Social Media consultants regularly point out that the metrics used for traditional or online advertising campaigns don't apply to social media because they don't take into account the more "social" component of "social media". Metrics like "conversations started", "comments generated", etc. are often more appropriate even if they don't directly correlate (at least in the short run) to sales. However, the same holds true for "measured media" (whether traditional or online). Just because certain metrics are available does not mean that they are effective metrics.
The purpose of display advertising is not always to induce people to action (e.g., to make a purchase). Rather, it is often just to implant or reinforce a brand position in people's minds so that WHEN they are inclined to make a purchase, your brand is foremost (positively) in their mind. Therefore, there is not an immediate, direct relationship between metrics such as impressions and short-term results such as new leads or sales. The effect might happen at various future points in time. Moreover, they might seem to be correlated to other events or programs, but actually still be affected by the longer term display advertising campaign.
Consider Unilever. Unlike some of its other large consumer packaged goods rivals, Unilever did not cut back on its traditional advertising budget over the last couple of years; in fact, they increased their spending. As a result, they've seen sales and market share increases.
Also consider a recent ComScore study. In the online world, it found that only 16% of web users click on online ads (and that number has been dropping every year). Moreover, half of those users (8% of the total web users) account for 85% of all clicks. So, how valuable is display advertising when the metrics clearly show that most people ignore them? Well, digging deeper into the study, it turns out that when companies run both display advertising and paid search campaigns, although the number of people who click on the display ads is small, the number of people who later on search for the brand increases. In fact, not only is paid search more effective, but consumers who were exposed to both paid search and online ads were twice as likely to buy from a retailer's online site. The result of the two tactics together was greater than the sum of each tactic individually.
So how does one effectively measure online and traditional "measured media"? Ultimately, tests have to be run over long periods of time, because the effects of advertising are long term. But in the meantime, marketers should understand that there is an inherent long-term value to display advertising if it properly communicates an effective brand message, regardless of whether or not it can be measured in the short run.
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