The past is another country, according to Proust – not usually celebrated as a media commentator. But his observation is particularly true of the technology media landscape.
Fifteen years ago a piece of coverage in Computing and Computer Weekly would have reached over 90 per cent of IT department decision-makers. Add in the nationals and the channel titles, where appropriate, and reach was comprehensive. Several factors have driven tectonic change to the landscape.
When we started measuring the media, two people could read the twelve titles Bull, Fujitsu Siemens and HP – Apollo’s first three clients – wanted analysed. Two computers and a bar of soap to wash off the ink was all we needed.
Since then, technological change has meant the media has fragmented, as well as changing the way it delivers messages. At the same time, the decision-making process for technology has become more involved. Depending on the product and the company there is a kaleidoscope of end-users, CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, CMOs, SIs, analysts, and channel partners.
Result: measurement has become both easier and harder. Easier, because activity and its results can often be more visible; harder, because a diverse audience and a splintered and heterogeneous media can make measurement systems unwieldy and imprecise. For example:
- What makes one medium more important than another (an article in The Register versus a tweet from an Ovum analyst)?
- Is one influencer – journalist, blogger, analyst, SI, academic – more desirable than another – or, by how much more? This is particularly acute at a time when so many companies’ coverage schedules are littered with clippings from press release distribution companies (and a few weeks ago there was a rumour one PR agency struggling to meet its coverage targets was simply making the coverage up).
- And how should communicating directly with the target audience, is compared with working through an influencer or advocate?
The answer to comparing different media and influencers depends on finding a common currency. The issue of Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) is well-rehearsed – and the problems of discounts on rate-card and comparing the size and impact of editorial coverage with advertising remain; to this can be added the difficulty in establishing the market-rate of new media.
Share of voice is often a useful measure to compare a brand with the competitors it sells against; and share of voice can be shown by type of media or audience (eg share of voice in CTO media). One weakness of share of voice is that it can still be difficult to compare piece of coverage with another – particularly as the types of media proliferate.
One solution is to look at influence on the audience as the way to compare different media: ie to shift the emphasis from pieces of coverage onto the people a brand is trying to talk to, the audience being the common factor and the objective for the brand. Increasingly a wide range of factors such as audience levels, Twitter followers, re-tweets, and so on can be used to establish an influence index. From there a brand’s share of influence can be measured.
In theory, of course, a better way to establish an influence rating would be to research how each medium or individual influencer changed attitudes and behaviour amongst the audience. While there are some signs this is becoming possible for some brands, in practice it is worth issuing a warning about measurement.
Measurement can become extremely detailed, time-consuming and expensive. Fascinating, obviously; but there comes a point at which to measure everything properly the return on investment in measurement starts to tail off. Having a clear idea of the most important questions to answer is critical.
A final point. As the media landscape has changed, it would be very easy to lose sight of the key objectives – to become caught up in the media rather than focus on what you are trying to achieve via the media. Back to Proust: ‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’