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October 6th, 2020

It's Time to Get Unified Around the Future of Measurement

It’s budget season. The time of year when marketers are generally brimming with confidence and gearing up for the holidays. A time to reflect on past performance, make a case for strategic adjustments and put the final touches on the marketing budget for the year ahead.

How things have changed. IAB just released a report showing that, as of mid-August, 30% of marketers (buyers and sellers alike) don't know what to make of their 2021 ad budget, and another 40% have little more than ballpark estimates.

Who could blame them? The seesaw of COVID-19 infections around the country continues to hamper economic recovery. The pandemic keeps hitting new records worldwide, with no vaccine or safe treatment in sight, and many European countries are considering new lockdowns this Fall. In the US, schools and universities are on again, off again, with ripple effects on local economies. Why go through the exercise of forecasting consumer behavior in 2021 when we saw what happened to the 2020 forecast?

The simple truth is that we can't tell when the general economy will rebound, and we can't tell where either. Anyone telling you otherwise has their head in the sand. But we know how it will rebound—and it will reshape the way we do marketing and how we measure its performance. That alone makes the whole budget exercise well worth the effort.

Major Forces Driving Marketing into the Future

Marketing has been on a new trajectory for some time now.

Probably the most visible force driving this new trajectory is the sheer number and variety of channels that consumers have at their fingertips today. From TV to online videos, apps to social media, they consume content on their own schedule, and often on the go. They have more control over what brands they choose to interact with and tend to split their attention between devices. Those changes in behavior were well underway before the pandemic, but the pandemic has thrown them into the spotlight: it’s hard to ignore online shopping when it’s the only way to shop or fill the void on linear TV when live sports get canceled.

On top of having more choice, today’s consumers are more conscious of their privacy rights and more vocal about protecting them. There is still some way to go for privacy regulations around the world to be fully effective, but they’re here to stay and will play an integral part in the way that marketers will connect with consumers in the future. Tech platforms are giving advertisers some reprieve, but there’s little doubt that they’re committed to kicking third-party cookies and mobile ad IDs (MAIDs) to the curb.

The metrics by which marketing performance gets measured are changing as well. It’s not just about sales anymore, or gross rating points (GRP), or click-through rates (CTR). To understand consumers in this complex new environment, marketers need a battery of new measures tied to the outcomes that are most important to their business. An insurance company may measure the time it takes them to respond to a quote request, and a photo-sharing app may measure how long viewers are pausing on a particular photo before scrolling away. Impressions are getting a new lease on life—as long as everyone agrees on what constitutes an impression on this or that channel, and has a way to compare them across channels.

And if marketers weren’t convinced before this year that they needed to be more agile in their business to survive in the future, the pandemic has certainly opened their eyes. A supply chain can suddenly run dry, a retailer close shop, a market lockdown. In this new world, marketers need to think on their feet and respond faster than their competitors.

Consumer choice, privacy, business outcomes, and agility. Those are four major forces driving marketing into the future, and they require a whole new approach to measurement.

Effective Measurement Requires Unified Analytics

At Neustar, we’re in active conversations with top marketers across many industries about the future of measurement, and we see firsthand the complexity they have to deal with on a daily basis and the frustration of working with inadequate solutions. We think there’s a clear path ahead, and have detailed it in this eBook on the topic. 

Our vision is to use persistent identity (not perishable third-party cookies or MAIDs) to bring together the best attributes of marketing mix modeling (MMM) and multi-touch attribution (MTA) into a Unified Analytics solution.

On paper, MMM and MTA should be the best of friends. MMM helps marketers with long-term decisions, while MTA helps them deal with short-term campaign adjustments and budget re-allocations. MMM is best for planning across media channels, online and offline, while MTA helps marketers optimize the customer journey within identifiable channels such as digital and TV. MMM works with aggregate time-series data, while MTA works with user-level touchpoint data.

But over the years, MMM and MTA have evolved into two competing practices fighting for the same budgets. MTA proponents point to the futility of long term planning in pandemic times. MMM proponents cast a shadow on touchpoint analysis at a time when cookies and MAIDs are being phased out and visibility into walled garden activity remains limited. Misconceptions abound.

The two, however, can be integrated to produce a powerful Unified Analytics solution that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not trivial and it requires a solid methodological foundation to operate smoothly, but in an integrated system, market-level and user-level data can flow back and forth in a virtuous circle between MMM and MTA engines—allowing marketers to enrich their user datasets, calibrate their channel-level analyses, and respond confidently to market shifts and competitive pressure.

With Unified Analytics, 1 + 1 = 3.

Measurement Needs Reliable Data

A modern measurement infrastructure needs to be universal (i.e., cover all channels), future-proof (i.e., based on identity and privacy-compliant), and responsive (i.e., fully integrated with a company's campaign activation systems).

In today’s complex environment, this can only be accomplished through industry collaboration: marketers need a place they can turn to for best-in-class data assets, across all channels (including TV and walled gardens) and a guarantee that these data assets are compatible with one another. They don’t have the time or resources to vet each data provider for data quality, completeness, or compliance with privacy regulations. Most of them don’t have data scientists on staff to integrate the data streams they need and build reliable statistical models. Thankfully, there are new reputable data co-ops to pave the way. The second-party data marketplace powered by Neustar Fabrick is a prime example.

The Future of Measurement is Now

The combination of reliable data and Unified Analytics is ushering in a new era in marketing measurement.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is throwing a wrench in every marketer’s budget, but it’s also a catalyst for many structural changes that were well underway before the pandemic. We already know what tomorrow’s marketing will look like, so it’s time we invest in the right measurement solutions to keep up and make the most of the new opportunities.

Neustar is at the vanguard of these developments: Click here to learn more about how we see the future of measurement.

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