Single measure? make mine a cocktail of multimedia activity

The IPA’s decision to continue developing a consumer-centric measure of media consumption is just the second step on a very long journey

The IPA’s announcement that it is going ahead with “Touchpoints Two” is no great surprise. Everyone knew the first version was a success, but it does confirm and accelerate an important trend. Touchpoints is the first serious attempt at creating a consumer-centric, rather than media-centric, measurement of media consumption. All the measures that we currently know and love – BARB, NRS, Rajar – are 100percent media centric/ they only measure audiences for a single type of medium and don’t tell us anything about which mixes of media different consumer groups pay attention to.

In a world of multimedia marketing campaigns this is breathtakingly absurd. Touchpoints begins to dent this absurdity by taking a holistic view on different consumer groups’ consumption of mixes and weights of media.

The data has many uses. The simplest and most valuable contribution is to provide marketers with much greater insight into how different consumer groups allocate media consumption time. How much time do 16to 24-year-olds devote to internet, TV and press compared with ABC1 35to 45-year-old women, or the over-65s?Within this there’s a wealth of fascinating detail. There’s a new goldmine of information about when people use different media (how about the internet as a channel for reaching office workers during the day?) in addition to intriguing data about multitasking, which is all useful, practical grist for the marketing mill.

There’s also a psychological benefit to Touchpoints because over time, as the consumer-centric Touchpoints philosophy sinks in, marketers and media planners will focus increasingly on the people they are addressing rather than thinking primarily in terms of media. Media owners will also increasingly be forced to sell their media “in the context of” other media rather than “in competition with” other media. It happens a little already, but not enough.

Of course, Touchpoints is not perfect. One glitch is the lack of universally accepted “currencies” for newer media channels such as the internet and text messaging.

Another glitch is the size of Touchpoints’ panel – 5,000. This means that once you start drilling down to the granular specifics needed by actual brands, say magazine and internet use for males aged between 35 and 54 who are interested in cars, the samples get so small as to be, well, dodgy.

Then there’s the decay factor. Given the current pace of change in media consumption, the “half-life” of Touchpoints data is short. But is a second round really enough? Touchpoints is designed for the media landscape of ten years ago. Not today’s, and certainly not tomorrow’s.

There are at least four jokers in the pack. The first is the accelerating availability of actual behaviour data as opposed to sample and proxy data. The fact is, a digital media world is also a personalised media world. Creating a workable system for Google/BSkyB to serve up ads on the basis of individual viewing histories won’t be easy, so don’t hold your breath. But make no mistake. With the Google/BSkyB deal a fissure line has been created. Another TV advertising earthquake is about to happen.

This trend towards actual rather than sample data is not confined to TV. As it unfolds, the value of all sample-based research, including Touchpoints, will decline. Why bother with a statistically extrapolated average when you know who you are talking to and what they are interested in?The second joker is the growing momentum of permission marketing, including volunteered data. It’s becoming increasingly possible for consumers to specify exactly what they are interested in, when they want to receive information about it, and how they went to receive it. The more consumers put their hands up to say “here I am, this is what I’m interested in, please talk to me about this now”, the less traditional push campaigns make sense.

Permission marketing is not going to transform every sector, but it will dramatically change automotive, financial services, travel, electrical and white goods marketing. With its focus on “audiences” rather than data exchange, Touchpoints misses this emerging communication logic.

The third joker is a reflection of our industry’s apparently irresistible urge to view the new through the eyes of the old and see the internet as just another media channel.

Positive spin

There’s a positive or negative spin on this depending on your vested interested (it’s either stealing our audiences or offering new ways to reach even bigger audiences) but either way it misses a crucial point. The internet is not a media channel, it is a mechanism for doing many different things – search for information, shop, be entertained, communicate and so on. And not all of these activities and not all the time spent by these audiences are conducive to advertising.

We wouldn’t dream of interrupting a West End theatre show to display an advertisement, so why do we assume that all the time spent by users on the internet and that the total number of people using the Web for different purposes is any real indicator of the scale or scope of advertising opportunities? These metrics are measuring chalk and cheese.

This raises two issues, one immediately practical, the other strategically crucial. The immediately practical issue is how to measure internet audiences for advertising purposes. It’s often assumed that if audiences are now spending 25percent of their “media consumption” time on the internet, then the Net should be getting 25percent of media budgets. But if you accept that the internet is used for many different things, this time-based assumption becomes a nonsense. So what do you replace it with?Enter the strategically crucial issue of consumer purpose. Our current “audience” model of advertising is obsessed with eyeball time because it assumes that eyeballs are a transmission mechanism to the brain. This model focuses 100percent on the purposes of the advertiser – message lodging – and 0percent on the purposes of the eyeball: if the eyeball is there, it has an “opportunity to see” a brand message.

The internet, however, is a tool in the hands of the user. The reason why people like it is that it gives their eyeballs the opportunity to pursue their own purposes. This creates a problem because if you introduce consumer purpose into “audience measurement” you render the measure meaningless: it is consumer purpose that defines the value of the ad, not time spent seeing it. If I’m really interested in buying a washing machine and you talk to me about washing machines, then my “audience value” is worth ten, 100, perhaps 1000 times more than if you talk to me about life insurance.

An audience paradigm that thinks in terms of averaged numbers of eyeballs, impression numbers and frequencies, cannot cope with the addition of this new ingredient of consumer purpose. It’s why so many media and advertising firms never saw the search juggernaut until it was upon them, why they continue to waste vast sums of money on poor investments (Friends Reunited yesterday, MySpace tomorrow), and why they are still passing over gargantuan opportunities (buyer-centric services). It’s also why any currency that measures just eyeballs and time, without taking account of purpose, is worthless.

Useless measures

Touchpoints is built around the assumption that if you integrate many useless measures you will get a useful one. But that’s doubtful.

Enter joker number four. Marketers are not interested in audiences or audience measures, they are interested in people who buy, or might buy, their brands, and the two are not the same. What entertainment or news people choose to consume, or how much time they spend consuming which media, is actually just a remote proxy to the real issue which is how customers go to market, how they acquire the information they use to making purchasing decisions, and how to fit the brand into this process so that its communication is welcomed and paid attention to, rather than rejected. This is not the same as understanding media consumption. Yet Touchpoints is still focused on media consumption.

This does not mean that the IPA shouldn’t bother with its second round. Touchpoints is a significant step in the right direction – towards real consumer-centric thinking and away from absurdity. It’s just that we’ve got a long, long way to go.

Alan Mitchell, www.alanmitchell.biz

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