The service lacks the granular attribution available in digital media, but print publishers have been pushing hard over the past year or so to bring magazines into the same cross-channel mindset that’s more common for desktop/mobile/TV.
For instance, last year the Association of Magazine Media, a trade group, introduced a way to buy ads with guaranteed sales lift. (If sales don’t materialize, the brand receives free ad space or is made whole in some way.)
NCS’ shopper data from loyalty programs and partnering retailers is also tied to households, not individual customers. But Wood said household metrics sometimes work better than individual data, which creates new complications – like family members shopping for one another.
“It’s actually just easier to just say, ‘Someone in this household was exposed to the ad, and someone from this household went on to convert,’” she said.
There are other dark spots for NCS’ print media measurement. There is no way to establish when or if a magazine was read, only that an individual purchased a copy (if that purchase was made in a retail client of NCS) or that it was delivered to a home.
Individual attribution would be essentially impossible, since it’s not guaranteed that someone opened the magazine or saw the ad. But by overlaying regional offline sales with household magazine subscriptions and secondary audience data, “we’re able to very well identify the incremental dollars spent on a product based on seeing a (magazine) ad,” said Wood.
Compared to online activity, where users are cookied and purchases are connected to an email, this reliance on a network of huge data sets and third parties means there’s still more work to hone the product.
Caryn Klein, Time Inc.’s VP of research and insights, said she “would argue today marketers still question the impact magazines drive on sales.” Services like this, which Time can use to establish ROI for high-spending advertisers, aren’t full solutions but chip away at those concerns.
With more effective print measurement, Klein also said digital channels become more effective. “Now we’re learning what the synergistic effects of print and digital are,” she said. “And then we can plan more effectively based on the client’s goal, to know what we need to dial up and dial down.”
NCS said it would also like to branch into new channels for demonstrating sales impacts. The company is measuring brick-and-mortar retail, but ecommerce or mobile magazine traffic are logical potential next steps.
“We’d love to have Amazon share their purchase data,” said Wood. NCS is looking into how to fill out the ecommerce consumer spectrum.
But offline CPG sales, while growing slower than ecommerce, still account for more than 90% of purchases in the US. “When an advertiser looks at the mix to determine ad spend, they predominantly look at offline sales,” Wood said.