April 13, 2010
 

ad:tech Presents comScore: The New Widgets Scoreboard

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By Wendy McHale

The boys of summer are here! The 2008 Baseball season has begun. Fans everywhere are keeping score counting, among other things, strikes, balls, runs, outs, innings and RBI's around the diamond. Baseball stats are now measured digitally, but the terms of play will never change. They're classic, much like the incomparable scoreboard in Chicago's famed Wrigley Field Stadium, where (to this writer) the best seats in the house are in the bleachers!

(For those of you who aren't familiar with baseball terms, or Wrigley Field... and for those who think they are, click on this link to check out the complete Baseball Glossary of Terms!)

The same cannot be said about digital terms. Years ago, most people became familiar with the term "widget" from their economics teacher, who used it as a short-cut (versus short-stop) reference to any product being manufactured in the economic model being taught. "Class, Company A produces 2 million "widgets" a month versus Company B who makes 3 million "widgets" a week..." And so on and so forth.

Another term was "gadget", a term used by someone to describe a complexly-made product which they had no clue as to how to use or for what purpose it served. "Then they gave me some sort of gadget and..." You get the picture.

As compared to the Wrigley Field scoreboard, and almost every baseball term ever invented, the meaning of widgets and gadgets has changed dramatically. Moving from descriptors with little personality, they now mean something very specific, and contain as much personality as the content they pitch to consumers across the entire Internet.

As a loyal Phillies Fan, while I was thrilled this week to see my team beat the Mets on Opening Day at Shea Stadium, it was even more exciting to hear about World Series-level Internet-based technology from the fan who's measuring them, Jane Felice of comScore!

Jane Felice currently manages and develops key client relationships, delivering marketing insights with a team of analysts to comScore's clients in the media, entertainment, and technology industries. Jane is on the custom research team working on behavioral analysis projects including search, segmentation, market sizing and ad effectiveness.

She's be speaking on the panel "Making Widgets and Gadgets Work for You" on Thursday, April 17 from 2:15-3:15PM.

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Wendy: How are you?

Jane: I'm doing very well!

Wendy: Let's begin with your background. Tell me a little bit about your career path and what led you to digital marketing and media research?

Jane Felice Well, I went to University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University (2 yrs each) where I majored in Marketing. I was living in LA and I wanted to work for a magazine publisher so I pretty much opened up the yellow pages and started calling all the major publishers in the area. I ended up at Data Communications magazine. I worked as an assistant for 6 months and then I got my own territory selling space. The magazine was about computer networks and the editorial was focused on the merging of technology, content and the internet.

Wendy: Sure. I remember.

Jane: Even back then I was intrigued with what was happening in digital technology and how it would affect both companies and individuals. Because of this early experience, my career eventually migrated towards new media. After working for a while at The Wall Street Journal, I then went on to Reuters New Media and then spent 7 and a half years at Microsoft, where almost 6 of those years I was with Microsoft TV.

Wendy: What was Microsoft TV all about? What were your responsibilities while you were there?

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Jane: I started as a Product Marketing Manager where we created a solution for delivering interactive digital TV, using WebTV's technologies (Microsoft bought WebTV in 1997). I was involved in designing the licensing, pricing, and marketing strategies to enable MSOs and Telcos to deliver "better TV" - a more interactive TV experience to consumers. I spent about a year in Marketing Communications, and my final 3 years was in Marketing Research.

Wendy: Wow! You were in front of the digital media explosion, during the "pre-web-1.0" era of the Internet.

Jane: Yes, in fact, we would study consumers' behaviors on the Internet as a proxy for how they might accept the interactive digital TV experience. Microsoft TV has made more progress working with the telecommunication companies than cable operators, because they wanted to add TV to their service bundle in order to better compete with Cable. We studied what motivates consumers to interact with television - on the consumer side we researched everything from usability to attitudes toward interactive applications to preferred content, and on the MSO/Telco side, what they needed from Microsoft TV to add value to the digital TV ecosystem.

Wendy: Sure.

Jane: We developed set top boxes, which enabled access to an advanced interactive TV guide, DVR, and digital TV applications such as interactive Jeopardy or the latest, interactive boxing on Showtime, including connectivity to the Internet. Of course now content, applications, and communication is accessible on all kinds of devices; giving so many of us the ability to consume what we want, anytime, any place, but at the time it was relatively new territory and what we were doing was groundbreaking.

Wendy: I always think of conducting research as detective work in a way. You're uncovering a lot of human behavior. The data must be surprising sometimes. With your years spent in research at Microsoft TV and now comScore, would you say research is a passion of yours?

Jane: It is - it's fascinating to understand, at the most granular level, how consumers are engaging and interacting online. It is really interesting and fun to be a part of such an innovative company who finds pioneering ways to measure emerging technologies and then make this valued data available to those who want to understand exactly how consumers are interacting online.

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Wendy: Let's talk about comScore. When was the company formed and what does comScore offer clients that's unique?

Jane: The company was founded in 1999. We are a global leader in audience measurement - - built from the ground-up to measure all things digital - essentially, we examine the role technology is playing in the user experience. We have a global panel of 2 million consumers, 1 million in the US and 1 million outside the US in almost 170 countries.

Wendy: That's a large sample!

Jane: We have an opt-in model where consumers allow us to passively track all of their online behaviors. We have very large sample base so we can be very granular about how we report the data. We pride ourselves in being able to continually find new and innovative ways of measuring emerging technologies. One of the ways we are unique is because we do not use cookies to measure visitors which have been proven to be inaccurate due to ongoing cookie deletion.

Wendy: That's interesting.

Jane: Our data is all about measuring how engaged consumers are online and provide this research to a client base which is almost exclusively supported by advertising. Through our ad effectiveness research specifically, we are helping traditional advertisers make decisions about their online strategies by looking at the view-through value beyond the immediate response and capturing the latent residual effects.

Wendy: And the latest research is about widgets. It's a very hot topic right now because everyone is just figuring out how they can be used most effectively. How long have you been studying them?

Jane: We launched Widget Metrix in April 2007, and at the time, we were measuring only Shockwave Flash objects. We're defining widgets as independent objects that can be embedded or downloaded onto another site and which can be used as a tool, have automatic content updates, or are interactive. Because media distribution is moving from a centralized system to a decentralized and personalized media distribution model - and widgets are in front of this evolution - we are attempting to measure media not tied to one site, and it's definitely a challenge due to the lack of widget standards in the industry.

Wendy: It certainly is.

Jane: As the widget universe continues to evolve, it will become necessary to define better industry standards, and comScore is committed to aiding in that effort, to help grow the space by providing measurement which can enable monetization.

Wendy: So how does it compare to other widget-based research tools? Are there any out there?

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Jane: Widget Metrix was the first tool available to track widgets. Since launching, we've already expanded measurement to include certain JavaScript objects as well as Facebook applications. The market is extremely dynamic, so we plan to evolve with the market as content delivery systems change. I think that there is a competitor or two but comScore tends to be ahead of the curve. We were the first to measure e-commerce, search, video and now widgets.

Wendy: Besides widgets, is there anything you are measuring that has a lot of buzz surrounding it right now?

Jane: Yes, we are very involved in ad-effectiveness research because of the ongoing shift to move dollars online. This shift is happening because of global broadband penetration and because digital media can be measured more easily and cost effectively than offline media, and the ROI is strong. GM knows this, which is why they have decided to move $1.5 billion - half of their yearly advertising budget - online. As these dollars move online, we are creating robust post-buy tools to enable marketers to understand the effectiveness of their online ads by measuring the impact of their campaigns, allowing them to see exactly how consumers interact with those ads.

Wendy: Wow, very cool.

Jane: We can tell them how many people saw their ads, what demos were reached, how many times they were exposed, and what immediate or latent action was taken after exposure. All these measures are captured passively without a survey. Although we can also survey those exposed to deliver branding impacts; we can even link the online campaign to measuring the lift offline sales. In partnership with P&G, SEMPO, and Yahoo!, we recently released research called "The Digital Shelf" which proved that the CPG industry is missing a huge opportunity to be online when consumers are in market searching for anything from personal care to baby products. We are hearing that this kind of research is compelling and increasingly important to advertisers.

Wendy: That's very exciting for a marketer to have that kind of data at hand. I assume we are talking about custom proprietary research studies for specific companies.

Jane: Yes. Our suite of ad-effectiveness tools includes, "Campaign Metrix" and "Brand Metrix". We measure post-exposure activity at the campaign level, and can also measure branding impacts- intent, and awareness and attitudes using surveys. The combination of these two is very powerful.

Wendy: Sounds that way.

Jane: I should mention that Ad Metrix is a new product that is measuring exposures at publisher-level or at the advertiser-level. It is syndicated research now available online via the Media Metrix interface. So, again we are providing all of the tools for the marketers to really understand how they can most effectively make money; get their brand out there and understand exactly what effect their campaigns have on viewers.

Wendy: When I sold print advertising, we never had anything but Starch which was very weak.

Jane: Oh and I remember the magazine readership research magazines provided to advertisers and media buyers - not sure how adequate the sample sizes were or the accuracy of the data!

Wendy: Yes, it was pretty hard to sell to media planners.

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Jane: Exactly. That is the beauty of digital. Everything is measurable.

Wendy: It's interesting that you bring that up because when I talk to media planners about research they usually say they use it directionally. The other thing is that, from a publisher standpoint, there is always going to be, let's face it, some kind of discrepancy in terms of a measurable audience. Publication X says they have 10 million viewers, right? And then the comScore numbers say it's more like 8 million. So there's the rub. Publication X has sales people out there trying to sell ads based on their numbers and the agencies are negotiating based on a completely different set of metrics. In traditional media, research like MRI can easily be massaged, but with digital all the stats have much less room for error.

Jane: It is true. And you are right, digital is much more measurable and yet there is still a debate on the best way to measure. When we came out with a study back in April '07 on Cookie Deletion, we produced a white paper and it really was a benchmark around understanding the discrepancy that you mentioned; around different kinds of measurement systems. The results proved that cookies are just not accurate - as many as 31 percent of U.S. Internet users cleared their first-party cookies at least once during the month.

Wendy: Interesting.

Jane: Another place we hear about discrepancies is when our numbers are compared to internal logs - we are going to be lower, and there are number of reasons for that. Cookie deletion is the single most prominent factor, which can overstate a site's audience by a factor as high as 2.5 or 150 percent.

Wendy: Makes sense. Many people are diligent about deleting their cookies; they consider them an invasion of privacy.

Jane: We call them "serial resetters."

Wendy: LOL! Or obsessive compulsives!

Jane: Yes it is kind of like that. Because, you know, there really are some cookies that you probably want to keep - for example, first party cookies so a site remembers who you are and you can avoid typing in a password. In this same study, the segment of users with first-party cookies, there was an average of 4.7 different cookies for the site, and 31 percent of U.S. Internet users cleared their first-party cookies during the month.

Wendy: Wow, I didn't know that.

Jane: Right. So if you have research based on cookie data it's a real problem because when you factor in those people that are diligent about resetting, the data just becomes highly inaccurate.

Wendy: Makes sense. Since you have an actual panel of people, how do you recruit them to participate in your panels?

Jane: We recruit online across a broad array of sites. We don't rely on any large portals for the majority of our recruitment because we want to be very representative of all sites on the Internet. So if consumers join our panel, they knowingly opt in, and because we recruit from such a wide variety of sites, we have a cross-section that actually represents the diversity of people online. We also use census data and other studies to normalize our data, calculating projection weights for panelists so we can exactly mirror the composition of the online population.

Wendy: Are there incentives for opting in?

Jane: Yes, we may offer some nominal incentives for participation, including free software or games. We have different promotions at different times and sometimes our surveys are incentive based.

Wendy: That's a very nice incentive. Now if you opt-in how often does comScore send questionnaires? Do you email the entire base at the same time or selectively?

Jane: When consumers opt-in, they agree to be passively measured and many of our customer projects and all of our syndicated research is reported without surveys at all. When we do utilize surveys, we are very, very careful about over-extending our panel so we that don't over survey them. We even have the technology to survey consumers outside of our panel. For most of the custom research studies we conduct, we don't actually ask any questions of our panelists. We see their actual behaviors.

Wendy: Right, so they just know that you're doing that and that's okay with them.

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Jane: Yes, they know that they are being tracked. Sometimes we will survey panelist for studies like ad-effectiveness using Brand Metrix, our survey-based research tool. But you know, we do not fatigue our panel with too many surveys - our objective is to get as much information as we can passively, rather than use stated behaviors via surveys. Brand Metrix captures attitudinal measures only, which can't be measured any other way except via a survey.

Wendy: Do the respondents know that when they sign in? I mean, do they know you are not going to bombard them with questionnaires all the time? Do you have a statement that describes what a panelist does?

Jane: Yes, they have to opt-in via an online agreement which states that we will be able to passively and unobtrusively track their online behaviors. We also give them the option to receive invites to surveys and tell them what they might receive if they decide to participate in surveys. Our data collection methodology is actually much less intrusive and far more reliable than paper diaries, readership surveys or electronic people meters.

Wendy: Okay. So comScore is a leader in the digital measurement space. How do you communicate that to agencies? Is there a training team on board that educates the agency community on what research is available and how to best use it?

Jane: Absolutely. Our Media Metrix division has an entire team that is dedicated to training and support. That's all they do. comScore believes that our tools can really help the industry monetize by providing data to collectively understand consumers and what they do on the web.

Wendy: Well if you think about the amount of technology platforms that are being developed everyday, ongoing education about emerging technologies like widgits is really important to the agency community.

Jane: It really is. It took me a while to understand all of comScore's offerings and understand our differences and benefits and I'm still learning. It is unbelievable!

Wendy: Well the pace of the digital media business moves at breakneck speed. You blink and you can miss something. I have to skim the trades everyday or I'm worried I'll miss something that could be beneficial to my clients. Of course media is just one aspect. We also have to be knowledgeable about our clients' business.

Jane: It's true. I have media and entertainment clients and if you think about it they are in all these other vertical industries so I sometimes I rely on subject matter experts within our custom marketing solutions teams who work day to day in those verticals, providing deeper expertise and to make sure I'm up to date on the latest trends and issues in the various industries.

Wendy: One of your categories is the entertainment industry. That must be interesting since the studios do such creative things on-line.

Jane: It is fun. And with the popularity of UGC and explosion of online video that's happening, the lines between professional media, UGC content, and what is considered "entertainment" is really blurring.

Wendy: Studios invest so much in the production of their films, if a movie doesn't perform well it is pulled from theaters very quickly. The most popular unit right now seems to be rich media banner ads that house the trailer and other goodies. Do your studies show that those units are doing well in terms of driving people to theaters to see the movie?

Jane: We are actually doing these types of studies with some of the studios. We are trying to help them understand the effectiveness of their trailers and compare their impact to say, banner ads, rich media, and search, for instance. We can even track the effectiveness of ads to ecommerce and even offline purchases. This kind of research helps marketing teams figure out ROI of a particular campaign and a much lower cost than traditional offline media studies.

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Wendy: Makes sense.

Jane: Ad-effectiveness is a huge area for us, for all those reasons. Studios and marketers need to know where their media dollars should be invested for the best ROI. Is it television? Maybe, but we know the usage of sites like You Tube and MySpace to view movie trailers is intense, and all of the sites that promote that content.

Wendy: Most definitely; especially since movies skews so heavily toward the younger end of the population. So let's end our discussion by talking about ad:tech. You are on a widget panel. My guess is you'll have a full house. Considering the lack of overall widget knowledge in the marketing community; do you think it is going to be a very basic panel almost like a "widgets 101?"

Jane: Perhaps. A good number of the attendees are new to the industry, start-ups, or agencies who want to stay as informed as possible - ad:tech is a great forum for emerging online advertising solutions. I think that's where comScore and other companies come together to help attendees better understand the various opportunities.

Wendy: I agree. Are you planning to attend other sessions while you're there?

Jane: I always like hearing the keynotes and besides those, my interests are focused on hearing from the marketers and publishers and their views about social networking, branding, performance, and ad effectiveness .Specifically, I'm looking forward to: Power Panel: Social Network Marketing - Exploring the Value Proposition, Building Lifetime Value: Acquisition and Retention Strategies in the Digital Age, Consumer Insights I: Leading Marketers Share Their Vision, and Advertising in an On-Demand Universe, to name a few.

Wendy: Jane, thanks so much for chatting with me. Have a great time at ad:tech!

Jane: It was my pleasure, Wendy!

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