How do we measure ROI in one definitive metric? The not so simple answer: We don’t.
I recently published an op-ed for AdAge that was born from a few workshops I conducted at last year's Websummit in Dublin and subsequently Collision in Las Vegas in May. Both are impressive events in their size and production quality and content, but also in the diversity of the people who attended them; covering ad and video tech, consumer brands, media agencies, digital media, startups, PR, and more. In hindsight these workshops were more like focus groups in that the goal was to have a very candid discussion with stakeholders across the entire spectrum of media and content to better understand what they and their organizations considered important, prioritize a list, and use that to inform the way that we at Vox Media and the industry as a whole thinks about content success.
So how then, in a world where we all have different businesses with different business goals, do we measure ROI in one definitive metric? The not so simple answer: We don't. More on that further down. But before we answer that we'd be remiss not to take a look at some of the digital video metrics that dominate modern definitions of success.
Views, a longtime trophy of success, have been under scrutiny over concerns of quality and visibility of those views; Play-through and retention rates, another popular metric for quantifying the engagement of a view, is susceptible to these same issues.
Ratio measurements, built from the notion that smart paid media strategies can drive a meaningful volume of earned media and help you get more bang for your content investment, are good in theory because we live in an attention economy when people are getting their information from hundreds of sources and on multiple devices - all day, every day - and as more content become more available, the capacity for those audiences to actually see everything we're creating diminishes and is by definition impossible. But when an advertiser's brand attribution is negligible, or the editorial doesn't align with that brand's voice or ethos, or all marketing is focused toward someone else's property, or that investment doesn't produce an outcome that really pushes that brand's business forward, then it becomes a hollow metric.
Even some of the same panel-based tracking methods that have been used by TV for over fifty years are being retrofitted as an answer.
Those are only a few of the dozens of metrics and signals that as an industry we're using to justify our content investments. So what do brand marketers and content stakeholders deem important? You can read the outcome on AdAge. But before you do I should caveat that to try and claim that any of these metrics are new or revelatory would be naive, but what I found impressive about these workshops was that groups of people from different but interrelated industries, with different businesses, and with different business objectives, could come to a consensus on an order of importance - i.e. these are the signals we should be caring about most when we're measuring the impact of our content investments. These are the signals that, as an industry if we can work toward better solutions for tracking, have the potential to inspire the creation of more of the things content creators of all kinds - media companies, brands, creative shops, independent digital video producers - get to make because we're correlating their existence to meaningful business and cultural impact.