How to measure consumer attention, and why it matters

May 21, 2020 | 5 minute read
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There’s a process—well known in start-up and entrepreneurship circles—that every product goes through to reach mass adoption. Author Geoffrey A. Moore explains it in his book Crossing the Chasm. The premise is that there are five main customer segments: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards; and each customer group represents a different adoption phase. Making the transition from the early adopters to the early majority is when the product hits the mainstream and becomes widely used—this is known as crossing the chasm.

While Moore writes about crossing the chasm as it relates to start-ups and products, we could say that digital advertising is on the same cycle—especially as it relates to the adoption of measurement approaches.

Since the guidelines for ad verification were introduced by the digital advertising industry trade groups, marketers have been measuring media performance based on valid, viewable, and brand-safe impressions. Let’s call this approach Measurement 1.0. Going by Moore’s model, Measurement 1.0 has reached mass adoption—marketers everywhere use verification metrics as the baseline for performance. Measurement 2.0, then, is the next logical iteration and looks at ad performance beyond verification—measuring attention signals and the broader business outcomes advertising is driving. In Moore’s model, Measurement 2.0 is still in the early-adopter phase—while some advertisers have adopted the beyond-verification philosophy, the vast majority are yet to make the transition, and that needs to change.

For Measurement 2.0 to cycle through the phases of adoption, cross the “chasm,” and reach the majority, two things need to happen: first, marketers need to understand the value of measuring consumer attention metrics, and second, they need to know how to do it.


Why measure consumer attention?

The guidelines for ad verification give marketers a benchmark to measure their campaigns against, with standardized targets for validity, viewability, and brand safety. But think of verification as solving half of the equation—it gives the ad a chance to succeed. It ensures the ad is in play, with a relevant audience and with an opportunity to drive action. The other half is measuring what happens next, once the ad is served, to determine its true impact.

So verification needs to be the first step in the measurement journey, not the destination. By looking beyond verification, and into consumer attention, marketers explore performance indicators that reflect how an ad is impacting real business outcomes. Then, the marker of success isn’t whether the ad was valid and viewable, but something more insightful.

Empirical evidence suggests that more exposure increases ad awareness and consumer intent. And all marketers, in some way or another, want their target audiences to spend more time with their ads, as this is what ultimately drives outcomes. Attention signals—metrics such as interaction rate, screen real estate, active time on screen, and audible and visible on complete—help assess the quality of time a user spends with an ad. This helps marketers assess ad frequency and the overall quality of their impressions—producing a better, holistic view of advertising performance.

It’s not enough to say that advertising was “viewed” or appeared in the right environment, but rather, who viewed it, and what action was taken if any? This approach allows us to get to the core of the issue so we can analyze the true impact of advertising online by measuring attention. What does that look like?

Rarely is there a stand-alone metric that determines if an ad or campaign is successful—so marketers hoping for silver bullets are going to be disappointed. In reality, a combination of metrics is required, as this provides a holistic view of performance. And the exact combination of metrics used differs based on the business, campaign, channel, format, and device. But as an example, let’s walk through what measuring attention on display can look like.

How to measure attention on display

For display advertising, measurement is split into two primary groups: the amount of time spent with the content on the page, and how people engage with the advertising on that page.

To determine the time spent with the content, we can use Active Page Dwell Time, which tracks the average time spent with the content in the foreground tab of the web browser—the most reputable and accurate way to measure time spent with content. For the engagement with advertising, we need to understand how long ads are in view, whether people interacted with them, and for how long. To do so, we use the following three metrics:

  • In-View Time—This is a baseline attention metric that measures the average amount of time people spend with an ad once 50 percent of pixels are in view for at least one continuous second.

  • Interaction Rate—Beyond viewing the ad, this metric analyzes engagement by revealing the percentage of impressions where people enter the frame of an ad for at least 0.5 seconds.

  • Interaction Time—We also want to know how interested a person is when viewing the ad, so this metric is used to measure how long, on average, interaction lasts.

To understand what the overall performance of the display ad is, simply compare these metrics with the latest industry benchmarks. As such, this allows you to see how each attention signal compares to the wider industry.

In addition to industry benchmarks, marketers are encouraged to set their own benchmarks to compare metrics against. This means comparing performance month-over-month, year-over-year, across campaigns, geographical regions, publisher networks, and so on. This allows you to gain a true understanding of advertising performance while also helping to track progress over time—leading to a sophisticated understanding of campaigns and the best areas for increased investment.

The above example illustrates what measuring beyond verification can look like on display, but this can also be done across mobile, video, and even branded content.


Ensuring advertisers get what they paid for

It’s not surprising that verification has become the de facto measure of success. Without any success benchmarks or industry standards to measure against, how else are marketers meant to report on performance? Thankfully, after 25 years of digital advertising, ad measurement has progressed into a sophisticated discipline that has opened up a plethora of advanced metrics that help marketers understand performance on a deeper level. These metrics, and the underlying consumer attention signals they measure, are the only ways to ensure that marketers are getting the value they paid for when they invest in digital. Now it’s just a matter of making sure this overarching philosophy of measuring beyond verification—Measurement 2.0—becomes the standard for advertisers everywhere. Then, once we reach mass adoption, the cycle begins once more, and the question becomes: What’s next?

Find out everything you need to know about going beyond verification and measuring consumer attention by downloading our latest guide.

Allan Stormon

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