Digital Performance Trends Fueling a Measurement Re-Think
Digital performance and acquisition marketers have spent years perfecting measurement frameworks for marketing campaigns and investments. We've been getting more creative than ever in leveraging cookies, pixels and tags to track customer behaviour and engagement when exposed to paid ads. We’ve also leveraged a variety of MarTech and AdTech tools to help us connect the data and understand overall effectiveness of marketing and advertising spend.
For years now, advertisers large and small have been taking advantage of various targeting capabilities in order to reach the right prospects and provide a more relevant customer experience. We’ve been using audiences to test and learn and optimize…and test again. And we’ve been creating re-targeting and look-alike audiences, cross-channel segments and many other custom audience types.
One of the most exciting aspects of my job, as a digital acquisition marketer, has been to be able to review real-time performance dashboards, and to optimize and fine-tune creative and media strategy, spend and effectiveness across various digital channels. I have also enjoyed teaming up with agencies and vendors and developing in-house attribution models and Media Mix Models (MMMs).
While tech tools and processes will continue to evolve and change, the strategic thinking around multi-channel consumer behaviour will be critical for transitioning to cookieless performance measurement.
Below are some key emerging trends to keep in mind that are re-shaping the digital performance marketing space:
The increasing importance of first-party data
When it comes to measurement, some things won't change, like the importance of first-party data. But what’s important now is for marketers to get even more creative in collecting, understanding and properly using this first-party data. We need to be more aware of its importance as well as the increased scrutiny of the use of any personal data, which has been driven by industry, consumer expectations and legislative changes alike.
From one to multiple measurement frameworks
Third-party cookies tied everything together. Cookies carried attributes that were passed on between multiple sites, ad servers and platforms. With the demise of cookies, we lose out on that connectivity. We now need to develop alternative measurements models that will, at least in the short term, involve reporting from multiple platforms. This includes the use of multiple clean rooms and activation providers, be it Google, Social or open web inventory. This will in turn mean multiple audiences with various privacy requirements, which will further challenge the clarity of measurements and increase the need for more aggregate analytics.
The emergence of newer signals and conversion solutions
Marketers need to keep tabs on the new solutions emerging. Some new solutions such as Meta’s Conversion APIs (CAPI) help connect advertisers’ data and platform data without using cookies and browser pixels. Google is abandoning its proposed ‘FloC’ solution and replacing it with the Google Topics API, a new Privacy Sandbox solution powered by the browser, not cookies. With Google Topics, a browser determines a handful of top weekly “topics” for each individual and shares that with ad partners for relevant ad serving, while giving consumers more control over their data.
Several new signalsare also emerging as alternatives to cookies such as those focussed on attention tracking and receptiveness. These metrics use various tracking methods, such as eye movements or mobile phone positioning to help define if there is a true human watching an ad or a video and if the person is engaged, attentive and focused or more of a “passive” viewer. As a result, attention tracking and receptiveness can be used as a new efficiency measurement – aCPM (attention CPM) for advertisers, vendors and publishers. The aCPM incorporates attention into return on investment – i.e. is it worth paying higher CPM for higher attention ads? Do different marketing objectives, or product categories, need different levels of attention? If you're trying to educate or introduce a new product, perhaps your “attention needs” are higher than when “reminding” the audience. Interestingly, as consumers and the advertising industry become more sensitive to the digital carbon footprint and reducing the energy waste associated with ineffective digital impressions, serving ads that are engaging will become a top priority.
The search for a replacement for cookies is an ongoing process, with all major players exploring new solutions that, at this point, are still fragmented, often confusing and constantly emerging. This is an important phase of testing and evolution, and the good news is that marketers are thinking outside of the box and becoming more creative than ever. Solutions are also aiming to be more customer centric, putting consumer privacy in the driver’s seat.
The importance of good old brand-building
Let’s not forget about the importance of good old brand-building.
One major car manufacturer recently temporarily stopped its advertising spend all together claiming that there is already an eight month long waiting list for their customers to get a new car. Why spend money and create more demand when it’s not needed? This type of scenario makes us wonder - has the pendulum swung too much away from a traditional focus on brand-building? Have we had too much of a short-term view and minimized the importance of brand-building and NPS as a long-term sales driver?
The chances are the new measurement frameworks will need to include an understanding of the long-term brand effect on acquisition and marketing effectiveness. With fragmented data, it will likely take eight weeks or more to see the effect of multi-channel media and creative campaigns.
The MMM and new attribution models (non-cookie based) will play an important role in understanding how various media influence performance KPIs. As MMMs are always improving, I can see trends of adding new signals and data points, including brand metrics, earned media and NPS (Net Promoter Scores) to the MMMs of the future.
So what does it all mean?
Major changes – including the demise of third-party cookies, new privacy regulations and the overall increased importance in managing personal data - are driving significant changes in the digital ad industry, causing a re-think of marketing performance measurement.
In light of the trends above, marketers should prepare to:
- Be leaders in the ethical and responsible use of personal data.
- Leverage more fragmented, multi-solutions and multi-platform data.
- Look towards more long-term vs real-time data.
- Understand the increased importance and iteration of MMMs.
- Keep an openness to test and try new signals and new measurements.
- Remain patient and flexible to account for continuous changes while industry, agencies and vendors redefine the new normal (there is no one solution and no right solution at this point).
- Plan for increased costs for tech, analytics and media.
Overall, my advice for marketers is not to panic and to keep curious about ongoing changes and industry news. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start a “readiness assessment” now and audit your current media, data and technology structure to identify your strengths and gaps in transitioning to a cookie-less future.