Thursday, May 10, 2012
A Story About Occupying Digital Space. Or An Answer to “How Should I Be Measuring Digital and Social Media Anyhow?”
Long ago, in a world far, far away, brands made ads and put them on TV. People watched these ads. Not because they wanted to, but because they lacked a device called a “remote” – never mind time-shifting DVRs. The theory was that if consumers sat there long enough and were exposed to enough ad impressions, some degree of positive behavior would ultimately ensue.
Brands hoped the Internet would be the answer to recapturing those golden days of consumer attention once again – this time, not for lack of technology but because of it. The increasing sophistication of filters that can send brand-love messages exactly to that special consumer-someone in the mood for a little emotional bonding promised a land of sales on the other side, with technology enabling advertisers access to ever-more sophisticated profiles built from searches and social pages, selling this to brands as a way in. But a little scratching on the gold-plate of this ideal reveals it for what it is: a modern targeting technique, albeit a big step up from zip-codes, but certainly neither an answer to what consumers expect of brands in the digital space nor a guarantee of increased attention or ad contagion of the desired viral variety.
Yes, yes, awareness has for a very long time been a vital and necessary doorway, but it is far too often viewed as a destination by brands. In the pre-remote dynasty, brands could simply reach the largest number of folks a certain number of times, and connect using simple math. It would be great to say that brands have graduated from calculator media buying to building brand equity and engagement, but many haven't. Because along with the ability to target on the web came the ability to count really, really high. And that got really intoxicating.
Suddenly, brands had an exact number of all the people that had “seen” their message, or, at the very least, exposed to it. And, understandably, that left them a little dizzy at first, until they realized that all that awareness might have bought them some curiosity – depending on how cool the come-on was – but that awareness was often not strongly correlated to sales. Awareness, not being an end unto itself, continues to be a poor measure of whether the advertising foray engaged the person on the other end. As Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, recently noted, “clients, for the very first time, are starting to question the measurement issue on social media.” You think?
The hard-working smart folks at brands have been busy trying to solve these problems, usually being forced to piece together research that has never met, never mind have terms of agreement. There are so many syndicated studies of digital usage now it’s become the new basic black t-shirt of research companies. But studies of what digital platforms rise to the top in terms of visits and usage tells you nothing about a brand's place on any of them. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, “going where the fish are doesn't actually mean you have the right bait.”
So, digital studies started including demographic data. Who are these people anyway who are using these platforms? Maybe the brand can match the demographic profile of a digital platform to their own customer demographics and then, Zowwie Batman, we can find our kind of people easier than ever!
Okay, says the brand, so knowing things like age and gender and income and education, that's insufficient. We need to know what attitudes they have, and how they match up with what we know from that three-quarter of a million dollar study we did that gave us those cool profile names like "Cautious Wanderer" and "Conservative Rebel" and “Real Housewives of ....” Surely, now we can make this work!
And that’s as close as most brands have come to date to linking the emotional component to digital usage. Problem is, it's an emotional pulse taken completely outside the category. A brand may understand who its “friends” are, and watch where they wander in the digital world, then match those things up, but not understand at all how all that emotion projects itself into the category decision-making journey.
Just ask yourself this: do you buy a dishwasher the same way you buy a computer? Sure there are specific things you want from each, but a dishwasher evokes an entirely different set of emotional responses than a personal computer – the word "personal" being the first clue in the emotional landscape at work beneath the surface there. This matters. A lot. Because unless a brand connects the emotional and rational that are in play in the category decision process with the digital platforms consumers are using, it does not have a strategic plan for digital involvement. What it has is a sophisticated approach to targeting.
To obviate these problems Brand Keys fielded the 2012 Digital Platform Engagement Index℠ (DPEI). No, not a report of digital usage. Nor a demographic analysis of digital usage. Or another attitudinal analysis of the demographics of digital usage. All of these are based on which consumers are doing, not how brands can best participate. It explores the question, “What should the brand do when it finally arrives at a digital platform?”
The clarity of this problem is no surprise to all the brands that are on Facebook by default, because everyone else is. In brand back rooms – and you know who you are – it’s the question of what they should actually doing regarding the creation and reinforcement of attention and engagement and loyalty and sales being shared in soft whispers. Brands now have "social media specialists" and chiefs of "internet insights" and are trying hard to figure this out. Not just for Facebook, of course, but for all the major digital platforms out there.
The moral of this story? If you are a brand conducting yet another digital platform study, stop and ask the hard questions about how the study will actually illuminate what you should be doing out there, and what really matters to the consumers in your category as they engage with your category in the digital space. And whether all that attention and engagement and sales will follow. Because you already know who you’re talking to and how to reach them, and have for a long, long time. And not being especially fond of perfectly-worded, useless questions, we advocate for an end to that sort of data.
If you can't get Yoda-worthy insights, grab that remote and change the digital research channel. Then powerful you will have become.