Hari Shankar
Jan 6, 2014

Digital measurement in Asia Pacific: A reality check

Everyone talks about measurement, but the true state of the art in many organisations may disturb you.

Hari Shankar
Hari Shankar

Digital measurement is quite a popular conversation topic in management circles and industry conferences. But how much of the urgency purported at networking events really transforms into concerted and sincere effort toward meaningful and simple measurement ecosystems within today’s enterprises?

Getting a handle on which half of advertising is really getting frittered away should ideally elicit a massive level of attention among senior management. But what sort of attention is it eliciting in real life? Let us prod a little deeper to get an understanding of the state of measurement and thereby, the real initiatives (or lack thereof) that are taking place.

Before we dive into a scenario assessment, it is prudent to define what 'digital measurement' in this context really means. Digital measurement encapsulates the tracking, monitoring, measurement and analysis of the real role and impact of the dollars invested behind various instruments used to reach out to the consumer as well as the tracking, monitoring, measurement and analytics of the consumer journey from the time of landing in the marketer’s website to the point of conversion (or no conversion).

To simplify the complicated, one can attach the tags—external and internal measurement (or ex-site and in-site measurement, if you will)—to classify the two spheres or phases of the journey. Instruments in this context represent all the tactics, channels, devices and methods used to reach out to the prospective customer, whether media or otherwise.

Let’s halt for a moment to look at the latest update of the APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard released by Adobe and the CMO Council, which sheds some genuine light upon this topic. Firstly, estimates project that by 2015, digital advertising spend in Asia will account for only 29.4 per cent of adspend, trailing the US, where it will account for 36 per cent. This comes as a jarring note amidst estimates that say 40 per cent of smartphone users and 35 per cent of tablet users reside in Asia, not to mention that 57 per cent of the world's mobile phones are in Asia—representing 10 times the number in North America. With such potential, should digital advertising not chew up a significantly higher share of the overall marketing budget?

Looking at the components the report measures ('mindset', 'marketing readiness', 'organisational alignment' and 'marketing skills'), the scenario doesn’t seem to be any different from 2012. Mindset and marketing readiness have moved up a couple of points, while organisational alignment exhibits classic signs of being an Achilles heel, advancing by only 3.2 per cent. And I can't help but be amused that the marketing-skills parameter stands out because it has managed to register negative growth in 2013.

The real state of play

Methinks ‘organisational alignment’ deserves a little more attention before settling on ‘marketing skills’ as the ultimate culprit. And on that note, let us take the example of three typical measurement ecosystems that I assure you are not hard to find in today’s world of digital programmes and measurement systems. In fact you may even be surprised to know that many of the leading global brands, which we believe are at the cutting edge of measurement, may be grappling with these measurement conundrums.

  • Ecosystem A: Multiple web analytics tools are at play, some from external vendors and some developed internally, all measuring the same key business outcomes, such as sales, revenue and conversions. All of these tools have different implementation robustness levels, and all of them churn out alarmingly different data sets while measuring the impact of big budgets. The jury could still be out on whether one of the data sets really gets close to ultimate truth and if so, which one.
  • Ecosystem B: A dated third-party ad-serving tool plays the role of a prehistoric counter that identifies conversions non-real-time, producing a data set that needs to be stitched back before any semblance of a decision-making process can be undertaken. In this ecosystem, the prospective customer’s in-site journey or the performance specifics of a given channel remain virtual black holes.
  • Ecosystem C: Multiple and disparate tracking systems, corresponding to multiple channels and web-analytics platforms, churn out data that are so evidently suspect that many gallons of midnight oil must be spent to arrive at simple decision-making or trouble-shooting outcomes, which otherwise could be executed in a few hours. In this ecosystem, root-cause analysis is anyone’s guess, because stakeholders can conveniently conduct for/against debates based on multiple data sets thanks to the gaps between the disparate systems.

In short, the current state of play is nothing short of a myopic combination of legacy systems implemented by various stakeholders who were part of the enterprise at various points in time. Most companies lack holistic, forward-looking, cross-channel planning and robust implementation methodology.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

In my opinion, the real challenge emanates not from a lack of marketing skills within organisations but from a lack of genuine, concerted effort and interest toward investing in skilled professionals (aka 'growth hackers') within the enterprise. Such people should be charged with driving the evolution of custom-made, solid measurement ecosystems from the ground up, considering all the nuances of internal and external environments of the organisation and its marketing objectives.

It is rather unfortunate that leaders within today’s enterprises do not seem to be taking the onus upon themselves to invest just a fraction of their massive media and marketing budgets toward systems that could show the real impact and return of all those millions of dollars being spent on both digital and traditional media. Rather counterintuitive, is it not?

The light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of less than a handful of brands where the senior decision-makers have exhibited commendable levels of openness toward the recommendations of expert practitioners and have extended strong commitment toward building true unified measurement systems.

This is the trickle that in my opinion will transform into a tide in the very near future.

Hari Shankar is director of APAC client services and Singapore Center for Performics

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