by: David Polinchock

This thought has been running around my head for quite some time, but a couple of recent events & conversations have really galvanized it for me. It's how measurements and new tools keep circling each other.

During the recent Ad Age Digital Conference, most of the session on new digital tools at some point came around to a discussion of measurements & metrics. How do we measure these new tools people asked. What's the right metrics for social media? How does it fit into our existing buying (CPM) model?

Then today, I think I was sitting next to someone filling out a Nielsen diary. Now, to be completely candid, I'm not really 100% certain -- hell, I'm less then 50% sure that's what she was doing! But it got me thinking about what the current measurement metrics are and how they're impacting our thinking today.

For me and many people that would say this on & off the record, the Nielsens were are best, a great attempt at doing something very hard. Especially given what the world was like when they started and what technology was available back then. In addition, there was much less content for the audience to watch, so I'm guessing that it was much easier to fill out those journals. I mean growing up just outside of NYC on Long Island, I think we only had 6 or 7 stations to choose from, including public broadcasting. (Yea, I'm old enough to remember duck & cover drills too, wanna' make something of it???) So how hard was it to remember what you watched on a certain night with such limited choices?

Plus, watching was an entirely different experience. You had one, maybe 2 TV's in a household if you were really well off, so usually the family gathered together. It was a communal event, not only within your family, but in the larger society as well. You gathered the next morning and everyone asked Did Archie really say that? or Who shot JR? And when we watched TV, we weren't distracted by the myriad of choices we have today. Maybe Dad read the newspaper and the kids did homework (in my house, I don't really remember if Dad read the newspaper and we kids did homework or roughhoused.), but everyone was in the same room. Until 9 PM, of course, when the kids went to bed and TV opened up to more adult programming, like letting a character say damn!

Additionally, the world seemed much more homogenious, even in it's diversity. Maybe a little embarrassed to say that we were a pretty stereotypical, white middle income family. And most of my friends were exactly like me for the most part. We did all watch the same shows and we more or less all thought the same way. At least back then we pretended to think the same way even if we really didn't. So I think it was easier to find a more representitive sample in the relatively small (although statistically correct) small Neilsen families group.

So the journals were a perfect way to keep track & develop some kind of measurement for TV. But we all know, that at best, it was not a truly perfect measurement of our TV viewing habits. And as we got more channels and more distractions on our time, it continued to slide downhill as he wway we should measure TV viewership.

And while it may be easy to attach Nielsen's shortcomings, the truth is, no one really wants it to change. For all our bitching, pissing & moaning about the need for change, deep down, we all really like the status quo. Some time back, I wrote about observing my dogs getting into bed with us. The circle & circle to trample down the covers to make it suitable for sleeping. This is from the real need that animals had thousands of years ago when dogs lived in the wild and they really needed to create their own bed. My dogs? Heck, they've never even been camping! And it's our bed, they really don't need to trample down the covers to make a place to sleep.

Yet we, metaphorically speaking, circle & circle to trample down our beds. So, we continue to do things they way we've done them, even though technology has in so many ways given us such incredible new tools to use.

But, in our industry, knowledge is feared, because it neccitates a new way to look at the information. We say to our friends trying to measure in-store that CPM can be a piece of the measurement, but how can it be compared to other passive experience like TV. I'm in the store to buy, if you can influence me there, shouldn't that be worth more?

So we get to where we are today, where the status quo keeps us happy and becomes our excuse not to use new tools. While TV measurement has become a mostly meaningless tool (and everyone I talk to about this agrees with this in private), we pretend that until the new tools can reach the same measure of success our current tools achieve, we can't really use them. And yet many of our current measurement tools just suck!

And it's becoming more & more clear to me that this measurement conversation is for many, not all, just a read herring so we maintain the status quo. Full steam ahead and damn the torpedos. It's coming from a lot of people who don't want change, not from people looking to make the change work.

And the truth is, we'll hit bumps and we'll screw up. We'll head down one path only to discover it's wrong and we'll probably miss some paths completely. This isn't just the way of the media business, it's the way of the world. It's how life works. As Einstein said, Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.

So instead of this constant discussion about the lack of proper metrics, why don't we just admit we're afraid of getting on the roller coaster. Stop worrying about the measurement and get out there and try things. Your audience is trying new things and they're not worried about the metrics.

The only metric you need to track is how well you put your audience first and let your needs take the backseat.

Sent wirelessly from Nokia 9500 & T-Mobile.

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