Inside Google Marketing: Marketing measurement during a pandemic

Avinash Kaushik / April 2020

How do you measure your marketing efforts in a time of upheaval? It’s a pretty stark question, and one I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. As the head of strategic analytics for Google Marketing, I’ve been wrestling with how and what to measure since the COVID-19 pandemic upended, well, everything.

The pandemic has changed the personal and professional lives of everyone around the globe. Those reading this likely work in marketing. You may be reading from home or another remote location, juggling family commitments or home schooling, while dealing with the fact that entire campaigns have been suspended or drastically altered.

Should you even be measuring your marketing efforts during a time like this?

If the job of measuring marketing campaigns typically falls to you or your team, where do you even begin? And should you even be measuring your marketing efforts during a time like this?

It’s a challenge that we face at Google as well. To that end, we’ve identified five marketing measurement strategies we’re pausing for the moment, and five that continue to provide value.

We’ve put the brakes on:

  • Matched market tests. Comparing the behaviour of users in a single control region with the behaviour of users in a single test region requires stability. As regions, states, and geographies go in and out of social distancing protocols, with multiple changes in user behaviour, stability will be heavily impacted. We’re also putting a halt to geo-experiments and ROPO (research online, purchase offline) tests for the same reason.

  • Short-term campaign KPIs. You’re going to have to make some tough calls about your long-term business objectives. If those objectives are still relevant, you might be tempted to change some of your long-term key performance indicators (KPIs) to focus only on short-term KPIs. We’re resisting that urge. Because these circumstances are so unique, you might not hit any of those short-term KPIs. It’s more than likely, anything you learn from the success or failure of short-term KPIs won’t be usable in the future.

  • Major strategic projects. We’ve seen some major changes in consumer media habits as well as responses to those shifts. There’s been an increase in the consumption of online news and linear TV. Meanwhile, increased demands on streaming services have led YouTube and Netflix, among others, to reduce video quality in an effort to reduce bandwidth usage. Whether these habits are long-lasting or temporary remains to be seen, but this is not the time to build learnings related to media approaches in a post-COVID world.

  • Face-to-face measurement. For the safety of all involved, we’ve requested our agencies and vendor partners stop any and all face-to-face interviews, including exit interviews, market research, and in-person creative testing.

  • Unrealistic timelines. If a business-critical timeline is driving a campaign launch, proceed without worrying about the optimal measurement of that campaign. Optimal measurement always requires extra time to plan, evaluate, and implement necessary instrumentation. Let your executives know that now might not be the best time for such an approach. But if you absolutely have to strive for optimal measurement of a major campaign, be sure to give yourself more time in light of the current situation.
This could be the perfect time to invest in planning and upgrading your analytics strategies for 2021 and beyond

We are continuing to:

  • Measure critical campaigns and channels. Clearly, you can’t — and shouldn’t stop — all measurement. Even in tough times, ensuring that you’re investing responsibly remains important. Which is what we’re doing. For major campaigns, we will continue to deploy the corresponding analytical elements across our strategic measurement stack. For campaigns with material budgets, we are applying preflight data checks on our media plans, analysing live results to do in-flight optimisation, and doing thorough post-campaign analysis.

  • Leverage remote creative pretesting. It is important that you understand how your ads are being perceived tonally, especially during times like these. One misstep could have a lasting impact on your brand image. For new creative, normal pretesting remains crucial for us. It’s proven time and again to be a strong predictor of in-market performance. We even recommend retesting creative that was in use before COVID-19 to ensure it is still effective and relevant — and that it doesn’t run the risk of striking the wrong note.

  • Focus on strategic, cross-marketing meta-analysis. Your business and ours moves really fast. As a result, analysts get caught in the “trees view” of data. Taking advantage of this opportunity, our team is scaling up our efforts to look at the “forest views” hidden in our data sets. The sky’s the limit here, but a couple of things I’m focusing on are effectiveness of digital channels in delivering value across marketing initiatives and clear cross-channel cause and effect of various tactics we deploy. I also obsess about in-flight signals, so we are looking for new ones to feed our algorithmic optimisation efforts.

  • Take advantage of think time. Pausing a lot of the things you usually do means that you may have something you usually find in short supply: time to think. This could be the perfect time to invest in planning and upgrading your analytics strategies for 2021 and beyond. None of us knows what life on the other side of COVID-19 will look like. But for now we can try to figure out what our best practices, guidelines, and guardrails for measurement should look like in the future.

  • Invest in structural upgrades. Perhaps the past few years have found you working at such a pace that you’ve continually put off much-needed upgrades. If you’re seeing a reduction in your large-scale campaign measurement efforts, now might be the time to put in place structural upgrades to your analytical capabilities. On top of doing that, we’re working with our agency partners to optimise and streamline reporting and analysis cadences across touchpoints.

This isn’t an easy time for anyone. Like everyone else, we hope this is a rare occurrence and that the period of disruption will end sooner rather than later. But we still have to deal with the reality of the present. As marketing reacts to this ever-shifting landscape, measurement strategies should be similarly agile.

Avinash Kaushik 1.png

Avinash Kaushik

Head of Strategic Analytics, Google Marketing