The surprising role of creative in measuring marketing effectiveness
With third-party cookies going the way of the dodo, it’s high time to revisit how we measure media performance – by putting creativity at the forefront, writes VidMob’s Nick Zanetis.
/ Nishant Jain
When it comes to evaluating marketing effectiveness against sales, there have historically been two primary ways to do it: marketing mix modeling (MMM) and multi-touch attribution (MTA). While these methodologies measure similar metrics, the underlying approaches and purposes are quite different. MTA is a granular ‘bottom-up’ approach that measures every exposure, assigning credit to each touchpoint on the path to conversion. MMM, on the other hand, is a ‘top-down’ approach that aims to evaluate the right overall media mix to maximize revenue.
Multi-touch attribution relies on the ability to track each exposure, interaction and sale back to an individual. Today, a lot of that measurement happens using third-party cookies and app tracking. Therefore, the depreciation of cookies is likely to lead to a shift in investment from MTA to MMM. This shift is a good time to reevaluate the approach to both methodologies and consider an important piece of the puzzle that has long been ignored: creative.
Different but similarly blind to creative
MTA seeks to understand the consumer path to conversion by tracking every exposure of an individual across various channels. Tracking exposure across web pages and apps relies on cookies and cross-app tracking (at least historically). Credit is then assigned to each of those touchpoints, the magnitude of which is determined by the attribution model used. Depending on the framework used, some touchpoints may receive more credit and others less, most often depending on the sequence of exposures.
MMM primarily leverages impression streams across publishers and channels to determine effectiveness against metrics like return on ad spend. This is done using multi-linear regressions to determine which variables have a relationship with a particular metric and to what degree. Unlike MTA, MMM does not rely on tracking audience exposures, and does not seek to understand the ideal consumer path but instead helps identify the appropriate media mix.
As a result of signal loss, advertisers are expected to invest more heavily in MMM measurement. While MMM has the benefit of not relying on cookie data, it comes with its own set of challenges, namely that the model is not complete. Historically, creative has been an unaccounted variable in the models, despite it being the most important input, accounting for 70% of performance.
Instead, MMM tends to rely most heavily on media variables such as spend, channel, target, etc. and at times, consider outside factors such as seasonality, macroeconomic conditions or weather. The lack of creative variables can lead to the misattribution of performance to other factors, possibly misleading budget allocation and media mix decisions.
Fit adherence scoring variables into existing MMM
As Google looks to follow Apple’s lead and also restrict cross-app tracking on Android in the next two years, marketers are likely to be further pressured to adopt different solutions to mitigate signal loss. Cookie depreciation diminishes the effectiveness of hyper-targeting and further stresses the importance of measuring creative influence on performance. In response, introducing creative variables into sales/ROI modeling frameworks is likely to become more common. The challenge will be to understand which creative elements are most important to the marketing model, from key messages to emotional levers, sound, and imagery.
Third-party cookies and app tracking will make MTA harder, but there are ways to improve upon MMM to include the influence of the creative on performance using a designated creative variable.
However, including too many creative variables with too much granularity cannot be accommodated with multi-linear regressions. Instead, it’s best to score assets against particular adherence criteria (roughly four to five, max) and introduce them as variables to the model. These variables should be distinct, easy to measure, and informed by insights as to what works and what doesn’t work. In most cases, these criteria may align with platform best practices, however, as more analytics is carried out on an advertiser’s creative, there is an opportunity to tailor those criteria to brand-specific best practices. Introducing creative variables via scoring is expected to help provide better readouts of effectiveness, without crediting performance to the wrong variables.
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Consider unified marketing measurement (UMM) techniques
Another option is to create a hybrid model. UMM is a blend of the top-down/bottom-up approaches of MMM and MTA, respectively. With UMM, marketers get more granularity on certain channels, potentially down to the creative level to determine the optimal consumer path to conversion.
UMM also allows for visibility into higher-level budget allocation across properties and channels. It’s a more holistic approach to understanding marketing effectiveness. The granularity of data also opens doors to conducting a creative analysis for an understanding of which creative attributes are potential drivers of results. These attributes may be certain key messages, themes, objectives, brand positions, colors, etc. and the resulting insights can help optimize creative strategy.
With a new year upon us, it’s a good time for brands to consider retooling their approach to measurement. Many brands work with in-house analysts, agencies and tech partners that not only need to be on board with the new measurement approach, they may actually have data and reporting that can be beneficial. Many tech companies are able to share log-level reporting with brands that want to shift to more granular modeling, for example. Most importantly, now is the time to be open-minded. With any shift in strategy, the mantra to live by is “test and learn.” Updating an approach to measurement is no different.
Nick Zanetis is director of product research and innovation at creative software developer VidMob.