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1 Million Impressions? So What? Rethinking Earned Media Value

Earned media value (EMV) is one of those abstract marketing concepts that employs its own special form of vanity-metric voodoo. It drives sports sponsorships–naming rights to stadiums, logos on soccer and cycling jerseys–all under the premise that the sheer visibility of your logo with a magical measurement of how many people either saw it on television, in the media via photos of the event, and in person equates to the value it would have cost to purchase those impressions.

Now, many talk about EMV whenever content catches a bit of a social viral wave, but here’s one question to ask about all these impressions.

So what?

Every day, each of us views nearly 200 newspapers’ worth of impressions. We ignore 99% of them without consideration, and we do something with a fraction of the 1% we actually give attention to. As a marketer, you are trying to build the conversation between your company and consumers. There is no prize for making more noise–you’re either paying for it or justifying your measure of success by it, neither of which contributes to the success of your company.

Impressions As A Metric Is Dead
Impressions don’t matter. If you care about them still, stop. If you’re using them to justify your job, within the next two years you’ll need a new one.

The amount of impressions you think you’re getting is likely highly inflated anyway. (If there’s anything less concrete to stick a value on than impressions, it’s inferred impressions.) They’re right up there with Facebook Likes: They can’t go on your balance sheet, they can’t get deposited into the bank account, and they have no impact on your business. 

Yes, without an impression, nothing else can happen. But what matters is what happens next. Did somebody trust or find that impression worthy enough to engage? Did they click, sign up for an email, or share it authentically because they saw value in doing? And did somebody actually buy something?

Let’s look at this a little differently. If Chewbacca Mom had simply made a seven-second Vine of her laughing in the Star Wars mask, who knows? A few million people might have seen the Vine, laughed, liked it, and moved on. Instead, she authentically put everything in context–where she bought it and the pure joy it gave her–making the EMV measurable. She drove traffic to Kohl’s website, she drove searches for the mask, and, most importantly, she drove sales until there were no more masks left to sell.

That’s real impact, real results, and real business.

Measuring EMV Today
As a marketing professional, you have to realize noise is a constant. With billions of impressions per day, whatever number you garner isn’t a measure of success but a cost of doing business–an expense, not a value.

Today, you are competing for trust and attention–and while both are very real, their measurability is a bit of a challenge. But to succeed, you need to have them before consumers do something that impacts your business, such as make a purchase.

Then to measure EMV, make sure you to include the following components in your calculation:

• Engagement: Somebody taking an action shows value. A click to a digital property, a social share, a check-in at a physical location–these tell you that seeing a piece of content drove an actual behavior that relates to your business.

While some might say you can’t put a social share on the balance sheet, there is (even if you say there isn’t) an endorsement that comes with sharing. You’re telling your social network that you viewed this as worthy of sharing, which is why other people will reshare it up to 24x more. Doing so also can trigger a purchase up to 50x more than a paid impression.

• Lead generation and conversion goals: Have a new product that people are liking, sharing, and commenting about it on social media? Great, but how many of them actually clicked through and viewed the content they are raving about. It’ll be much less but a more accurate measurement. People go from social to signing up for your email list–that’s showing interest, and that conversion provides a value. It seems like eons ago, but if Google was going to pay $150 per email to acquire Groupon, that says measurable value.

• Sales and actual revenue: Let’s talk about the stuff that can be put on balance sheets and deposited into bank accounts–the good stuff. If I’m the owner of a local coffee shop and some guy starts juggling battle axes lit on fire while playing Blues Traveler on the harmonica in front of my shop, and 150 people come in to the shop and buy $1,000 worth of coffee, my earned media value is $1,000.  If 5 million people see it on YouTube and see the logo of my coffee shop in the window behind the guy and never walk in the door, the value of those impressions is as much as the sales generated by the nonexistent customers: zero.

When it comes to marketing’s value, the time has come where activities that don’t generate business impact don’t matter. Stop doing them. Start changing the conversation and making the marketing jargon that CEOs, CFOs and business owners don’t care about matter.  

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