Searching for the perfect metric

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Last week's ad:tech New York conference embraced the opportunities that new media platforms and the fragmented TV-watching environment provide - yet, understandably, stirred up a fair bit of angst as well.

While marketers are excited about the ability to reach their target audiences in smaller, more engaged numbers across more media platforms, they are also thinking about the thorny issues of how to measure their effectiveness and how to compare one set of findings to another. The industry is learning that someone zoning out with ESPN on TV in the background is a very different customer from someone watching an ESPN burst on a mobile phone.

No one should see this as a reason not to experiment, though. Not every media measurement metric is foolproof anyway, and marketers have never played from a single playbook. For Web metrics, for example, do you cover page views? Market share of visits? Average time on site?

Marketers have long existed in an imperfect universe in which more than one winner can emerge from the "who's most effective?" competition, if one chooses one set of nuanced measurements over another. It's encouraging, then, to hear marketers look beyond the numbers that exist today to try and find new ways of measuring consumer engagement.

Finding a formula may seem like nailing jelly to the ceiling, and there's no guarantee that one marketer's results might be found the same way as another's. But, when Michael Steib, director of TV ads at Google, dreams of measuring, "on a second-by-second basisà if a consumer watches every second of an ad during a sports game and then tunes out during comedies or dramas," it shows that, even if we don't know the answers yet, there are some creative questions to be asked.

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