Monday, February 23, 2009

Vizu Measures the Brand Impact of Online Ads with Just One Question

I wrote last week about a general framework for measuring the marketing impact of social media. This proposed a general hierarchy of:

1. tracking mentions
2. identifying mentioners
3. measuring influence
4. understanding sentiment
5. measuring impact

As with all marketing measurement, the hardest task is the last one: measuring impact. This requires connecting the messages that people receive with their actual subsequent behavior, and hopefully establishing a causal relationship between the two. The fundamental problem is the separation between those two events: unless the message and purchase are part of the same interaction, you need some way to link the two events to the same person. A second problem is the difficulty of isolating the impact of a single event from all the other events that could influence someone’s behavior.

These problems are especially acute for brand advertising, which pretty much by definition is not connected with an immediate purchase. Brand advertisers have long dealt with this by imagining buyers moving through a sequence of stages before they make the actual purchase. A typical set of stages is awareness, interest, knowledge, trial (the first actual purchase) and regular use (repeat purchases).

Even though these stages exist only inside the customer’s head, they can be measured through surveys. So can more detailed attitudes towards a product such as feelings about value or specific attributes. For both types of measurement, marketers can define at least a loose connection between the survey results and eventual product purchases. Although the resulting predictions are far from precise, they offer a way to measure subtle factors, such as the impact of different advertising messages, that techniques based on actual purchases cannot.

The Internet is uniquely well suited for this type of survey-based analysis, since people can be asked the questions immediately after seeing an advertisement. One vendor that does this is Factor TG, which I wrote about last year (click here for the post.) Another, which I mentioned last week, is Vizu .

What makes Vizu different from other online brand advertising surveys is that each Vizu survey asks just one question. The question itself changes with each survey, and is based on the specific goal for the particular campaign. Thus, one survey might ask about awareness, while another might ask about purchase intentions. Vizu asks its question to a small sample of people who saw an advertisement and also to a control group of people who were shown something else. It assumes that the difference in answers between the two groups is the result of seeing the advertisement itself.

Although asking a single question may seem like a fairly trivial approach, it actually has some profound implications. The most important one is that it greatly increases response rate: Vizu founder Dan Beltramo told me participation can be upwards of 3 percent, compared with tenths or hundredths of a percent for longer traditional surveys.

This in turn means statistically significant survey results become available much sooner, giving marketers quick answers and letting them watch trends over relatively short time periods. It also provides significant results for much smaller ad campaigns or for panels within larger campaigns. This lets marketers compare results from different Web sites and for different versions of an ad, allowing them to fine tune their media selections and messages ways that traditional surveys cannot.

Another benefit of simplicity is lower costs. Vizu can charge just $5,000 to $10,000 per campaign, allowing marketers to use it on a regular basis rather than only for special projects. Vizu also has little impact on the performance of the Web sites running the surveys, reducing cost from the site owner's perspective.

The disadvantage of asking just one question is that you get just one answer. This prevents detailed analysis of results by audience segments, or exploration of how an ad affects multiple brand attributes. Vizu actually does provide a little information about the impact of frequency, drawn from cookies that track how often a given person has been exposed to a particular advertisement. Vizu also tracks where the person saw the ad, allowing some inferences about respondents based on the demographics of the host sites. Mostly, however, Vizu argues that a single answer is a good thing in itself because it keeps everyone involved focused on the ad campaign’s primary objective.

According to Beltramo, Vizu’s main customers are online ad networks and site publishers, who use the Vizu results as a way to show their accountability to ad agencies and brand advertisers. Some agencies and advertisers also contract with the firm directly.

What, you may be asking, has all this to do with social media measurement? Vizu’s approach applies not just to display advertising but also to social media projects such as downloadable widgets and micro sites.

Even though Vizu can’t fully bridge the measurement gap between exposure and actual purchases, it does offer more insights than simply counting downloads, clickthroughs or traffic. In a world where so little measurement is available, every improvement is welcome.


VizuBlogger said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post.

I thought I’d clarify a statement made in your sixth paragraph: “Vizu asks its question to everyone who saw an advertisement...” In actuality, we only sample a small subset of the people who have seen an advertisement, usually less than 1% of the people who are exposed to a campaign. This feature makes Vizu's Ad Catalyst, system, very attractive to online publishers who want the best possible user experience for their visitors as they gather data. We are able to do this and still gather enough data because of our high response rates. This feature also makes our system very scalable, such that we can be an everyday metrics system that provides a better metric than Click Through Rates (CTR’s) for brand advertising.
- Dan Beltramo, CEO, Vizu

David Raab said...

Thanks Dan. I edited the original post to reflect this. Sorry for the confusion.