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MarketLoop #6, August 1997

On-line Media Evaluation

The communications environment is changing rapidly with the emergence of new communications channels and the transformation of others. Through the Loop has been studying these new communications channels to understand how traditional and emerging channels can be integrated and where the advantages and disadvantages of the different media lie. This MarketLoop covers on-line communications although its ideas could equally be applied to other forms of emerging media such as digital television. There may be elements within on-line media evaluation that can be applied to different media models. Further to this, all these forms of evaluation have to take into account the total communications strategy. The communications universe has expanded with more channels open to marketers. Communications research now has to go further than evaluating individual communications channels and must also look to find a way to understand the process of integration between channels.

The growth in use of on-line media by marketers demands different ways of measuring its effectiveness. On-line marketing initiatives should be viewed quite differently to conventional media. Advertising, for example, has specific roles and so the tools developed for its evaluation are built around those roles. Uses of on-line marketing can include the following:

  • customer feedback, market research

  • build a customer relationship/dialogue

  • automatic ordering

  • specific communications requirements

  • extending reach of communications

  • sales force support

  • support for specific products and promotions

The objective of an on-line presence has to be clear and the evaluation method created to measure this objective. The net result (no pun intended) is that an evaluation mechanism must be built to match the requirements of an individual Web site. A sales-based Web site can measure success in terms of the number and value of sales matched against the cost of making those sales. Here the medium is totally accountable. The same applies to a Web site which focuses on communication. Every consumer that visits the Web site is counted, again providing highly accountable measurement.

Customer feedback and satisfaction evaluation can be a qualitative assessment. This could be the value of the Web site to the customer or to the company, i.e. "this is my best and most inexpensive way to learn about consumersí opinions, needs and desires." What can a marketer to learn about consumers from on-line feedback?

What are you measuring?

On the sites themselves there are many factors that can be measured:

  • the number of visitors

  • how many files they download and which

  • length of visit

  • frequency of visit, is this one they return to and what makes them return

  • route through the site

  • means of entry (where did they come from), and where do they go to afterwards

  • who are they (demographics, country?)

  • how many sent feedback and what was it

  • what have we learned about how to generate a dialogue with consumers?

  • What was the nature of the dialogue?

While the quality of on-line marketing is certainly improving, there are still widespread instances of Web sites developed where there does not appear to be a clear strategy. This will have a knock-on effect for the evaluation of the Web site. The evaluation and measurement criteria can only be developed if the objectives of the Web site and, therefore, the requirements of the evaluation are clear.

If a Web site has been set up to sell products then the evaluation is fairly straight-forward. Dell claims to sell £1 million of computers every day via its Web site. In the case of a retailer like Internet Bookshop, amazon.com or Tesco Direct the value of sales can be measured and the customer tracked over time. This then allows the creation of individually targeted marketing based on consumersí shopping habits.

If the Web site is used an information medium, possibly for promotion or customer support, the cost of answering enquiries can be measured against the number of contacts and then compared with the more traditional mechanisms. Railtrackís on-line train timetable and BMWís Web site represent a far cheaper and quicker way of handling customer enquiries. In the case of BMW, the Web site feedback links directly to the fulfillment house which can send further information and link with the local dealer. This makes it the cheapest way to sell a new BMW. Many sites such as The Guardianís Shift Control, Guerrilla Marketing and Hotwired allow the user to sign up for weekly e-mail bulletins. This allows the dialogue to be maintained even if the Web site is not visited every week. These users can then be tracked to gauge response.

Banner Advertising

Banner advertisements are frequently used as links to a marketerís Web site. These are typically placed on high traffic Web sites to be visible to the maximum number of users. A mouse-click on the banner will take the user direct to the marketerís site. If banners are used to attract users to the Web site then:

  • how many times were banner ads viewed

  • how often were they clicked on

  • where were they viewed and clicked

  • how effective are the banner compared with other forms of promoting the Web site, e.g. on company stationery, product packaging, other advertising

The banners should be evaluated in terms of both views and "clicks." The pricing policy may reflect this. A simple view may be less valuable than a click, i.e. the user is not visiting the Web site. However, it is still seen and familiarity with the banner or brand name may in the future lead to a click and a visit to the Web site linked to the banner.

Summary

Digital media take the evaluation of communications channels to a new level. Effectiveness can now be pinpointed and communications are more accountable. An evaluation strategy needs to be put into place that measures the different variables against objectives. This may often be qualitative as well as quantitative. It is possible to measure not just how many users visit a Web site and what they look at but also gather information from them. The nature of the medium allows the evaluation to be very accurate. A degree of measurement is possible which cannot be undertaken with traditional media.

The evolving communications model based on the Web may provide indications of how advertising on digital television may be measured. This moves away from the traditional desire to reach as many consumers as possible within the target market towards more qualitative measures. The number of consumers reached is less important than who they are, how they behave and the nature of the dialogue with them.

At a time when marketers are looking for more accountability in their communications programmes and are also looking increasingly at integrating different communications channels, evaluation will grow in importance. Not only must individual communications channels be evaluated but measurement of the integration is also crucial. A medium that can demonstrate effectiveness and accountability, whatever the measure is, will be in a strong position. Communications evaluation will evolve as the channels themselves evolve with specific measurement tools for individual communications channels or objectives. 

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