by Geoffrey Precourt

Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) seems to have provided the missing piece in a program that will offer American researchers the opportunity to tap into a new audience-metric service designed on the U.K.’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s (IPA) TouchPoints© initiative.

The Media Behavior Institute (MBI) and MRI have entered into what both parties call “a strategic partnership… with the goal of jointly launching a syndicated, consumer-centric, multimedia database that could transform the way media is planned, bought and sold.”

MRI and MBI began working together on a U.S. TouchPoints test in 2009 with a program in Detroit and Indianapolis. 50 adults in these two markets – all of them respondents to MRI’s “Survey of the American Consumer” – completed an iPhone-based electronic diary, reporting their daily activities, media usage, and mood by entering this information for a 10-day period at half-hour intervals.

The participants did not have to be dragged into the process. According to MBI, more than 80 percent of the MRI respondents agreed to participate in the pilot; of that group, more than 90 percent completed entries for every half-hour for 10 consecutive days; 80 percent said that they had been able to provide reasonably complete and accurate information… “always or almost always”; on a 10-point scale (where 10 equaled “extremely enjoyable”), the participants, on average rated the experience as 8.1. And, seemingly, the experience was painless: 90 percent of the entries took 90 seconds or less.

MBI Micro Data
Fig 1. MBI Micro Data (click to enlarge)

“For USA TouchPoints© Success, we had to have a credible media neutralist,” said Jim Spaeth, MBI founding partner/chief strategic/chief financial officer. With data from its semi-annual survey, MRI provided the third-party objectivity that MBI needed to complete its TouchPoints USA model. “We also had to be grounded in proven multimedia measurement systems and be marketplace driven,” Spaeth added.

The proof of a needy marketplace came from a 2009 joint Association of National Advertisers/American Association of Advertising Agency (4A’s) study of 294 marketers that cited “inadequate metrics” as the most powerful obstacle in refining media mixes. At the time, Nancy Hill, 4A’s’ president/ceo observed, “Agencies and clients alike need to work together to educate internal and external constituents to demonstrate the value of well-thought-out multichannel approaches.”

And, so it was only appropriate that Spaeth and Bill Moult, MBI ceo/founding partner, selected the 4A’s 2010 Transformation leadership conference in San Francisco to unveil their new service.

MBI has a different kind of partner in its nearly two-year-old startup. Indiana’s Ball State University – renowned in American research circles for its 81-year-old Center for Middletown Studies – is working with Spaeth (former president of the Advertising Research Foundation) and Moult (former president of the Marketing Science Institute) to direct the fortunes of MBI. To jump start its program, the new organization received a $3.5-million grant from the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence. And, in 2008, Ball State and MBI announced that it had already licensed the “TouchPoints” methodology from the IPA.

In three years, he continued, TouchPoints has “transformed media planning in the U.K. By providing both “week-in-the-life” granularity as a source for new consumer insights and a planning database as a gateway that crosses data sources, Spaeth said the service has proven “not to be an alternative to currency research systems; it is a way of the integrating them.”

“Previously advertisers and their agencies had to choose between small but interesting studies with lots of detail for a few consumers,” Moult commended, “and huge databases with virtually no human beings at all, where everything was reduced to a number.”

MBI IPA TouchPoints
Fig 2. MBI IPA TouchPoints (click to enlarge)

TouchPoints© began in 2006 and, by the end of 2009, was supported by 50 companies, including 19 of the country’s top 20 media agencies. Ideally, with MBI in place, Moult said, the two services will, in time, provide a “powerful global resource.” The U.K. service, he added, already has demonstrated its “ability to empirically link currency databases and to gather insights from continuous and comprehensive ‘week-in-the-life’ eDiary data.” MBI’s addition to the global value proposition, will be three fold:

  • The 10-second “day-in-the-life” granularity
  • Actual time spent
  • Concurrency data

MBI timeline
Fig 3. MBI Timeline (click to enlarge)

Moult continued, “MBI’s joint product with MRI will transform the way media is planned and bought. Our recently completed pilot exceeded all expectations.” Longer-term plans call for a syndicated, continuous service. And, according to Spaeth, “We have already taken two of the next steps envisioned by IPA TouchPoints in the U.K – a continuous measurement model and a mobile-phone eDiary platform.”

For the latter, MBI has worked a new app for iPhones that will be the core delivery device of its digital diary. “We own the iPhones,” explained Moult, “and we put them in the hands of recent MRI respondents for 10 days each.” To eliminate temptation of digital diversions, the MBI-owned devices have only a one-button phone service (to a helpline) and simple on-screen navigation. And, to the point of the program, Moult added, “Data can be uploaded automatically over the phone’s data connection – daily, hourly, or more frequently as needed.”

MBI iPhone diary
Fig 4. MBI iPhone Diary

Different screens will facilitate data entry, offering a wide range of settings (where are you watching?), audience size (with whom?), activities (are you traveling or at work?) and media (a scrollable list of different broadcast options as well as digital destinations, search engines, and even e-reading choices).

The goal, say its founders, is for MBI to complete a 360-degree media-consumption matrix that provides far richer information than single age and gender audience pockets.

MBI Graphic
Fig 5. MBI Graphic (click to enlarge)

With such granularity, Spaeth said, “We’ll be able to answer such question as, ‘What are the right circumstances and the best times to advertise car child-safety features?’ ‘When the family is all together, feeling relaxed, traveling in a car?’ ‘What else are young professionals doing while they eat lunch at their desks?’ ‘What kind of mood are they in?’ ‘Are they alone? ‘Are they online shopping?’ ‘Reading a newspaper or magazine?’ ‘Are they on Facebook? ‘And what are they eating?’ ‘When and where are smokers when they’re most anxious and needing a cigarette?’ ‘When are they most likely to feel guilty about not being able to quit?'”

For media buyers, the two MBI founders insisted, “Fusing observation and eDiary data with currency databases links context planning to buying,” according to Moult. “There’s no transition necessary from planning to buying.” The advantage to agencies and advertisers: “It provides an unimpeded and efficient alignment between planning and buying metrics.”

For media brands: “It offers fact-based looks at consumer exposure and engagement with their brands across platforms. And, that information can inform strategic brand management, audience development and valuing cross-platform packages.”