Christian Polman: Covid-19 – good ad measurement has never mattered more

It seems strange to think back only a matter of months when a crisis on the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic was purely the domain of Hollywood movies. But here we are, living a new normal under the cloud of a global virus.

This may be a crisis unlike any before it, but we can still learn lessons from the past. A recession will inevitably follow and what history teaches us is that brands should try and maintain marketing spend. As our recent report on ‘Advertising through a recession’ shows, brands typically reduce marketing spend more than GDP shrinks but then invest heavily immediately after the recession to make up ground. This pattern of deep cuts, then over-investment, is far from ideal and we advocate instead for a long-term approach.

But to optimise anything requires good quality data and so how we measure is vital. This is not a time to fall back on instinct, it’s a time to rely on evidence. Many marketers are juggling with huge uncertainties including budgets – our client survey showed only seven per cent are expecting their ad budgets to remain as planned for 2020.

With resources unknown, data collected – and insights gleaned – must hit the mark instantly. To that end, three dimensions of data are critical to success: speed, quality and impact.

Brands have no time to waste; they need to measure and understand the changes that are happening to the media market as quickly as possible and with greater frequency. With people confined to their homes, how are media habits evolving and what’s the effect on commercial impacts or ad interaction?

Research by Lumen shows readers are paying more attention to advertising placing alongside news yet brands are pulling advertising for concerns over ad safety. This may not be appropriate for every brand, but there is certainly an opportunity here for some (while supporting journalism in the process).

Brands must rigorously question whether they are looking at the right metrics – it’s about quality over quantity – and data that ties back to business performance, from the RoI of each channel to cross-platform reach. The evidence shows that now is the time to invest in your brand – and now is the time to prepare that evidence for the CFO, CEO, and in many cases, your Boards.

Before coronavirus, and long after coronavirus, there is no shortage of data; where companies can go wrong is in not understanding the nuance and gaining insight from the numbers to achieve genuine impact and change for a brand.

All reasonable estimates indicate we’re going to be in this for a while so if you haven’t started already, set your focus on measuring your way out of lockdown with a renewed vigour on impact, no matter what your budget.

As Sherlock Holmes said, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data’.

Christian Polman is chief strategy officer of Ebiquity.

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