people sometimes have interesting things to say.

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