Before the advertising industry achieves its goal of single-source panels, EssenceMediacom’s Aarti Bharadwaj says the interim solution is to use panels that cover one or two of the key mediums that can measure a certain set of hypotheses or tactics.

Much has been said about the proliferation of media channels and the range of choices these have presented advertisers to make connections with consumers. Marketers today must explore not just various platforms but also various formats of communication to make a meaningful connection with their audience. There is a need to develop a guideline or a set of principles that advertisers can use to define their cross-media strategy. Central to this is the ability to measure the impact of cross-media effects in the emerging data landscape.

Why is cross-media so pivotal?

Before going deeper into effective strategies and how we measure them, it is important to understand why cross-media presence is so pivotal to effective media strategies. Most advertising works on the principles of cognitive priming and conditioning. Essentially, exposure to brand messaging influences a response in terms of brand familiarity and trust, which then leads to sales. Research has also shown that consumers who see variations of the same messaging tend to have a greater attitudinal change toward the product, even at low cognition levels.

In other words, variations of advertising are more effective in driving brand engagement even if the attention consumers pay to the advertising is relatively low.

Moreover, in saturated markets and categories, rational and informative advertising plays a secondary role. The attitudes towards brands are formed by emotional advertising and other emotional marketing activities, in line with the principles of classical conditioning.

When considering variations of brand messaging, the role of multiple media becomes obvious. The same messaging, when delivered on various platforms, is processed and inferred by consumers in different ways. This also allows brands to engage with consumers in formats and environments that they resonate with and allows for attitudinal shifts even with the low level of attention and cognition consumers give to brand messaging. 

In this paradigm of cross-media messaging, it is important to ensure that a thread of consistent data and measurement runs through the process of planning, implementation and evaluation of messaging. This helps ensure the effectiveness of the messaging and ensures that it is delivered in a relevant and timely manner to make the message valuable for the consumer.

The need for first-party data comes with challenges

The current data landscape to ensure this involves first-party data based on consumers’ consumption data. This consumption would be defined as media consumption in the case of media platforms and consumption of goods and services in the case of brands’ data.

While each of these data sources provides rich insights into who the consumers are and how they engage with that brand or platform, there are significant limitations to being able to compare patterns across these databases. In other words, there is no way to compare a consumer on addressable TV with one on digital or social platforms or even in an e-tailer's database.

One oft-quoted solution to these “walled gardens” is to use single- source panels. However, single-use panels come with their own concerns. One concern is that of the bias induced due to the process of recruiting the panel.

Most panels need respondents to opt in to share their data in return for an incentive. However, it is proven that providing incentives impacts response quality. Respondents are more likely to provide positive responses to questions than if they are not incentivised.

Also, while single-source panels conceptually provide the needed insights and measurement of advertising effectiveness, they are not feasible given the proliferation of media channels and brands. A panel that would be representative of audiences on all platforms and all brands in a category would need to be very large, would be expensive and may not be financially viable to maintain for one individual brand or agency.

Exploring interim solutions

While the advertising industry continues to work toward this north star of single-source panels, the interim solution that most stakeholders work with today is using panels that cover one or two of the key mediums that can measure a certain set of hypotheses or tactics.

One such panel is a passive tracking panel used to measure the effectiveness of TV and digital advertising. Passive tracking panels recruit respondents who allow the researchers to observe their digital and offline behaviours via an app on their handheld device. Respondents in this panel may also share data and information about their attitudes toward certain brands or their purchase behaviour. This panel is, therefore, also able to measure the attitudinal shift regarding the brands under study due to the advertising.

However, this panel would not be able to measure the effectiveness of content or influencers. Similarly, this panel would not be able to measure or evaluate specific tactics within a medium. Therefore, the only way to deliver comprehensive and implementable measurement is to set up learning agendas that use a combination of panels, surveys and platform data to help measure advertising, content and tactics.

In the long run, there is no alternative but to, as an industry, invest in a single-source panel that would help us map audience behaviours, and study responses to messaging and attitudinal shifts driven by messaging. However, in the immediate short run, the measurement of cross-media effects will need to rely on disparate studies sewn together by probabilistic methods and models.