Digital Marketing Measurement Demands a New 'Plan A'

If you’re planning for the impending death of the cookie, that’s a productive focus – but also, think bigger. Those keen on planning for what’s next should start preparing for the end of digital marketing measurement as we know it.

Marketing ecosystem changes are destroying the very cornerstones of traditional digital marketing measurement. Policy changes announced by tech giants such as Apple and Google – along with evolving privacy laws – greatly restrict how individual-level data is collected, integrated, and utilized for measurement. This means we immediately need to say goodbye to view-through based KPIs, multi-touch attribution, and our ambition for deduplicated reach and frequency across partners.

Browser changes mean it will no longer be possible to use an ad server or pixel-based measurement to partner to track a consumer across the internet. These seismic shifts threaten the foundation of measurement and will create a wave of disruption across marketing departments and analytics teams as they scramble to explain declining media performance or lost KPIs.

In this new situation, your usual Plan A will no longer work. If brand leaders continue your default approach to the market, performance will seemingly decrease because you’re using old standards that don’t reflect new realities. We also know that in the marketing world brands only ever really get to activate a Plan A, so acknowledge major shifts to make it last.

Speed will be essential to leadership, so plan fast but plan smart.

Now is the time – not 2022 – to revisit your measurement framework, KPIs and benchmarks, because only organizations that move with immediacy will have the best understanding of performance continuity in this shifting landscape.

Your new Plan A should embody specific priorities to make sure you’re agile yet strategic. Here’s where to focus:

Remove Your KPI Biases

Tracking changes have already created bias in some digital KPIs, such as view-based engagement and conversion rates. This measurement bias leads teams to optimize away from audiences where credit is lost for conversion. (Think, for example, of iOS and Firefox.)

The unintended consequence of this bias is decreased reach of target consumers and higher frequencies. Unfortunately, those effects are masked by the fact that the same tracking issues are inflating reach and understating frequency.

As Chrome tracking changes go into effect next year, likely less than 15% of our target audiences will be reachable using third party cookies and device IDs, making the problem significantly worse. We must identify problem KPIs now and decide how we need to shift them. Solutions may include more of a focus on qualified click-through rates and modeled KPIs.

Get started today by analyzing correlations between “qualified” click-through vs. view-through conversions to understand how well clicks will proxy for views.

Deepen Cross-Channel Modeling

Multi-touch attribution is dead. Cross-platform optimization must start shifting even more toward marketing mix optimization to understand relative performance and ROI against business KPIs such as sales.

Big picture thinkers are rethinking methods for cross-channel measurement and developing competitive advantage through what they develop.

For example, time series modeling and machine learning techniques can also be pointed at mid-funnel KPIs, including cost-per-site-visit or app download, once view-through tracking disappears.

Start now by organizing your clickstream ad data and modeling out those mid-funnel KPIs to see how well your models predict key mid-funnel actions.

Plan Publisher-Specific Optimizations

Forget about using your ad server reporting to optimize across spend across publishers. Instead, it’s time to start beefing up in-pub measurement and testing programs.

These solutions are admittedly still emerging, with walled gardens such as Google, Facebook and Amazon the furthest along in their offerings.  But other large publishers and even retailers, such as Walmart and Kroger, are introducing solutions to help marketers close the loop back to sales and other outcomes, using data clean rooms and person-level or emerging algorithmic linking technologies.

More sophisticated enterprises are working with partners to set up their own data clean rooms and deals with publishers to ensure that they will have critical exposure data flowing post-cookie to understand marketing performance.

Figure out now which publisher and retail environments are going to be most important for your business and start testing. Also consider upgrading your enterprise analytics environment to a data clean room.

“Wait-and-see” won’t work. Brand leaders need to create a new Plan A now, before digital tracking as we know it disappears. Maximize your ability to successfully transition your KPIs and measurement methods to make smarter marketing decisions and ultimately gain a competitive advantage.

Relying on a Plan B won’t work when the foundations of digital measurement become irreparably cracked. Find new ground.

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