Media advertising is frequently the most interesting, yet challenging, opportunity for marketers. Companies get to tell their unique story straight to the end-user.

Using traditional advertising (TV, Print, Digital, Social) allows brands to project a brand image and grow awareness around it. It highlights a tremendous opportunity to establish and build brand equity. It enables even the smallest brands to connect with their key customer groups and differentiate themselves among a sea of sameness.

There's only one problem: Tracking research is rarely used as effectively as it could be to fully tap these opportunities. Sadly, there is a tremendous amount of inefficiency in the typical media advertising campaign…and it’s often not found out until it’s too late.

If that's the case, what are the specific items to be fixed?

creative blueprint

1) Very few companies develop a comprehensive creative blueprint that guides their advertising strategy. They aren't looking at the media strategy from a long-term (12, 18, or 24 months) perspective and understanding the campaign integration.

2) Further, many companies fail to properly test their ad creative prior to launch to determine potential success and linkage with their overall equity metrics.

3) Finally, many companies aren't tracking the effectiveness and performance of their ads once they are activated beyond basic CTRs. There is no direct measurement of advertising’s impact on the bottom line over time.

If any of these three items is missing, there is no reliable mechanism or feedback loop that highlights the winning and losing campaigns. As a result, the typical company’s advertising budget simply limps from one fiscal year to the other with no significant change.

Given the state of media advertising, one really can’t blame companies for burning out on traditional forms of media advertising. It is perfectly understandable why a lot of them have reallocated their media budget to digital forms of marketing whether it be mobile, social, or online.

Tracking this shift in priorities is also the budgetary shift to direct marketing and sales promotion activities. Despite this rather bleak scenario, one thing remains clear: Media advertising still offers a tremendous amount of strategic potential. In fact, this potential has only grown over recent years simply because few companies want to bother with crafting and implementing a consumers advertising campaign that genuinely works.

By focusing on strategy, and testing before launch, several brands have crafted effective long-term campaigns:

But these are not just lucky guesses. To successfully integrate media advertising into a broader marketing strategy, marketing executives must keep in mind three key research areas.

Strategic Research

Marketers must first figure out how advertising produces different results from one product category among different product categories. Similarly, they must also look at the effect of media advertising among the different brands within a specific product category.

advertising tracking

What does the ad convey, and how does it impact your overall brand equity? Gillette could never run a Dollar Shave Club ad, and vice versa. Even a relatively new brand like Dollar Shave Club has become ingrained in the mind of consumers' and using the same messaging, tone of voice, and visual identity as Gillette would be a disconnect. Similarly, if Gillette began using sophomoric humor to guide advertising, it would feel wholly inauthentic and crush everything they've worked for over the past century.

Who are we targeting with our ad, and does it draw them in? If you've done any semblance of market segmentation or targeting, the ad should be developed with a specific persona in mind. If you're not testing how well the ad does with this audience, and how that differs from "everyone else," how can you tell if your ad is working?

Does it make consumers want to buy your brand? Some ads meet a mixed reception, but what truly matters is if it drives sales. The Colin Kaepernick ad created a line in the sand on Nike's beliefs and ethos. While it received some backlash, Nike knew that it would be noticed and would resonate with their target audience of younger shoe buyers. Within the first month, sales spiked 31%. Beyond that, it further solidifies Nike as a brand that is unflinching on who they are and what they mean to their buyers.

Designing an Effective Advertising Tracking Questionnaire

Advertising tracking lives or dies based on how well tracking questions are put together. At the very least, these questionnaires must measure the following factors.

ad recall

Aided and Unaided Brand Awareness

Setting up and maintaining brand awareness is the most valuable and fundamental point in media advertising. This type of advertising can be viewed as successful even if it does nothing else except produce brand awareness.

Aided and Unaided Advertising Awareness

These are diagnostic metrics, and help determine if an advertising campaign produced a change in market share or brand awareness.

For instance, this diagnostic can show if overall advertising and brand awareness are trending upward over some time. If so, then we can reasonably conclude that the campaign is working.

However, if brand awareness continues to increase while public perception of that brand’s advertising campaign is going down, it would be reasonable to assume that the current advertising campaign is not responsible for the improvement in brand awareness.

Advertising Campaign’s Message Recall

Consumers are asked what they remember from a specific type of advertising. Do they remember ideas and messages that the ad is supposed to contain?

This type of question is asked through open-ended formats. The key is to prompt the respondent to supply natural and unaided answers. This type of question helps the company figure out if the ad campaign’s intended message is connecting with consumers.

Measuring the message recall of specific ads also indicates how much the consumer’s memory and learning curve distorts or affects the ad’s message over time. In other words, once the commercial starts playing, audiences don’t necessarily remember all of the ad’s parts equally. Some parts stick to the minds of consumers while others are quickly forgotten.

Identifying the parts that “stick” will help company marketing decision-makers to improve their future ads' effectiveness.

Brand Equity

Advertising can mold and enhance a particular brand’s equity over some time. This is one of the most crucial strategic benefits advertising brings to the table.

But if you ask consumers to rate brand equity in a questionnaire, you shouldn't expect any significant changes to your brand’s equity overnight. Usually, it takes up to two years of sustained advertising to see measurable differences in how consumers perceive a brand image, and is a function of two things:

Reach - How many consumers see your ad? If only 25% of the population sees your ad, the other 75% would not have any reason to change their perception of your brand.

Frequency - How often do consumers see your ad? If a person sees your ad once, are they likely to perceive your brand differently? Maybe, maybe not. However, if you are running an integrated campaign over months, years, or decades, consumers eventually know your brand for that thing (i.e., Geico has irreverent commercials, and you can save up to 15% by switching to them).

The full effects of changes in brand equity should be thought of in terms of decades.

Brand Usage and Trial

When a questionnaire asks consumers if they've ever tried a specific brand, these questions ask if the consumer intelligence study participant tried major competitor brands as well as the subject brand. Usage is a critical tracking component because it enables marketing professionals to come up with preliminary estimates of market share, which can be tracked over time.

The survey can also be broken down between people who are already using a product and people who are just trying it out. They can then be sliced and diced to yield data on both people who have gone on to try the product versus those who stayed away, compared to nonusers among users.

The data can be segmented between heavy and light users, or using attitudinal differences around the product. Among current users, the data can be analyzed to determine whether the current advertising campaign has increased usage volume (this, of course, translates into more sales).

Aided Advertising Idea Recall

In certain situations, marketing tracking researchers will list out critical points of an ad copy among survey participants. These are intended to see whether the ad did a good job communicating key messages. This type of survey question can be a good way of measuring the effectiveness of the advertising’s communication value.

Great care has to be taken in how these questions are composed and interpreted by the participant. A lot of survey respondents say that they remember specific messages even though these messages did not appear in the actual ad itself...so adding dummy claims can set a baseline for noise within the response set.

Recognition Of Ads

Survey planners can also show different storyboards of a test commercial they’ve run. The Idea is to get participants to report if they can recognize any of these commercials. This is a very imprecise way of measuring ad success. It does give us a sneak peek on the overall impact each ad can bring to the table.

Once the survey makes it clear that the participant has seen an ad, the survey can then follow up with key questions like, “how many times the within the past month have you seen this ad?” or “how does this impact your perceptions of the brand?”. Finally, the survey can also have a question regarding the participant’s rating of the ad.

Timing Of Your Survey: Continuous vs. Periodic

Continuous surveys bring a lot of advantages to the table. First of all, when you are conducting surveys continuously, you get a complete snapshot of consumer attitudes and behaviors over an extended time frame. There are no missing blocks of time or gaps, which improves the overall quality of the data you collect. It also keeps you on the pulse of what is happening with your brand in the broader context of the market.

Periodic tracking, where consumers are tested in "waves" (i.e., quarterly or semi-annually) also has its share of advantages. First of all, companies can save quite a bit of money doing periodic tracking instead of doing continuous surveys. Periodic surveys can also be concentrated in short term intervals to precisely measure the conditions before and after the launch of a specific media advertising campaign. Finally, periodic surveys fit schedule media buys quite well. They provide a lot of precisely timed data that co-relates to certain media expenditures as advertising campaigns are rolled-out and wound-down.

Regardless of which type of tracking your organization chooses, it’s imperative that you stick to the following guidelines. This ensures that whatever tracking data you produce will be comparable from one-time frame to another.

1) Make Sure Your Methods Are Consistent

Consistency is key. The way you tabulate survey responses, coding of these responses, editing of respondent answers as well as the types of collected data and the sample definition of your survey and the

questionnaire itself must not change from wave to wave. If you make any change in any of these, this is going to cause a cascading effect in the results that you get. You won’t be able to compare data you collected among different waves. You might get stuck comparing apples to oranges.

2) Stick with one service provider

If you’re using a research company to handle advertising tracking process, stick with that one company. Switching companies tends to create a host of problems that arise, including normative differences, data sourcing, and the desire for a new company to "tweak" the instrument. All of these essentially hit the Restart button and make historical comparisons difficult, or downright spurious.

3) Stick To The Program

Once you start tracking advertising, you have to stick with it. The value of this research goes up year after year. This is a long term commitment. This is not just a snapshot that your company takes one time with which to chart all its feature advertising strategies. Instead, this involves a consistent commitment to leveraging data in crucial decisions. It's much easier to make educated guesses around response and ad success when you've got three similar campaigns to draw on, and by having this consistency, you're able to find the small shifts that can push an ad from good to great.

If you keep the 3 points above in mind, you increase the chances of a successful ad system. The results will be gradual but unmistakable. Your media advertising investment will increase in yield every single year...creating a higher ROI and further differentiating your brand from the competition.