Media research needs to start again from scratch

While marketing campaigns increasingly run across several media, research tools tend to be medium-specific. This will have to change, says Sue Unerman

The integrated communications planning revolution is now in place. Few modern planning departments think about planning advertising around television, press or radio in isolation. Planners are no longer asking: “Why should we use secondary media?” They are now looking at media-neutral planning, where every medium has to justify its role on the schedule against criteria such as consumer engagement and return on business investment.

As the age of integrated communications planning is upon us, surely it is about time for integrated communications research to come into its own. However, when it comes to research tools, each medium has its own joint methodology. The phrase “joint industry research” generally refers to each major medium as though it is an industry in itself.

But there is only one communications industry – and it’s time there was research that covers it all. Moreover, research methodology is still based on evolution from years ago. But the technology to measure ratings across different media, such as TV, radio and posters, already exists, and furthermore, methods to understand how each medium impacts on awareness and sales are in use.

The Radio Advertising Bureau has rejected proposals for electronic measurements for the radio industry, although it has indicated its backing for Rajar’s investigation of electronic systems for the future (MW last week). However, to suggest, as the RAB has, that current diary methodology is the gold standard, seems to be a bit extreme in a world where the technology is moving on so quickly. And for each medium to be independently investigating new technology seems anachronistic.

The Home Office has recently given approval to electronic radio tagging as a replacement for barcodes on products, and Wal-Mart has indicated that it will be asking its 100 biggest suppliers to tag all their shipments by 2005, allowing goods to be tracked throughout the supply chain.

The Home Office is interested merely in cutting crime, but if all media and all shopping can be tagged, just imagine the possibilities for enhanced communications planning – and its impact on media trading.

Its easy to imagine the pitfalls to this approach. There are, of course, many vested interests. But there are also many economies of scale to be reaped. And the upside of integrated media research is really exciting, both from planning and buying perspectives. MediaCom already has proprietary research that measures effectiveness across all forms of above- and below-the-line communications for specific sectors. And the idea of a new piece of cross-media research is being investigated. But we shouldn’t necessarily look at where to go starting from where we are now: we should look at investment in truly joint industry research, starting with a blank sheet of paper. Its time to stop evolving industry research, and to start to imagine a new research revolution.

Sue Unerman is director of strategic solutions and real world communications at MediaCom

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