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Dominic Mills 

Counting vs impact & calling all 'Dylanologists'

Counting vs impact & calling all 'Dylanologists'

Dominic Mills reveals that as an industry, we've been measuring all the wrong things and muses what Bob Dylan fans would make of the concept of 'Media Experience'

Imagine you walk into your surgery for a check-up. You roll up your sleeve ready to give blood and for the blood pressure test.

“Don’t bother with that,” says the GP. “We’ve realised that stuff isn’t important anymore. We’ve been measuring the wrong things.”

Your faith in the medical profession might be sorely shaken.

I wonder if that is how many in the marketing and media communities will feel on reading the latest report from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the US equivalent of our ISBA.

Last week, it published a study entitled Media KPIs that Matter, which concluded the industry has been measuring the wrong things: the most used KPIs are not the most important.

Am I surprised?

Yes, a bit. After all, here is an apparently sophisticated industry that spends billions in media, and those billions underpin investment decisions, impact sales, market share and jobs (not just of marketers), as well as ultimate business success or failure.

Moreover, at an agency level, business moves on the basis of these measurements. So to be told that many of these decisions are based on sub-optimal metrics is a bit scary.

On the other hand, I am not entirely surprised.

There are many things in media that can be measured — the ANA identifies a core set of 39 KPIs — and human nature being what it is, we default to the easiest, the most widely available and the ones that our peers use.

The pack mentality means we’re often more comfortable being all wrong together than a single outlier who is right.

It brings to mind two adages about measurement.

One is that we manage the things that we measure (even if they’re inadequate). It is certainly true that media is managed on the KPIs that are easily available. In this case, those are efficiency measures like CPM cost, unique reach and so on — what the ANA calls the ‘counting KPIs’.

The second adage is this: Not everything that matters can be measured; and not everything that we can measure matters.

This is a useful saying but, in media at least, I’m not sure that the first part is true anymore.

These days, as the survey describes them, ‘impact measures’ such as ROI (as in conversion, direct sales, brand lift and customer lifetime value) can be measured. It’s just that they’re harder and more expensive.

Are things changing? It’s hard to say, but at least those organisations surveyed (a small sample of 93 but including large and, one hopes, more advanced advertisers) recognise what they’re doing wrong.

The survey does this by helpfully breaking down the difference of the 39 KPIs between the most used and those that marketers believe to be the most important.

Thus, to give two examples, CPM ranks first for use but only 22nd in importance (ie they don’t rate it as important); on the other hand, exposed ROAS, which means using only valid measured response as a base, ranks 27th in use but 2nd in importance.

The message then is clear - the industry is still over-focused on inputs at the expense of measuring business outcomes.

I found this depressing because it seems like nothing much has changed.

That is not to say input measures have no significance — in many cases they are the building blocks that underpin outcomes — but it’s the fact that the balance between use of the two types that is slow to change.

However, there’s some small cheer.

First, what the ANA calls ‘head fake’ KPIs (which seems a polite term) — likes, shares and vague sentiment measures — are near the bottom of the importance list.

As someone who screams inside ‘SO WHAT?’ every time I read an award entry where likes and shares are commonly touted as proxies for success, this is cause for celebration.

Second, attention metrics (about which I’ve written before) are clearly gaining traction.

Per se, attention is not the be-all and end-all, but it is potentially a significant bridge that can link input with outcome.

As things stand, this report underlines the level of disconnect between the C-suite, who want outcome-based KPIs, and marketers who persist in providing them with input or efficiency KPIs.

It’s difficult to say exactly where the responsibility lies for changing this state of affairs — procurement and media agencies must play their part too — but if their credibility matters to them, then it must be marketers who take the lead.

Calling all Dylanologists

It’s Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday today (24th May) and Dylanologists are using it as occasion — not that they need an excuse — to debate and offer fresh interpretations of his lyrics.

This will keep them going for ever because the joy of his word-smithery is that every fan finds their own meaning. For some, the lyrics are blindingly clear, for others multiple meanings are hidden in layers of mystifying opacity.

I rather feel the same about the launch last week of Henry Daglish’s new media shop Bicycle London, which bills itself — as on the home page — as ‘The Media Experience (MX) Design Agency’.

It continues: “Media Experience (MX) is a new concept engineered to work hand in glove with a brand’s CX and UX disciplines. MX focuses on context and actual experience rather than channel, placing the entire emphasis on effect.”

There’s more: “Rather than rely on the claimed and assumed behaviours so often leant on by media agencies, MX uses a blend of data science and qualitative insight to observe and utilise real human behaviour and intent.”

Hmmm. New agencies generally have a choice between claiming to do something radically new or just new and better ways of doing the same stuff, and I don’t know which bucket this falls into.

To clarify — or perhaps not — Daglish added this to a Campaign story: “Media is culture and everything is media, yet it's still so routinely undervalued and commoditised by our industry. The world has changed: it's no longer about brand or performance, on or offline, art or science, so Bicycle London – the MX design agency – brings together a depth and breadth of talent that will not only change the way people think about media agencies, but the type of work we are able to do.”

At the risk of revealing myself as off the pace, I couldn’t follow any of this.

I asked a contact, ex-network and the founder of their own media shop, and they didn’t understand it either. But I also asked someone younger also at a media agency and, after stripping away the buzzwords, they more or less did.

But to return to Dylan, my suspicion is that there is a cunning opacity built into this positioning statement sufficient to allow anyone to take whatever meaning they like from it.

Whatever it is, it is certainly working: Bicycle London already has a client list any start-up would kill for: Virgin Bet, Swift Sofas, Moju Drinks and LiveScore.

So good on it, and let me say also that I applaud those bold enough to go it alone and in Daglish’s case, for a second time.

However, the curmudgeon in me can’t resist pointing out two things.

One, put Bicycle London into Google and...well, it’s not hard to guess what comes up — and what doesn’t.

Two, search ‘media experience mix’ and top of of the page is Havas Media, which seems to have invented the term in 2019

So...not that new a concept then.

But as some Dylanologists would say, I’m being too literal.

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