Embracing the Fourth Wave of Marketing Measurement: People

Amit Ahuja
by Amit Ahuja 28 Apr, 2017

When marketers say "people's interactions" or "consumer behavior," what we really mean is that we know a device (e.g., phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) interacted with content. Historically, marketers couldn't connect all those devices to one person, but we all knew the average consumer used several devices to interact with a single brand. Yet, devices don't buy products - people do.

The fourth (and current) wave of marketing measurement will be built upon metrics that deliver insight regarding what really matters: people.

Marketers can move beyond relying on instincts and leverage data to connect with actual (anonymous) people. Marketing directly to people helps brands drive consistent, continuous and connected experiences to their consumers across their digital journey.

The Past

Before diving into the value of people-based marketing and where the industry is headed, let's recap the evolution of marketing measurement.

Wave 1 - Early 90s: Hits
Definition of hits: The number of Web-browser requests to a Web server.

Shortcoming: The inability for hits to delineate between 10 images loading or 10 people visiting a Web page leaves marketers unable to answer rudimentary questions such as, "Which pages are the most popular?" or "Which pages are the least popular?" Measuring hits to understand people is like measuring the number of hot dogs sold to understand a ballgame - it doesn't help much.

Wave 2 - Mid 90s: Visits
Definition of visits: A session of continuous activity in which hits from a single Web browser are rolled into a visit that expires after a period of inactivity.

Shortcoming: Given that visits reset after a period of inactivity (often after 24 hours), it's a poor method of understanding people. Using visits as a proxy for people leads to incorrect insights regarding which marketing channels are most effective and how people pass through the conversion funnel.

Wave 3 - Late 90s: Visitors
Definition of visitors: Cookies are used to stitch multiple visits from the same Web browser into one visitor.

Shortcoming: While better than visits, the visitors metric is often interpreted as being synonymous with people, but it's not. Visitors don't encompass multiple devices. Measuring visitors creates an illusion regarding which marketing campaigns are most effective and where marketers should invest their budgets. Using visitors as a proxy for people leads to inefficient marketing, incorrect insights, and wasted marketing dollars.

The Present and the Future

Wave 4 - Now: People-Based Marketing
Today, some people in the industry believe that true people-based marketing is out of reach or the technology isn't available, but this is false. However, the fact that some believe it's not viable gives those of us who are bold enough to act on it a competitive advantage. People-based marketing is available today to give marketers the metrics that really matter and the ability to take action on those metrics on any marketing channel.

People-based marketing delivers insights such as which experiences are best suited for the person behind a specific device in a specific part of the customer journey. As the wave of the present and future, people-based marketing delivers action based on the entire relationship between a brand and a consumer - not a brand and a device. This action will span devices and be able to curate a stream of meaningful content that flows smoothly across devices, but always to the same individual (anonymized) person.

For example, an online retailer has made substantial progress with incentivizing their visitors to log on to their website, so marketing can use their propensity model to offer a product that the consumer is most likely to buy. But, a sizable portion of this retailer's traffic is still buying from them regularly without logging in first, which renders their propensity-scoring model useless for this customer segment.

With true people-based marketing, this same retailer could integrate a device graph that would allow them to offer the right product at the right time to their consumers - with or without logging in.

Marketers can deliver people-based marketing in this way today. 

Marketers have the opportunity to usher in a new future for the industry today. Consumers already expect their experiences with brands to be consistent across devices and channels. Given rising consumer expectations, marketers must demand more from themselves and their technology providers.

Now is the time to rise to the challenge and meet consumer expectations so marketers can reap the benefits of customer satisfaction and harnessing this competitive advantage.

About the Author

Amit Ahuja is the Head of Adobe's Audience and Planning businesses. In this role he is responsible for leading the strategic direction and execution across both initiatives. Prior to this role, Amit spent 7 years in Adobe's Corporate Development Group where he executed numerous transactions including acquisitions of Omniture, Scene7, Efficient Frontier, Demdex and Auditude. Amit joined Adobe via the acquisition of Macromedia where he was in the Corporate Development Group focusing on mobile and video. Amit began his career at Hambrecht & Quist as a technology investment banker and also spent several years at a technology start up. Amit has a B.S. from University of California, Berkeley and a MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Management.