IAB Best Practices – Are We All Just Looking In Different Directions?

One of the challenges marketers have found themselves in is when they are put in the position of trying to convey to senior decision makers why the digital spend is so important.  It can’t be about the numbers alone and it can’t just be about context or design – especially when compared to the traditional media that has time-honored rules and expectations that govern its use.  We’ve discussed the bind we, as digital marketers, have put ourselves in since the early days when we stood on soap boxes to proclaim that we can track everything and provide a clear line to consumption. Sadly, the collective we were naive, shooting-from-the-hip and either unprepared or just plain willing to concede to “less than ideal” expectations.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is an agency – bordering on being a governing body – working to set standards and guidelines to help grow the interactive advertising marketplace.  Effectively, one of their goals should be to help make marketers, media buyers and vendors support the argument to move spends from traditional to digital.  As we all know, people can explain interaction rates, contextual sampling, dwell time, cost-effectiveness and more until they’re blue in the face, but that has no effect on someone who is absolute in their conviction that reaching 10MM people in a commercial pod is a better use of money since that is what they  and what they are comfortable with.

Instead of providing a relevant percentage model between the two that approximates the value comparatively, it’s going to be an uphill battle – at least for the next 5 to 10 years.  The numbers as a whole don’t make a compelling argument if just taken as such (both in impressions and hardlined conversions) and don’t work in the equations to more readily compare to the accepted standards of TV, Print, OOH, In-Store, etc.

The IAB is attempting to move further along those lines – if not exactly – in their release yesterday of a Best Practices paper on the conducting of Online Ad Effectiveness Research.

They definitely seem to understand what the challenges are, as shown in the following:

“Marketers are always looking to understand how their campaigns perform, and ad effectiveness research is one of the key tools in doing so,” said Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President, Industry Services, IAB. “But there are still so many questions about the methodology itself that hamstring the validity of this research and undermine the industry as a whole. For our industry to continue to grow and realize its full potential, it is essential that we invest in the necessary advancements described by Dr. Lavrakas. In the interim, the ‘Best Practices’ document illuminates the planning, thresholds and decision parameters for working the existing tools.”

They have taken strong steps to get the structure right in the actual White Paper, but it’s still lacking some real meat and direction.  I was saddened to see that they did not include any marketers – only publishers and agencies.  Without the inclusion of the advertisers in advising, there is a hole in the contextual element.  In the least, those creating the suggestions or guidelines would have a better sense of what’s actually relevant in the decision-making.  Effectively, what information should surveys and panels be asking to make a change to future campaigns or purchasing?  Should the information be provided that runs more in parallel to what tools the media world has been working from for the past few decades? 

I would love to see what types of questions should be asked.  The suggestions on time limits (10 minutes for B2B) are still too much and lead to overkill.  I have seen too many surveys that wasted questions and time with ridiculous and off-point questions – as if the vendors were paid by word or question.  I also have to agree with one of the main IAB paper posits that media professionals need to be trained on how to analyze and make the best use of research.  Marketers don’t have enough time or wherwithall to review hard data and, unfortunately, a lot of planners don’t even know what to look for in the hard data that comes – regardless of if a study is paid for.

 Certainly, things have changed drastically in just the past decade,but principles of marketing have not – only the tools have and the availability (and need) to reach people in smaller forums than previously needed before cable and the internet came along.  Instead of things becoming easier and digital becoming the center of the campaign in a productive way, we could find ourselves spinning wheels like hamsters – producing boring campaigns with little to actually show for it and then trying to make our case for more money – unless we really start looking at things smartly.

The IAB has done a decent starting job on this, but there is so much more and there are so many parts of the equation that need to be figured out.  The internet’s strength is not – and hopefully never will be – just about the numbers.  It is about having the ability to reach and engage users in ways that were never available before.  The more we look at numbers on their own without context, the harder it will be for true growth and expansion.  The more we don’t put things into the right context, the more we will all be looking at the wrong things…



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