TARGETING CONSUMER TARGETS
MEASURING ADVERTISING'S EFFECTIVENESS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL
Linda L. Leake, Contributing Editor
Does the number 66 mean anything special to you? Perhaps you were born in í66 or maybe you are 66. You may have traveled along historic U.S. Route 66 or fantasized a golf score of 66.
If you counted the number of firms showcased in the "Marketing Consulting/Research" section of Agri Marketingís 2001 Marketing Services Guide (pages 36-43), the total is, you already know: 66. Moreover, that section concludes with a list of 41 additional firms that claim to offer the same services.
The bottom line: With 66+ organizations apparently working in the field of market research, one could easily get the impression there is great demand on the part of sellers of goods and services to track the effects of their advertising.
"Measuring the effectiveness of advertising continues to be one of the top priorities of some of our clients," says Bob Jasper, president of one of the aforementioned 66 firms, Marketing Horizons, St. Louis.
The reasons for such measuring should be obvious, Jasper asserts. "With the large sums of money being invested in advertising, sellers need to know what benefits they are getting," Jasper says. "As they look at which of their advertising messages are most effective, itís also important to see how competitorsí messages are received by consumers."
Market research helps ensure that the right audience is targeted, adds Jim Martel, vice president of Ipsos-Reid, also in St. Louis. "Market research should be part of the big picture of an advertising campaign, with funds allocated for this purpose from the beginning," Martel says. "If research reveals the need, advertisers can change the coverage area, the amount of times or the exact times of day the ad is run."
Itís critical for advertisers to have realistic expectations of what exactly can be measured and what an ad can be expected to do, Jasper advises. "If you want to measure sales response &o an ad, you wonít get far," he emphasizes. "But relative to meeting communication goals, thatís a different story. You can definitely measure prodict awareness and what consumers perceive to be the benefits of products and services being advertised."
So whatís the difference between measuring the effectiveness of advertising and actual sales?
Ads are designed to deliver a message and, using a proven protocol, itís relatively easy to measure the effectiveness of delivering that message, Jasper explains. Measuring sales generated by advertising is more complicated because a wide range of market factors must be considered and are difficult to account for.
The effect of an ad on an actual sale depends on factors that may be out of the advertiserís control. A grower may have a specific product in mind, but when arriving at a retailer to make a purchase, he or she might change his or her mind.
"A person may have had a positive reaction to an ad campaign, but due to factors totally unrelated to the ad, will buy something else," Jasper says. "For example, actual environmental conditions at planting time might influence a grower to purchase or not purchase a burndown herbicide."
Firms that conduct market research tend to follow somewhat similar procedures toward such goals as determining communication effectiveness, brand awareness and the feasibility of potential customersí being interested in a particular product.
Once campaign objectives are determined, a typical approach to measure advertising effectiveness is to start with a benchmark of pre-campaign data, which includes gathering what industry calls "unaided," then "aided," responses.
Questions to solicit unaided responses might include:
* Are you aware of this product?
* Are the claims believable?
* Are the claims important to you?
* What herbicides have you seen or heard advertised in the past 60 days, and what do you recall about the ads?
In subsequent aided responses, market researchers often play a specific ad for a person, and then ask, "Have you heard this ad?"
How and where is all of this information usually gathered? Calls from phone centers, Web-based surveys, one-on-one in-person interviews and focus group discussions in market research offices or a central destination for the target audience are the usual means.
Following the pre-campaign information gathering, the next step is to run the actual ad campaign to the target audiences. Midway through the campaign, and immediately after, researchers will call different people than they called for the benchmark, but they ask the same questions relative to awareness, believability and importance.
"Mid-campaign, our firm surveys a large sample of the target audience," Ipsos-Reidís Martel says. "That way we can recommend a change in the course of an ad campaign, if findings indicate it would be a good idea. For example, if we discover that the ad generates awareness of a compelling benefit of the product, our client can increase media coverage."
Martel advocates the use of weekly "waves" as a means to optimize advertising effectiveness. A wave, he says, is a survey or a collection of information during a point in time. "Waves are useful in determining the need to change or alter the campaign anytime during its duration," Martel adds.
Market researchers tend to agree that you can measure the effectiveness of an ad as long as you set goals ahead of time with reasonable expectations and specific criteria for measuring success. Accomplishing these goals requires teamwork involving the client, ad agency and market research firm.
So what exactly determines an adís success?
After collecting unaided responses, you should be able to determine the following:
* Have you increased brand awareness between the pre and post campaign surveys? "A 30 percent to 40 percent increase is not an unreasonable expectation," Jasper says.
* Have both unaided and aided responses demonstrated an increased awareness in a specific claim?
* What percentage of your target audience considers your claims important?
* What does the consumer say about his or her likeliness to purchase and use the product?
* What is the likelihood a consumer will at least consider using the product, given unknown factors?
A lot of factors influence the effectiveness of advertising, says Susan Spaulding, president of Market Directions Inc., Kansas City, Mo.
"We like to start with the development of ads and the reaction to concepts," Spaulding begins. "If we can help ensure that what is produced is clear and relevant, then the advertising effectiveness should be increased. When we consider the merits of measuring advertising effectiveness, we ask what the financial investment is to help judge whether it is sufficient to cause change in awareness, attitudes or behavior. If it isnít, we recommend against primary research."
When going forward with primary research, itís important to have statistical reliability in pre-ad and post-ad efforts so changes can be effectively read, according to Spaulding. "The measures that are common to advertising research are unaided and aided brand recall, unaided and aided advertising recall, reactions to specific objectives or specific creative elements of the advertising, and the impact advertising may have on purchasing and on the company doing the advertising," Spaulding elaborates.
Steve Blom, sales and marketing director of Readex, Stillwater, Minn., emphasizes that the most successful ads are those that focus on the readersí needs and interests. Successful ads typically are straightforward, believable and use visual appeal to capture attention.
"Readers are not looking for chalenges in an ad, and they want to make good use of their time," Blom emphasizes. "They spend only a couple secmnds looking at a page and will quickly determine whether to spend time with an ad or flip to the next page."
To create ads, donít lose sight of the obvious considerations, Blom advises. These include:
* Can we illustrate the product in use?
* Do the headline and illustrations support one another?
* Are we providing benefits or simply facts to the reader?
Blom says one of the many benefits of an ad readership study is that it collects data on many ads in the studied publication, which allows the user to see what types of ads are working overall, or in a particular product or service category. A second benefit is that a study will demonstrate how your particular ad performed.
"A successful marketer will use all available relevant data," Blom notes.
The concept of evaluating advertising effectiveness is important not just from perspective of financial accountability, but also on the continuing development of future communications, Spaulding emphasizes. "You need feedback," she says, "in order to effectively plan for the next communications effort." AM
Freelance journalist Linda L. Leake enjoys reading creative ads from her home base in Wilmington, N.C.