Electronic Measurement

Electronic measurement has been a hot topic in the world of broadcast media for some time now. Until fairly recently, TV and Radio audience measurement was tracked primarily through the use of written diaries that listeners/viewers filled out by hand (TV ratings usually combined diary results with a primitive set-tuning meter). As you might expect, this type of system is extremely susceptible to error.

It’s not like the average person is going to walk around with a notebook all week long taking copious notes on every interaction they have with the TV or radio. In practice it plays out more like this: At the end the day or week, the diary recipient fills in the diary by memory. Let’s say they are in the habit of listening to the radio each day as they get ready for work. So they fill in the 7a-7:45a time slots for each weekday and say that they listened to the morning show on channel ‘X’. The problem with this is that they did not actually get exposed to all of this programming because they were in and out of the shower, eating breakfast, blow drying their hair etc. while channel ‘X’ was on in the background. Yet the ratings will still reflect this as 3 hours and 45 minutes worth of listening for the channel ‘X’ morning show. This is just one simple example of many ways that ratings distortion can occur in a diary-based system.

Advertising agencies have been calling for a more accurate electronic measurement system for many years. As you can imagine, the very thought of changing the diary system is frightening to TV and radio companies because they know that they receive an artificial ratings boost from the diary system. So implementing the technology has been a long, slow battle between broadcasters, the ratings companies, and advertising agencies.

We have now reached the point where both Nielsen (the major TV ratings provider) and Arbitron (the major radio ratings provider) have developed electronic “people meters” that measure audiences by automatically tracking their listening and viewing habits. These systems are far from perfect but they do represent a significant increase in accuracy compared to the old methods.

As we gradually transition to these new measurement systems, advertisers should be aware of the effects of this new data on their media schedules. The most dramatic effect for both radio and television is a significant drop in Average Quarter Hour listening and viewing levels. In some cases these levels can drop by 50% or more. If you plan your broadcast buys by aiming for a certain level of gross ratings points delivered, you will need to adjust your expectations if your market is moving from diary-based to electronic measurement.

The good news is that nothing is really changing other than the accuracy of the numbers. If you were buying 100 gross ratings points for $25,000 using the old data, the same schedule/budget may now only deliver 75 gross ratings points. While it may seem like you are getting a lot less for your money, the reality is that you were never really getting the full 100 ratings points in the first place. It’s not the most pleasant thing to accept but at least we’re moving in the direction of improved accuracy.


I have no idea if we are headed for a recession. There’s an awful lot of talk about it in the media however so now is as good a time as any to talk about how to market during a slowdown (recession or otherwise). The first thing to do is avoid panic. Panic leads to reactionary tactics. This is another one of those things that sounds simple on the surface but turns out to be difficult in practice.

Here’s what normally happens. At some point a competitor, driven by fear, comes up with an offer designed to get the market ‘moving again.’ It could be a straight discount, gift with purchase, financing gimmick, buy one get one, third-party tie-in, etc. They feel intense pressure to ‘do something’ and when no one knows what else to do, price cutting usually emerges as the crowd favorite.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with using a special offer to generate sales but when it’s done out of fear it often ends up smelling a lot like desperation. Desperation attracts more of the same. The next thing you know, another competitor copies the idea and offers a discount of their own. And from there the downward spiral begins. Pretty soon everyone is out there trying to one-up each other’s discount offer and the longer you hold out the more you feel like you’re getting left in the dust by your competitors. So eventually you join in and start cheapening your products as well. When everyone is competing on price, the product becomes a commodity and as Warren Buffet says “in a commodity business it’s impossible to be a lot smarter than your dumbest competitor.”

Here’s a little secret. You cannot reverse a market-wide trend with a price cut. Sure, you can create a spike here and there but if you start chipping away at your brand with a series of progressively uglier deals then you are going to regret it later on. So what’s the right thing to do? Get back to the basics.

When things are slow for a long period of time you can count on your competitors to dramatically scale back their marketing efforts. You may have to scale back too but if you are smart you’ll take this opportunity to focus on making your product or service more valuable to your customers and letting them know about it through smart marketing. The businesses that stay in front of their customers during slow times emerge as the leaders when things pick back up. If you take the Ostrich route (stick your head in the sand) you are going to have a hard time making it through the soft period and an even harder time capturing share when things return to normal.

If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to jump in and compete with incentive offers be sure to use it tactically while not deviating from your overall strategy. Don’t make the discount the only compelling reason to buy now. Above all else – don’t try to be the low price leader unless that was your unique position prior to the slowdown anyway.

Slowdowns are not the end of the world. For smart businesses they actually represent an opportunity to capture market share while your competitors hide in a cave. You may have to scale back your budgets but that doesn’t mean you can’t invest more time in lower cost alternatives such as building your blog subscriber base, updating your website, building a profile for your business on a social networking site, starting a podcast, writing an ebook etc. Immerse yourself in making your business remarkable and before you know it, the slow times will have passed.

Calling Out

Let me just tell you how important I am. Over the past few weeks I have received personal calls from the Governor of Florida and most of the 2008 presidential candidates. Now if they only called once or twice I might not think I was that important; but I’m telling you it’s every day lately…sometimes multiple calls per day! I can’t begin to explain how happy I am to get interrupted multiple times per day to pick up the phone and hear an automated message from a politician.

Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to marketing. It is the major enabler of so many of the New Marketing strategies and tactics the we read about every day. Internet-based mass calling services are just one of the many tools that are now accessible to anyone at affordable rates. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

There is no doubt that in the era of New Marketing your customer database is the most valuable marketing asset you have, particularly if you can leverage it into a permission-based communication vehicle. But a permission-based asset’s value is directly proportional to how excited your customers are about receiving your messages. Inundate them with too many email blasts, phone calls, junk mail pieces etc. and they will quickly begin ignoring everything you send. If you want to accelerate the process even more, be sure to include plenty of useless clutter and offers that aren’t all that exciting or unique to begin with.

The problem isn’t the technology. Mass-calling services are a wonderful tool that can be used effectively in a marketing capacity. The problems come when you start to abuse permission. If you have a bunch of customers that have given you permission to communicate with them directly, don’t do it unless you have a reason to. That’s the quickest way to erode your asset. Instead, make sure that every time you reach out to them you are providing something that is truly of significant value to them. If you send a discount offer, make sure it is a meaningful discount and not something that anyone who walks in off the street can take advantage of. It seems simple enough but I am continually amazed at the number of companies that screw this up regularly.

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