Facebook and Dunnhumby's new tool is big news, there's no other way to put it.
Facebook and Dunnhumby are both sales houses, so it is in their interest for this new tool to produce good results
It's going to help FMCG marketers measure actual sales and ROI against their Facebook investment and prove the value of their digital activity, and it's been created by a media company boasting a database of millions of UK shoppers and the people behind the Tesco Clubcard.
But marketers will need to fully invest in it to reap the benefits.
Firstly, anything that supports the connection between digital platforms and their impact on real world consumer actions is a great step that should be applauded and supported.
While the Dunnhumby-Facebook tie-up won’t necessarily crack the next stage of media measurement, as it is such a complicated space to calculate and quantify, it will allow further evidence to support the role of social, mobile and digital advertising in delivering more than just clicks and shares for brands.
Having this level of grocer detail behind sales will only help marketers and agencies in their bid to demonstrate the value of digital within FMCG marketing plans, in a world where TV viewer ratings have traditionally dictated shelf space.
Marketing their own homework
But that doesn't mean this new tool, exciting as it is, won't present challenges for marketers.
For one, Facebook and Dunnhumby are both sales houses, so it is in their interest for this new tool to produce good results. People may see this as both companies marketing their own homework. Especially as the results from Facebook's initial "test and control" tests apparently showed 60% of the FMCG brands involved experiencing a "statistically significant sales uplift".
Without sharing real comparative numbers there will be debate and conflict over this form of testing, so both companies need to make sure their methodology is watertight.
The complexity of the methodology is another potential issue. Back in 2010, Yahoo launched Consumer Connect, a platform that aimed to map users' online data with their spending data through their Nectar Card activity.
It was meant to be the turning point in measuring offline results stemmed from online choices.
Unfortunately it was hampered in three ways. Firstly the large minimum spends involved in signing up for Consumer Connect meant advertisers had to take a leap of faith in deciding how much budget they wanted to risk on the tool.
Secondly, the product purchase cycles hampered realistic measurement on anything other than the fastest selling FMCG sectors, and thirdly, the complexities of in-store displays, offers and promotions, created a real challenge when it came to isolating results.
Facebook has the scale that Yahoo perhaps lacked, but it will still a campaign that reaches at least three million users once a week - with a Tesco penetration of 1% - to produce good results. This may limit some brands, while new product developments will still need to be measured at a brand level.
A boost to creative ideas
But where an increase in measuring and testing for FMCG brands' sales performance has sometimes seen the curbing of creativity within its marketing in favour of delivering sales-focused brand work, this new tool should help boost the importance of original ideas.
Facebook has explained that its tests will be measurements of single campaigns only, not ‘always-on’ brand work.
At a campaign level, the learnings should hopefully be used to inform creativity, though the tool is probably geared towards testing regional sales levels to isolate results rather than testing different creative variables at this stage.
But despite these potential challenges, this is still a significant development in terms of measuring digital ROI, because Facebook provides the scale and formats to actually make the methodology achievable.
This is what actually makes it exciting. The challenge now for marketers is being willing to set up the appropriate budget, creative and measurement to support a real test and to learn from it, ensuring to work with their agencies to get the most robust methodology that not only allows the best chance of getting an answer, but also allowing a positive answer to be believed.