m+ in the News: 3 Musts for Optimizing Media Spend

As “budget stewardship” becomes the mandate of the moment, understanding how each media channel actually works is essential. Our very own Director Analytics & Technology, Mike Ruff, recently offered his insights to MediaPosts’ Marketing Insider. Read the article in full here.

By Mike Ruff •  December 7, 2023  

In the media industry, we are often met with one challenge: marketers tend to overvalue a single channel — like paid search — and undervalue all other media channels and their impact on conversions. This often occurs when looking at data from a single platform, and is a result of its attribution model.

I’ll compare this to a relay race. If you have four runners on the team and they win, you probably want to distribute the prize money based on their contributions to the win. While we may not immediately know how to do that fairly, I think we would all agree it would be unfair to give all of the prize money to the final runner who brings the baton across the finish line. Yet that’s exactly what last-touch attribution does. It causes us to overvalue that final runner at the expense of the other runners who set up the final runner to win.

Furthermore, we can be nearly certain that if the final runners had to run the entire race themselves, they would lose. So why do we value this final contribution so much? Because it’s easy! Many platforms default to last-touch attribution as a result of its ease of understanding and implementation. However, the journey is much more complex. Responsible marketers have to go deeper if they want to truly understand their channels’ contributions.

Easier said than done, right? It certainly takes some dedicated effort, but I recommend marketers start with three key actions to optimize their media spend. 

Understand the full customer journey. If you have a map of the relay race, you can better plan which runners would best run each leg. Marketers know how they plan for users to flow through their content, but often that’s not how users engage with content in practice. By understanding how users flow through your content, you’ll be better able to understand the contribution of each channel.

Leverage statistical analysis to measure each channel’s effect on the other channels. If we dove deep into our race team’s statistics, we could use a lot of different statistical tools to develop fair methods for dividing up the prize money. As such, marketers should work with partners’ analytics teams to understand the influence and value of channels on other channels — like how display ads improve search performance. This, too, will help uncover each channel’s role in the overall journey.

Always be learning. In yesterday’s race, runner two might have been the best, but tomorrow it might be runner one. Similarly, video might have been the strongest channel in our fall campaign, but in spring it might be social. To truly understand performance, we should continually assess our performance and make adjustments as we learn. As Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

In the end, one of the biggest pain points in the media space is the distrust in data that can build as a result of its complexities. Often this comes from not having a true understanding of how data is captured.

Going forward into 2024, I urge all marketers to take time to understand the different channels and platforms and how each measures success. Work with your analytics partners to build a better understanding of data capture and analysis, even though it probably doesn’t sound like the most interesting bullet on your to-do list. Doing so will give you a more thorough perspective when determining the right media mix for your brand and your goals, which will ultimately maximize the return on your media investment.

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