To Move Measurement Forward, Publishers Must Focus On Consumers, Data

chriskuistsellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Chris Kuist, vice president of insights and innovation at The Weather Company.

As consumers’ interactions with media and media brands evolve at an unprecedented speed, questions arise over how to measure and ultimately monetize those experiences and interactions.

Much of the conversation around measurement tends to focus on two questions: What tactics, such as deploying a set of standard KPIs, should be emphasized? And what is the best approach and process to get there, such as testing and learning or rapid iteration?

Both tactics and process are crucial areas to develop in order to create a path to measurement that allows publishers to identify metrics that reflect genuine value for marketers.

To improve tactics and process, publishers should dedicate the time and resources to understand the two elements that sit on each side of the equation. On one end are consumers, which are the starting point for measurement, and on the other side is data, the starting point for output.

The Consumer

Consumers are the actual human beings whose perspectives and behaviors are targeted by marketers in the hopes they will be influenced by specific messages. Publishers can elevate their consumer knowledge base in several ways.

First, publishers should find ways to connect audience attributes with the first-party data they collect as consumers interact with their content. This may mean creating touch points that give consumers a reason to tell publishers who they are, but it could also include leveraging data from targeting or ad platforms, or perhaps finding good data in the marketplace to buy and overlay. There isn’t one solution that will be perfect, but creativity and experimentation is better than doing nothing and can improve over time.

Second, publishers should seek out experts in the group of consumers that their brand serves. These experts should be able to provide a persistent stream of insights about the lives of their audience beyond their walls. If internal teams already exist that can be used here, fantastic. But, if those teams do not already exist, partnering with a range of vendors, academics and other organizations that focus on similar types of consumers can supply insights more rapidly than is typically possible within the bandwidth and budgetary confines at most media brands.

This is not to say that there is no longer a place for traditional research methods. Ethnographies, surveys and direct-to-consumer engagements are uniquely suited to passively collect perspectives where general data sets do not provide enough information. They are best deployed in tandem with other inputs to fill in specific gaps in knowledge or context, rather than serve as the sole way that a brand learns about its audience.

Finally, publishers should distribute this knowledge widely and encourage audience fluency, so that every team in the organization can be as close to the audience as the audience is with the brand.

The Data

The second element that can help move measurement forward: data. Data is spectacularly important and deeply exciting in its promise. Data, however, is not magical. The mere act of collecting or buying data does not suddenly cause insights and knowledge to appear. But publishers can convert data to be as useful and impactful as possible.

They should first determine the data that they want. The world is awash in data, but not all of it represents behaviors and events created by the unique relationship between consumers and media brands, and thus the value they bring to marketers. As a publisher’s consumer knowledge base becomes more robust, it can better inform the behaviors and interactions that are most representative of this relationship. And, by focusing on translating those behaviors and interactions into collectable data, publishers will avoid burning out resources on low-impact inputs.

Second, once publishers know what data they want, they should take the time to analyze whether they know exactly what that data will represent. This means being exceptionally clear on what each data point signifies and how. For example, if “time on site” is a significant data point, it’s important to explicitly know what triggers the clock to start ticking and what causes it to stop. It is also important to understand how data collection can distort the view of those same actions or behaviors. For example, the data will be distorted if the specific tool used can’t capture the time on the last page visited or if the user exits the site via a bookmark.

Third, publishers should be clear about other data collection issues that might exist. For example, are certain versions of the publisher’s video player unable to collect a given data point in the same way as others?

Finally, publishers should think holistically about their data. They need to make data aggregation a mission-critical element of their data collection and organization strategy. Publishers should structure the collection process so that common hooks exist across systems to allow the data to be connected together. As a result, they can generate a complete view of their consumers’ journey to and across their properties.

The challenges posed in measuring the incredibly dynamic relationships between consumers and media brands are real, but measurement tools are more powerful than ever. The goal is achievable, and the opportunities for the publishers that get it right are immense.

Follow The Weather Company (@weatherchannel) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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