Is reach an overrated metric?

Ángel Pino

28 March 2019

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Reach, impressions, impact – if you work in advertising or communications, you’ll be very familiar with these terms. Around the world, marketing departments have made these terms their mantra; in campaign reports, they indicate success – they’re basically the only measurements that really matter.

Reach dominates everything. Today, we stop to question why.

Reach = awareness and purchase intention

Okay, let’s not beat around the bush – reach is obviously important. There are numerous articles and studies on the subject to prove it. Particularly interesting are two articles, one written by Hoyer and Brown in 1990 and an update to one written by MacDonald and Sharp released in 2000, both of which comment on the effect of brand recognition on the decision making process in the repeat purchasing of common everyday products.

The MacDonald and Sharp experiment involved asking participants to make a choice between three brands of lemon-flavoured drinks, and repeating this five times over. The participants were split into two groups – the first group were asked to choose between three brands that were not particularly well known. The second group were asked to choose between three brands – one of which was very well known amongst consumers. The result? 85% of participants in the second group chose the more well-known brand – mostly based on brand recognition. They placed less importance on other elements such as the price of the product. The updated article released in 2000 reaffirms these results through follow up experiments conducted in Australia.

What’s more, with each repetition of the experiment, MacDonald and Sharp observed a U-shaped curve in respect to the better known brand. After the initial wave of the experiment, participants became more open to trying other brands. Despite this, by the end of the experiment, they still chose the most well-known brand – but what this does show us is that as the experiment continued, ‘brand recognition’ as a reason for purchasing a product became less important than other factors such as price or taste.

Brand loyalty matters

Keep in mind that this study measured awareness by comparing a single better known brand with lesser known ones. The reality is – competition is fierce, and the consumer does consider other brands when deciding – even lesser known brands – especially when it comes to certain kinds of product or service. So how can we differentiate ourselves?

This is where brand loyalty comes in. Although awareness has been shown to have a positive impact on brand loyalty, paid media on social can do a lot more than just generate impact.

On the one hand, we have various advertising solutions and tools at our disposal. For example, we can converse with consumers using a chatbot in a way that is both automated and personalised, and these chatbots can be promoted via a Facebook campaign with a ‘message reply’ objective. Campaigns like these can help us get to know our audience – and build up a better relationship with that audience, in turn generating awareness of a higher quality. Campaigns that are executed on big social platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow us to broaden the demographic spectrum of our audience and develop creative solutions aimed at increasing engagement.

On the other hand, campaign optimisation is essential. We have the tools to automatically optimise costs – our task is to decide on the real objective of the campaign we’ve launched. For example, how can we optimise video awareness or views? The following graph illustrates that user behavior in relation to video content consumption is at its best when the campaign is optimised to video-views. For example – the percentage of users who watch 100% of the video reaches 1%; however, if reach is the focus, it does not exceed 0.5%.

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As you can see, costs per 1,000 people reached is lower for reach campaigns, but engagement is worse.

The need to differentiate

Yes, reach is an important measurement, especially when it comes to brand awareness, and yes, it has a positive effect on the purchasing process. However, we can’t forget about the importance of brand loyalty, particularly in more competitive markets. In these markets, it becomes necessary to squeeze as much creativity as you can from your marketing department.

Relying on reach to measure the success of your campaign may be a little short sighted – a better approach, perhaps, is to combine ‘reach’ with other objectives. Ad blockers are continuing to grow in popularity because the kinds of ads we target consumers with are increasingly less relevant and less engaging. It’s time to reflect on what really matters – capturing your audience’s attention, or maintaining it.