Of the three pillars that make up the marketer’s media mix – paid, owned, and earned media – the latter can be the most challenging to measure. It’s hard to draw correlations between vanity metrics like share of voice with business outcomes such as shopping cart conversions and demand generation. This has resulted in earned media receiving a backseat to paid media in most corporate budgets.
Digital ad spend continues to grow, despite Facebook’s measurement problems, Google’s ad controversy, and a reported $7.2 billion lost globally by the Association of National Advertisers, as a result of nonhuman traffic in 2016. According to research from eMarketer, “digital ad spend will increase 15.9% in 2017, hitting $83 billion.”
But cracks are starting to appear in the embrace of paid media by brands, particularly digital ad spend.
Over the summer, Procter & Gamble announced a $100 million cut in digital marketing spend – and not one of those cuts impacted revenue outcomes. As The Wall Street Journal reported, many of these wasteful ads ended up on sites with fake web traffic, along with inaccurate conversion metrics driven by bots.
The days of giving digital a pass are over. It’s time to grow up
Marc Pritchard, P&G
P&G said it will continue to cut spending to the tune of nearly $2 billion during the next five years. “The days of giving digital a pass are over,” P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting. He also urged the rest of the industry to follow its lead. “It’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”
But the days of paid are hardly over. As Cision CEO Kevin Akeroyd explained in a recent Adweek article, “Big brands cannot suddenly pull out in any mass-scale way. Advertisers are not going to be able to back out of the decade-long investment they’ve made in digital. I don’t think Wall Street is going to allow them to do that. [But what] you are doing to see is digital ad spending become more responsible, held more accountable. You’re going to see brands look more to earned media, looking to fill the void.”
That distinction between paid and earned media matters because of the vast amount of media today that is disguised as earned, such as paid content placement or celebrity engagement on social media, which are not authentic interactions.
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) May 9, 2013
Develop a framework for attribution
Traditionally, earned media has relied on vanity metrics that only track potential reach. Earned Media Value, as an example, is the much–maligned way to calculate an approximate ROI by understanding the estimated number of impressions some placed media generated.
To elevate themselves in the budget conversation, communicators must have a framework that ties engagement metrics to actual business outcomes. AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework offers a good start. It begins with key business objectives that a company wants to drive, such as shopping cart conversion or lead generation. Once those are stated, communicators then needs to define inputs and outputs where they measure themselves against those outcomes.
At a certain point, the sophistication of the model does depend on technology and the granularity of tracking end-user behavior. The first step is tracking what audiences consumed a piece of content on a media or publisher site. Once that audience data is obtained, it needs to be matched against customers who performed key business behaviors, such as shopping cart conversion or becoming a contact in a lead generation program.
And the good news is communicators can start to borrow the same tracking technology that is used in paid media. But if communicators don’t learn from the measurement mistakes of paid, earned media may be be doomed to repeat it.