Itamar Simonson & Emanuel Rosen recently released the book, “Absolute Value.” I picked it up because the hook was intriguing – in a world of increasing access to information, has brand equity and relative value lost its place? The sub-title of the book goes one step further and posits “What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information.”
The authors essentially argue that access to more comparison shopping, user reviews and the like, via the Web, mean that loyalty is diminishing and consumers are better able to discern actual quality based on these unstructured information sources, thus thwarting the manipulation of marketers who believe they can engage loyalty and move people off the fence. The central theme of the book is that “absolute value” is more of a realistic possibility than ever before thanks to the amount of relevant information we can obtain on products/services we intend to buy and the speed at which we have access to that data.
To bring industry relevance in, we must ask, “Does this cause advertising to lose its place?” I think even Simonson & Rosen would argue against this notion. After all, it is still essential to produce brand awareness and give viewers a platform to affirm the decision they made based on non-marketing information. Simonson & Rosen say thus, “Brand equity is still valuable in terms of name recognition, continuity, and in some cases, emotional attachment and prestige.” However, the authors would likely say that an ad for McDonald’s is far less motivating now than it would have been before, due to the plethora of available data that compares a McDonald’s Big Mac to its competition in terms of health, taste and overall burger preferences.
What does that mean for advertising research? Does it still hold value since the marketplace is so saturated with information? I would argue that advertising research holds more value than ever. Even if Simonson & Rosen are correct in their beliefs, the marketer can still influence how the initial message is delivered to the market and, in many cases, they can pre-emptively frame the product to influence even the unstructured information data people are flocking to on the internet.
Intuitively, this makes sense. If you have a chance to entice the masses early on, the right message will give you a leg up in terms of creating those emotional attachments and even some brand loyalty. But the world is a “noisy” place – consumers are inundated with so much information that it’s hard to detect what Nate Silver calls the predictive “signal” in the midst of so much noise. Where is the “ad”ded value? That is where advertising research comes in to play.
Advertising research is a nice validated form of “absolute value.” Key performance indicators like breakthrough and persuasion combine with verbal and visual diagnostics to give brand managers a full picture of the “features and attributes” of an ad and even allow them to pre-emptively peruse positive and negative “consumer reviews” before their ad hits the airwaves. This, then, allows the marketer to get “nearly-perfect” information in as much detail as possible prior to going to market with advertising, as well as gaining learning for future development.
Online portals are an emerging way to digest this information in easy-to-read formats and get a holistic picture of how an ad is performing in just a few minutes. This allows for quicker response times in terms of editing and production and for data to be stored centrally so advertisers can have access at any time to learn from previous advertising when developing future campaigns. Below is an example of the online portal system Ameritest currently uses.
However, advertising research also affords the opportunity to provide “relative value.” With competitive testing, you can see how consumers are “comparison shopping” your advertising against a competitor’s offering. We know the effect a strong ad relative to on-air competition can have on sales growth. In a case study for McDonald’s, Ameritest was able to determine that McDonald’s same-store sales growth was on average half-a-perfect higher during months where McDonald’s ran a top-three performing ad in the category for that month, which held true over a 6 ½ year period. This underscores that both levels of value (relative and absolute) are critical to learning how to best influence your customers in the marketplace.
So are you getting the right kinds of value out of your advertising? If you’re finding your in-market “consumer reviews” are not what you were hoping for, advertising research may help you get an earlier picture. Jim Rohn once said, “You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour,” so find the right ways to provide maximum value, both relative and absolute, for the time you get with your consumer.
Adam Page is an Associate Research and Analytics Director at Ameritest.