Making sense of online audiences calls for the adoption of new measurement methodologies.
Today there are over 10 million broadband users in Pakistan viewing their favourite programmes, browsing information on websites, socialising via networks on digital screens and platforms. With this growth in digital audiences, the need to provide reliable data to clients through modern measurement techniques has never been greater. Advertisers, agencies and marketers have grown used to the regulated measurement of ‘traditional’ media, and they now seek the same standards from digital media when it comes to measuring the scale and behaviour of online audiences. Yet, ever since the inception of the internet in Pakistan, the issue of audience measurement has faced multiple challenges, not least the fact that the internet is huge and its rapid growth in Pakistan renders any assumption about the data gathered pretty much useless.
Another problem has been charting the growth in the number of services visitors subscribe to. Given the exponential growth, information regarding visitor access is rendered useless by the constant introduction of new services and the consequent increase in new users. Compounding all this is the fact that there are no geographical boundaries on the net. Thus how do we define ‘access in Pakistan’?
Then come issues related to lack of standards and impartial definitions. For example, just over a decade ago the standard on which audiences were measured was ‘hits’ (the number of client (browser) requests) to a website (Facebook wasn’t around then). This was a reasonable method initially, since a website often consisted of a single HTML file. However, with the introduction of images in HTML and websites that spanned multiple HTML files, this count became less useful as each client (browser) was now sending hundreds of hits on every page load.
#### Making sense of online audiences calls for the adoption of new measurement methodologies.
The result is that today attempts to measure the audiences of Pakistani online advertising campaigns or digital platforms are not consistent enough to provide reliable standard metrics. Understanding how well your brand is doing is about more than clicks and page views. It’s about the audience and here is where the troubles start. Take the metric of ‘new visitor’; yet there is really no such thing as a new visitor when you are considering a website from an ongoing perspective. If a visitor makes their first visit on a given day and then returns to the website on the same day, both a new visitor and a repeat visitor for that day. So if we look at them as an individual, which are they? The answer has to be both, so the definition of the metric is at fault.
Online measurement methodologies in Pakistan also have a problem on how the data is gathered. One way is by reading cookies which gather data on the user from site to site. This, however, only works on a ‘persistence’ basis. When the user deletes this cookie from the browser, the user will appear as a first-time visitor at the next point where the cookie is read. Without a permanent unique visitor ID, conversions, click-stream analysis and other metrics dependent on the activities of a unique visitor cannot be fully accurate.
Whatever standards are adopted, at the core of the audience measurement methodology there must be an understanding of consumer behaviour which not only needs to be holistic, but it must also analyse consumer behaviour and trends, advertising effectiveness, brand advocacy, social media buzz and thereby provide a 360 degree view of how consumers engage with online media.
Different approaches exist worldwide to measure audiences. Surveys are still a popular method, although one can never be sure of the sample’s authenticity. Another approach followed by online research companies worldwide combines representative, people-based panels with tag-based measurement to deliver a holistic view of the digital universe and its audience. The representative panel offers insights across the demographic characteristics of internet users, while the data collected through tags placed on participating publishers’ pages provides measurement of the content consumed, tracking their demographics, web visiting, online and offline transactions, search behaviour, video consumption and ad views. The result is a ‘total internet audience’ metric that offers a sophisticated approach to understanding consumer behaviour and provides comprehensive digital media measurement across all devices and locations, including mobile devices, tablets, secondary PCs and access points outside the home and work locations. The problem with this approach is that it misses niche content and is skewed towards what is popular. Other approaches use a mix of impressions, unique reach, frequency (how many times a person saw the ad online), testing of different creative and tie in with incremental sales.
The first companies to take on internet audience measurement were those with expertise in estimating computer usage (more Google Analytics) rather than mass media consumption. However, as the media permeates more in our lives and as the new forms of media go on stream, (especially mobile), the content consumption and behaviour of audiences will change even more. Thus a web-based landscape that once required internet users to visit specific destinations for content will evolve into one where content is pushed directly to consumers. To uncover the size, growth, composition and value of these distributed, multi-channel audiences, audience measurement technologies will have to keep pace. Sadly we are not even at the first phase yet.
Umair Mohsin is Director Digital Media, Media Idee. email@example.com