IAB Member Q&A: Advertising measurement through the COVID-19 period

Posted by IAB Australia On June 04, 2020 Research & Resources

The COVID-19 period has brought great change in consumer sentiment and behaviour and significant increases in digital and other media consumption. At the onset of the lockdown period a significant proportion of advertisers paused or decreased their ad spend, but some are now back in the market investing.

To ensure longer term business viability coming out of this period and the ensuing economic downturn, it’s important that marketers continue to invest in media and maintain share of voice.

Advertising measurement can provide the confidence to marketers to continue spending, with insight on brand salience, creative cut-through, message resonance and sales ROI etc.

While marketers are adjusting media plans and creative messaging, do they need to adjust their measurement techniques or be mindful of any differences in results that might come about during this period?

Allan Breiland Senior Director, Media Kantar

Is this a time to scale back, stop or continue campaign measurement/marketing effectiveness/brand tracking through this period?

This is a tough decision that many businesses are facing, however we know that brands who go totally dark for more than 6 months could lose 13% of existing volume sales, and these sales will be very hard to recover. This makes measurement (and refinement of the back of this) especially critical as every impression needs to work as hard as possible for advertisers that are spending at this time.

In addition, now more than ever is a time to keep a pulse on how brand sentiment is being built by any ongoing activity vs competitors through having brand tracking systems in place as consumers may be trialling different brands as their behaviours and circumstances are shifting.

Where budgets are tightening, we’d suggest focusing on prioritising measurement of larger scale activity, activity which will likely be an important component of the mix moving forward or trying a new element in the mix (e.g. Video and Podcast consumption is expected to accelerate and be maintained through and out of COVID), campaigns with differing spend ratios due to reallocation of budgets, and ensure brand and category competitive tracking systems are in place to understand any shifts in category dynamics.

Is there anything marketers should change in their measurement techniques through this period?

Measurement fundamentals such as existing frameworks and proper objective and KPIs that are relevant to that objective should not change during this time, however we strongly recommend Brand Effectiveness research should form a key element in the measurement mix; especially at the moment where justifying investment is high on the list and different channels are being upweighted or new platforms and being trialled.

Many advertisers will be chasing short term sales, which are important right now to keep the lights on, however we also know that longer term brand impacts will deliver future sales over time. Getting a solid understanding from both short and long term angles will be incredibly valuable to maximise both current and future growth.

We also know that strong brands will bounce back faster as compared to weaker brands as we move into post-COVID, and many advertisers are starting up activity with more of a brand focus to generate a solid ‘bank’ of pre-disposition that will be later leveraged as restrictions continue to lift and people begin to consider spending in categories that are currently ‘on hold’. Putting Brand effectiveness measurement in place will make sure the creative and media placements are delivering as effectively and efficiently as possible in this critical period.

Kathy Benson, Chief Client Officer ANZ, Ipsos

How much can we rely on the insights gathered through this period being applicable for decisions/optimisations in the future?

Collecting data during this period is without a doubt, not just extremely valuable, but is critical. Knowing exactly what is going on, how your customers are thinking, making decisions and behaving, is vital for any brand to anticipate their needs and be responsive.  However, collecting data is one thing, but the more important part of the process in transforming data into business action, is interpreting the data to form insights.

Developing insights during this period is where the doubt emerges.  How do we ensure we are not collecting ‘dirty’ insights that aren’t being muddied by the COVID cloud?  How long can our insights be relied upon before the world massively pivots again?

Like the concept of money laundering, we believe that until we emerge from the COVID cloud, we should ‘wash’ our insights before we take them to the bank.  That is, we need to validate the insights against a clean benchmark or framework to ensure that the insight had a feasible trajectory prior to the pandemic crisis.  If the insight aligns back to a trending trajectory prior, then it is much more likely it is an insight that will have life beyond the crisis.

So how do we ‘wash’ our insights.  At Ipsos we use our theory of change – a framework that comes from our global trends work that we have been running since 2013.  We look at trends at two levels:

  • macro forces that are long term, far reaching and are shaping humanity. Like any forces the trajectory and movement of these create tension and friction which produce trends in society. 
  • micro forces which we call signals, are localised reactions and expressions of the impact of the longer-term trends. These can emerge quickly but also exit quickly from the trends landscape – they can be big or small, brief or longer lived. 

Insights developed on a signal could ultimately be based on a fad that comes and goes.  Brand leaders need to understand the longer-term macro forces driving the signals in order to interpret data more accurately.  COVID-19 is a shock to the ecosystem, which is radically impacting signals, but we can still develop reliable insights if we are able to distinguish the signal from the longer term trend or macro force – that is, a reliable insight to take to the bank is one that can be linked to a pre-pandemic trajectory of change.

How will we know what is the lagging impact of COVID-19 as we move into recovery period?

There are a lot of industry commentators, in our country and around the world, providing predictions on what we can expect to see “after the crisis” and how to prepare for the recovery.

Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is a seismic event that is creating an astounding amount of ripple effects.  Governments, businesses and brands are grappling with navigating the tsunami of change that is occurring right now, but many of the savvy ones also have one eye on the future, asking: what will happen after?.  Which impacts will effect permanent change and which are creating albeit, volatile, but temporary fluctuations which will fade as we recover?

Of course, none of us has a crystal ball, but we do have clues, and really the more pertinent question is which clues do we follow? 

At Ipsos we are using our ongoing global trends work to navigate the future and distinguish between the changes that will lag beyond this year and the changes that will probably fade as quickly as they emerged.  Our trends research that we have been conducting since 2013 tells us there are six macro forces at play in the world.  In addition, the tracking we have been conducting weekly throughout the coronavirus pandemic gives us a good understanding of the key changes in customer behaviour as they occur. The current tracking is critical in understanding change, but it is our macro trends framework which enables us to interpret the possible trajectory of these changes, that is if they will continue, increase or disappear.

So, the answer is, nobody really knows what will be the lagging impact of COVID-19, but we have tools to project some solid hypotheses:

  • Trends data collected prior to COVID-19 which provides an understanding of the key forces at play, the big changes and how the world was shaping;
  • Tracking data continuously collected throughout the crisis to measure and understand the key consumer changes in both attitudes and behaviours as well as seeing the shape of these changes as the build, peak and ebb;
  • Converging these two perspectives provides a toolkit for projecting a trajectory for each change.

Amelia Ward, Head of Digital Sydney PHD Australia

Is there anything marketers should change in their measurement techniques through this period?

During this period, with the uplift in online shopping, a number of Marketers have had to pivot both their campaign activity and distribution channel to an eCommerce offering. For some this is a fast track of plans and for others it’s a brand new solution providing direct to consumer product fulfilment.

One thing to think about during this time is how that will drastically change any legacy measurement framework. Media KPIs and benchmarks, which have been specifically curated over months or even years, will have to change to align with the new campaign objectives and the definition of success for marketing efforts will evolve to a focus on driving D2C sales. Industries like Automotive, which traditionally wouldn’t utilise online sales as a metric of success, will need to create new benchmarks for performance, but will also need to be wary of the long term effect… will online sales for their category continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic, or will we see a natural progression back to the traditional process of buying a car?

Marketers will need to be agile and flexible in the measurement framework and long term view of business success benchmarks. Measurement techniques that Marketers use over this time should take into consideration both the short and long term view of campaign performance.

How much can we rely on the insights gathered through this period being applicable for decisions/optimisations in the future?

It’s important to look at a long term view of marketing success during this period. As a number of studies have shown, we’ve looked at insights from the Global Financial Crisis to understand how we might fare after the pandemic. These insights, while fairly dire at the time, are extremely important for us to understand predictions around consumer confidence and behaviour during a similar time of economic stress. Looking across marketing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, the goal is to continue to adapt measurement and what Marketers consider to be metrics of success, with a focus on what the long term business goals for the business are. The insights gathered during this time will be relevant for future decision making and optimisations for at least the next 18+ months (as we saw during the GFC, it took 2-3 years for the Australian economy to recover).

It’s also worth thinking about the long term changes to consumer behaviour that will last beyond this period, especially when considering an example such as online shopping/eCommerce. Advertisers who have pivoted their business to a digital shelf, will see the biggest long term benefit from any insights garnered during this time. Most beneficial is the ability to leverage data collected during this time and use this to further grow and develop an online offering for consumers. When thinking about how to utilise insights from this period, it’s worth considering this time as a potential sandbox for testing optimisations and changes, and also an opportunity to roadmap additional use cases where this might benefit.

Jemma Lightfoot, Head of Brand Health Tracking and Creative Excellence, Ipsos

Is there anything different you have observed in the campaigns results during this COVID-19 period compared to what you’ve come to expect normally?

What we are seeing is that, contrary to initial fears, brand health and equity is not falling off a cliff during this time. The changes we are seeing are sensibly explained by organic factors or seasonality. We are seeing some differences evident on sustainability and trust, as the emerging world start to reassess its previous expectations and notions on these issues.

We are also seeing that scarcity for ‘hot products’, whether that be due to limitations on availability or due to the inability to access typical places of purchase (e.g. food), is increasing demand.

What has resonated well has been campaigns which are not looking to take advantage of the crisis in an overt way, rather underpin the strength of being united, either at the brand level or across the community at large. Opportunism at this stage is not well regarded.

What considerations should marketers be aware of in evaluating their campaign/marketing effectiveness during this unusual period?

It’s a good time to look at the goals being set for the campaigns and ensure they align with the needs and demands of the market. From here, evaluating their success and effectiveness in the context of the current climate will be more salient.

Lean into the crisis, do not be afraid to work with the issues at play and find ways to demonstrate the ways the brand or product is adapting to change, remembering it needs to be customer centric. Do not pretend the current issues are not relevant, they are, and most consumers are aware of this. We have observed globally communications which have capitalised on the human touch to good effect, which at the present time is a precious commodity.

We believe that building emotional closeness and identifying with the personal goals, values and circumstances of consumers will play an even more prominent role in impacting brand choice. Building closeness in a world governed by fear is likely to be a winning strategy as it is time to demonstrate empathy while adopting the right tone of voice.

Peter Fairbrother, Managing Director, Faster Horses

Is this a time to scale back, stop or continue campaign measurement/marketing effectiveness/brand tracking through this period?

Firstly, do not go dark! Do not do nothing. Be present, be helpful and play a relevant role. Think about how your brand can help people in their new day to day. Consider their needs. No one is trying to shoot the lights out right now. Everyone is trying to survive, at home, cooped up in situations they do not usually find themselves in. Ask, what can my brand do to help?

This might be in the form of a product pivot, a price adjustment or contractual change, advice or support – in terms of activities, health and wellness, education and learning, financial management, energy or water saving tips and so on. What can your brand do to offer genuine assistance to people.

Thus far, most brands that have pivoted have adjusted their production facilities to offer medical equipment. But not all brands can do this. It simply isn’t relevant for all brands to play this role.

While there are obvious advantages of being present and helpful in a time like this, there are risks in going dark too:

  • Loss of brand salience, understanding and knowledge of your brand – loss of brand equity
  • The need to rebuild at a later date in a more cluttered market with a more disengaged audience
  • Loss of association with key brand characteristics
  • Think about the role you can play – what can you do to bring a benefit to people who are anxious, unsure, financially restricted and physically confined. Recognise this tension and adjust product and service offers as well as pricing and contractual conditions.

From a measurement perspective, people are engaging with research. The research industry is seeing higher response rates and better survey engagement. There is a captive audience, looking to increase earning capabilities. Suddenly a survey doesn’t seem so bad after all. It is now not competing with people’s social lives for attention, but with puzzle building and bread baking.

This resurgence of interest in contributing opinions means that now is not the time to stop or pause surveys. Particularly if you are active in market. It is essential to keep an eye on how your material is performing to assess whether or not it is hitting the mark at a sensitive time.

With limited budgets, it is essential to get messaging right and therefore business intelligence is critical right now.

It is important to assess not only how to align with consumers now, but to understand what the world will look like and how brands need to perform when this is all over. What will have changed? How will consumers’ perspectives have adapted? What will their new priorities be?

Less consumerism? More local focus? Less globalisation? Less waste? More environmental concern? A step closer to home? Tighter family structures and networks? Greater appreciation for the simpler things in life? A less demanding attitude? Less need for immediate gratification?

These behaviours have been forming quietly in the background for some time, but COVID-19 has accelerated their impact.

Faster Horses has 4 key takeouts for marketing in a COVID world:

  • Think about your role and how to be relevant and helpful to your consumers right now.
  • Talk to them. Do not go silent. Be present to avoid loss of brand equity.
  • You have a captive audience. Use this wisely.
  • Consult with your audience. Know how they want you to adapt to be relevant both now and in a new world.

IAB Australia

IAB Australia is the peak trade association for online advertising in Australia. As one of over 43 IAB offices globally and with a rapidly growing membership, the role of the IAB is to support sustainable and diverse investment in digital advertising across all platforms in Australia.