Why your media strategy needs a halo

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement and illusion of control we get from metrics. We all love to say “we did X”, “and then X happened with X many people.” Don’t you? It makes us feel like heroes to our clients.  Trouble is, in the midst of our digitized euphoria, it’s hard to keep in mind that there really is a benefit to ‘fuzziness,’  or as the study below calls it, the “digital halo.”  How do you create a halo in your digital media strategy? Read on.

Why experimentation is essential to your digital media marketing mix

The clever folks at “Think with Google” published a Sprint case history showing the sales bump from the “digital halo.”
What’s a digital halo?  Google called is the non-attributable result.  As they put it, “everything that happens because of digital engagement doesn’t necessarily happen in the digital world.”

In Sprint’s case, digital sales from an increase in digital spend went up 22%.
(That’s the metric.)
In-store sales increased 32%!
(That’s the halo.)

Now the analytical wonk is wont to say, “See? The digital spend yielded even MORE than we expected.”

That’s one way to see it.

But a more accurate POV would be: “the ‘halo’ is everything else that happened in addition to the digital engagement.” What made the halo? Was it exposure to the digital ad (yes) or a TV ad that was running at the same time (yes), or a window poster that captured walk-ins (yes)?  All that and more.  All those communications created a “halo” effect that prompted in-store activity.

So how do you “halo” your media strategy? As the article sums up, “Today’s environment calls for experimentation, not just optimization. The results of this experiment are shaping how we measure our marketing efforts, leading us to move to omnichannel metrics instead of channel metrics. It’s not an easy transition to make. What’s important to remember is that testing is where it all starts.”

Testing? Sounds great. Until you have to do it…

Why it’s hard to experiment these days

We all feel the pressure to “optimize”, but what people really mean when they say that is “save me money.” (Personally, I blame the MBAs. Teach a person to measure and they’ll measure everything.) There’s a drive for efficiency in C-suites.  Add the urge CMOs feel to secure their place at the big table and earn the respect of their MBA-peers, and you get a culture where control is rewarded above anything. Naturally, the advertising industry has responded by providing all kinds of controls, metrics, and dashboards to provide ‘actionable data.’ So what could go wrong with that?

Humans vs. Algorithms 

When you stare at data all day it’s easy to forget that there’s a human being on the other end.  And the lie optimization tells us is that we can predict and replicate human behavior. Ha ha.

PEOPLE ARE FUZZY.  ALGORITHMS ARE LIMITED. And fuzzy human behavior will beat metrics every time. (Don’t believe me? Go watch every episode of the original Star Trek ever.)

And while it’s true, we humans do a lot of this:

…at the same time we also see, hear, and experience things that algorithms don’t know about. Or can’t measure. What if someone on the train sneezes? Will that remind me to buy tissues? I’ts actually highly probable. (Studies have shown that anything orange – from a suitcase to a hairclip – sells better in October. A suitcase has nothing to do with Halloween but we just like orange things more in October. Fuzzy, amiright?)

Which is why your marketing media mix needs to create a halo.

How to create a halo effect

So how do you do it?

One tactic is to structure your media plan according to what we call “Pillars and Fillers.”  Pillars are our big budget hogs with broad reach.  The TV spot, the event sponsorship, the celebrity endorsement. Broader audience reach, fewer specific metrics or behaviors, but a spike in attention.  Then the “Fillers” are all the ways we leverage up to, around, and after those Pillars. Fillers are  less expensive forms of promotion – like programmatic banners or blogs — that nobody is going to brag about but that eventually create a sense of ubiquity — “Man, those guys are EVERYWHERE!” Yes. Yes we are.

Another key is to test new things. New platforms, new creative executions in new forms. Because even the most successful campaign suffers wearout. (Especially if you’re remarketing.) So endlessly repeating ‘what works’ will eventually stop working.

You have to keep testing new channels because the halo effect means only some of your consumers are where you think they are, doing what you think they’re doing. And “some” leaves an awful lot on the table.  Yes, it’s scary to commit dollars to something that might not work. But if you don’t try, you won’t learn.

So this year, try committing a percentage of your budget to the unknown. At the least, you’ll learn something. And if you get zero specific metrics, you can always attribute the “halo.”