It's time to transform how we measure media
A view from David Wilding

It's time to transform how we measure media

The industry needs to take off its blinkers and change the way it judges media planning. By Twitter UK's director of planning.

Blinkers help the wearer remain focused on what is immediately in front, reduce distraction and prevent the wearer from being spooked. They are mostly worn by horses, marketers and media planners. If that sounds a bit harsh, here’s a quick story.

When I was in media planning, we were asked by a client to present two plans – one for £2m and another for £4m. I’m still not quite sure why clients do that, but that’s another thing.

We presented the £2m plan and reported that coverage and frequency was something like 87% at 12 opportunities to see. I should probably add that we reported it exactly, but it was a while ago so I can’t quite remember the specifics.

We then presented the £4m plan, and coverage and frequency was around 96% at 21 opportunities to see. The client – very reasonably – said that spending double the budget for an extra nine points of coverage and a few more opportunities to see didn’t seem like a very good idea.

It was also very hard for her to justify to her colleagues why she would go for the more expensive plan. The problem was that we were only looking at the plan in terms of one metric: coverage and frequency. And that was when the conversation got interesting.

The more expensive plan had a number of things that the lower priced one didn’t. It had bigger, more impactful formats, it had a couple of really interesting activations intended to create buzz and get people talking, it had more weight at a crucial period of the campaign, it had a really neat way to get the core audience to feel a part of it. That sort of thing.

The best media people understand the importance of the creative idea and think of media planning as a creative discipline.

In short, it had things that we were convinced would make the campaign significantly more effective. But our reach and frequency blinkers meant that this was the only thing we had metrics for and we didn’t have a common way to express the value of those other things and to talk to colleagues and each other about them. We still don’t, if we’re honest.

Blinkers are great for focus but, as recent challenges in the digital media market have shown, fixating on one thing at any cost can backfire and, more importantly, means we miss out on the much broader picture.

Different metrics

So let’s transform the way we look at media. Let’s take off the blinkers. What do we see? We see that the idea matters. In fact, media friends, let’s be really honest about something here – the most important factor in whether communication is successful or not is the creative. It’s astonishing that so much analysis of media still goes on with little or no discussion around the creative itself. But the best media people understand the importance of the creative idea and think of media planning as a creative discipline.

Second, we see that impact matters – look at Apple’s stunning "Shot on iPhone" campaign. The impact comes from the bold media placement combined with incredible imagery. One needs the other.

Third, we see that mindset matters. It’s better to reach people in a discovery mindset than when their networks and mindsets are closed to brands.

And, finally, we see that context matters. In fact, understanding the context in which a message will be seen is probably the most important thing that a media planner brings to the table – now more than ever given the rise and rise of the smartphone.

Frustratingly, I still don’t have a way to show the value of ideas, impact, mindset and context as immediate short-term metrics in the same way that I can easily measure reach and "performance".

But do you honestly think they don’t matter? It’s time to take the blinkers off.

David Wilding is the director of planning at Twitter UK.