Audience research has been a long-standing activity in the media and advertising industries. It all began in the 1960s when BBC commissioned the first audience measurement survey, and despite investing in it, the BBC chiefs of the day thought that they didn’t need research because they already knew who was watching what.
That was a fallacy, as indeed they quickly realized after the results were out that the audiences were not necessarily those that they targeted with specific content, and that there were several other factors that affected viewership. Fortunately that strongly held view has now changed and audience research today is the currency by which to buy and sell media.
Today the landscape has changed tremendously, where in the past, most of the media was government owned and monopolized, to a liberalized environment with significant increases of media outlets across the world, fragmenting the audiences and creating a need for science based methods of targeting audiences. In Kenya for example, there are 50 TV channels that currently have digital broadcast licenses, and there are over 170 radio stations, over 10 daily newspapers and over 50 periodicals.
Audience research today
Audience research measures how many people are in an audience with relation to radio listenership, TV viewership, newspaper readership, and increasingly web browsing. It includes practices that help media and advertisers determine who is watching rather than just how many people are watching.
There are several ways of collecting this data credibly, but the main ones are either passive or declarative. Passive measurement refers to a system of being able to collect data about individual or household media consumption using electronic means and without the respondents having to note or record their media consumption over periods of time. This includes the use of People Meters used to measure television, Personal People Meters used to measure television and radio, and software based mobile data collection methods for radio, television and outdoor, among others. A major benefit of these systems is that they do not require memory or diligent compliance as in the declarative systems and are therefore considered more accurate and with finer detailed.
Declarative audience measurement refers to quantitative research that requires the respondent to state, record or note their media consumption over time. It relies on the diligence of the respondent to fill in their paper or electronic media diaries and also on their memory. Without the electronic and passive forms of measurement, declarative audience research has proven to be accurate but without the finer details as from the former. It includes paper media diaries, laptop based interviews, daily recall telephone interviews, and mobile text based questionnaires among others.
The findings from audience measurement affect a number of major stakeholders including the media fraternity, major brands, government, and the advertising industry among others. That is why the data provision is governed and commissioned by industry associations that bring together the stakeholders that are most affected by the research. In some markets there are purely media driven associations focused on specific media channels, such as BARB in Britain, which is an association of Radio Stations that commission and fund the national radio audience research. We see the same for TV, print and the Internet in various markets around the world.
In Kenya the audience measurement journey began with Steadman and Research International coming together and offering a research product to the market, from their own initiative. This product grew into the major form of audience data provided quarterly from 8 major regions in the country, purely on a commercial basis. It was only until 2007 when the industry stakeholders came together to form the KARF (Kenya Audience Research Foundation), and commissioned an improved study that would provide a bigger sample and continuous data collection that had quarterly releases with monthly rolling windows. This was the first time ever that the country had monthly data at a standard rate, as a result of the steady funding that came from the organized joint industry association.
The immediate result was improved data upon which advertising agencies could use to plan their media and demonstrate a return-on-investment (ROI) to their clients, the advertiser. With improved metrics and demonstrated value, advertising expenditure began to grow in double digits following many years of small, incremental growth.
This was demonstrated very clearly during the world financial crisis when the multinational advertisers cut their advertising expenditure in many parts of the world. Despite this move, Kenya’s total advertising spends continued to rise significantly at the expense of many countries in the African region. The reason; the large advertisers could justify their spend where they were able to have a clear view of the value of media and calculate their ROI – which can only be done in a country that has a media currency with continuous measurement.
In 1999 audience research companies and other stakeholders in Africa came together to form PAMRO (Pan-African Media Research Organization) to create a uniform research infrastructure in Africa for the development of the media and advertising industries. Despite their early entry, the crusade has been slow and every gain has been hard fought. To date there are 17 countries in Africa that have any semblance of audience research, and even fewer still are able to provide continuous media data if not only a few times a year.
There has been an upsurge in the countries with media data over the last few years, and PAMRO is determined to continue to drive the effort. Indeed new technology is providing a lower cost of entry and there are a number of organizations that are filling the gaps, which is highly appreciated by the multinational advertisers, who want to spend in specific markets but do not have the mandate to do so without any measurement data.
One of the major achievements of PAMRO to get an updated set of Social Economic Segmentation for Africa, which will be unveiled at this next annual conference in Dar es Salaam between the 23rd and 26th of August 2015. This measure really fits in at the beginning of audience measurement in regards to knowing who your audience is. For the advertiser they have specific target groups for their products based on their affordability to that group, or in other words to understand the level of affluence of the target audiences so that they can plan to reach them efficiently with their advertising messages.
Benefits of a robust audience measurement system
In KARF we believe that the best audience research for Kenya would be passively measured using relevant new technology, highly accurate with data collected and delivered in real time, which is national panel and has a sample size with a minimal margin of error, is single source (i.e. all media in one survey), and very importantly, is affordable to the stakeholders.
To this end a new establishment survey was commissioned and it was delivered in April 2015. The establishment survey is a recalibration of the incidences of media consumption at a point in time. It forms the basis for the continuous tracking data collection that will follow, and in commissioning the tracking research phase, it was critical to have technology based data collection methodology to improve the accuracy and ability to deliver data fast. This is because the advertiser wants data to make decisions today, and not to justify decisions made months ago.
One of the findings of the establishment survey was the increase in mobile use and the increase of smart phones in the country. This will significantly change the business strategies employed by the media houses, the ad agencies and the advertiser when it comes to addressing their core audiences.
The benefits of audience media research for the media houses are that they have better control of their scheduling and inventory in order to increase their audience engagement and level of advertising. It becomes clear what programmes attract specific audiences and therefore they can buy content and plan their programming schedules accordingly in order to attract audiences that are valuable to the advertisers and brands. With continuous data the media houses are able to price their advertising slots accordingly and help advertisers reach their intended audiences in the most efficient manner.
With regards to the BBC story I gave at the beginning of this talk, we have noticed very interesting trends taking place in Kenya. It is the common thinking that World Wrestling Association shows are targeted at male audiences; but it has come to our attention that a significant number of women watch wrestling and will usually under-claim watching that type of content. Likewise, the common thought is that soap operas and telenovelas target women; but the findings show that a large number of men watch soaps, and of course they under-claim watching such programmes.
The benefits for media agencies are quite clear. They have a better view of where the target audiences are and can therefore prepare strategies and plan to reach them efficiently with advertising messages. As the panel sample allows for reach and frequency optimization the task of reaching their target audiences is simplified. This is despite the fact that the audiences are fragmenting as time goes by. From one government owned TV station to 50 odd TV channels with digital broadcasting licenses; from 2 radio services to over 170 radio stations countrywide; all with varying schedules that allow audiences to tune in and out as and when they like; the fragmentation has never been greater.
Advertising is one of the most important tool of the brand building set available today, as shown by the world’s biggest brands from the likes of P&G and Coca-Cola. Though these and other brand companies have tremendously large advertising expenditure they never use the scattergun approach to media spend. Instead they aim to be accountable for every dollar spent on advertising and they measure their ROI rigorously.
A few years ago Coca-Cola turned their attention away from an intense internal focus and put the customer at the front and center of their strategies. It all begins with understanding the needs, motivations and life stages of the customer, and audience research forms a major part of that. It provides insights into the content that is important to the consumer, and things that matter to them. From there they can develop communication goals to guide the media and creative strategies of their advertising. Finally, after the campaigns have run their course, they review the engagement with their target audiences and the subsequent responses and start all over. We have observed over the years that the best brand communication strategies are based on penetrating consumer insights and touch a deep rooted emotion or belief, and then follows through by reaching them effectively with compelling messages and efficiently through the media.