A recent survey by McKinsey highlights the growing challenge faced by marketers in deciding how to allocate their media spending:

The rapid growth of online advertising hides a serious challenge: the digital world has developed faster than the tools needed to measure it…A June 2008 McKinsey digital-advertising survey of 340 senior marketing executives around the world shows the breadth of the gap between what’s needed and what’s available. Hobbled by nascent technologies, inconsistent metrics, and a reliance on outdated media models, marketers are failing to tap the digital world’s full power. Unless this problem is addressed, the inability to make accurate measurements of digital advertising’s effectiveness across channels and consumer touch points will continue to promote the misallocation of media budgets and to impede the industry’s growth.

There are three problem areas:

1. Media Planning – New tools are needed to help media planners compare the impact of on- and offline efforts.

2. Conversion measurement – Greater insight is required into how online messaging converts target consumers into making online and offline purchases.

3. Social optimisation – Targeting methodologies have not yet adapted to the changing context in which individuals are consuming online content; in particular, changed context(s) within social environments and how word-of-mouth and recommendations fit within this category.

The survey found that over 50% of respondents were not happy with the current processes for media allocation and measurement. Surprisingly, only 50% of respondents indicated that they used click-through rates to determine the effectiveness of their direct-response advertising – which suggests the rest are preferring qualitative over quantitative measures. Only 30% of respondents indicated that they considered the offline impact of online advertising.

Few in the online industry would claim that the ‘measurement challenge’ has been solved, but it doesn’t seem fair to suggest that poor metrics alone is holding the industry back. Despite having access to over a decade of data on how to use the online medium effectively (either as a stand-alone channel or in conjunction with other channels), it seems that a sizeable number of marketers have failed to adapt their toolkits and processes, or invested in the requisite skills to optimise the ROI of their online spend.