The digital measurement genie

I was having lunch with an old friend in a cozy Bengaluru restaurant last month. He was telling me how there was a whole new world out there of exciting products across various domains. None of them were advertising in the conventional media of television, print, radio or outdoor. My friend explained that these smart start-up brands were all savvy digital marketers. They were able to extract the power of digital marketing to the fullest. 

To all of us who have been brought up on a steady diet of brand building advertising on conventional media, the new age media seems too complex. We were told and we also found that to get to 2 million consumers (for a trial or a test drive) we need to get our message to anywhere between 10 to 20 million consumers. Past data showed us that to move the needle with consumers you had to give them at least five impressions (five opportunities to see). Most media plans consisted of numbers such as reach of (in target segment) 30 per cent and an average OTS of five to be delivered in a burst of six weeks. Assuming that the total target consumers in the segment we were addressing, say, socio-economic class A in a particular state or town class, to get our message to 10 million, we needed to try to get to 30 million, at a reach of 30 per cent. And if they see the ad five times they may be persuaded to try the brand. 

All this is ABC of media planning, I admit. You can add more complexities by looking at threshold level of advertising needed to persuade, or the share of voice in the category etc. But my question to my friend was: What metrics do your digital-first/digital-native brands use? 

My learned friend did not have a simple answer. He felt that these smart brand marketers were so adaptable and agile that they do many things all at once and once they see something working, they up the ante on that mode. If they have a well defined effectiveness metric like website visit or online sales, this becomes a lot easier. But if the brand is dependent on sales from conventional retail outlets, there is no clear blueprint as yet. 

The issue of metrics for digital marketing is nothing new. I located an article in the McKinsey Quarterly dating back to October 2008. The article presented the outcome of a survey done by McKinsey across 340 senior marketing executives from around the world. The authors concluded, “Hobbled by nascent technologies, inconsistent metrics, and a reliance on outdated media models, marketers are failing to tap the digital world’s full power. Unless this problem is addressed, the inability to make accurate measurements of digital advertising’s effectiveness across channels and consumer touch points will continue to promote the misallocation of media budgets and to impede the industry’s growth”. 

In 10 years, at least in the more digitally savvy markets one was hoping there was some sign of clarity. Sadly, the state seems to be pretty confusing still, for many other reasons. 

In an article titled “Advertisers must become militant over digital metrics”, marketing journal Marketing Week (November 18, 2016) of the UK pointed towards how advertisers needed to demand more from Facebook and Google. While the concept of impressions or OTS went from conventional media like print and TV, there is confusion about what constitutes a view and there is no third-party validation of the numbers presented. The article concluded, “Digital media is still in its infancy and it does time to work out metrics and the standards to be used across an industry. However with Facebook and Google becoming even more important in marketers strategy, this needs fixing”. 

The two articles were separated by almost 10 years. The story has not changed much. 

In India, we are talking of more than 400 million internet users, 350-plus million consumers accessing the internet through their mobile phones and more than 250 million smart phone users. With more and more data being churned out about consumer’s habits and likes-dislikes, will it be possible for us to say that of the 400 million internet users, 45 are talking/searching about motorbikes, and this digital media platform can reach 20 million of them in six weeks; and if you deliver two messages to them in an engaging manner chances are 5 million will visit your showroom.

I am not sure if this is happening as yet. 
The author is a brand strategist, author and founder,; he can be reached at

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