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Capping Correctly: Using Media Frequency Tools To Your Advantage

Volume 5, Issue 11 - November, 2015

Editor, IQ Advisor

For all of the noise that is made about optimizing digital media to improve in-market efficiency, not every dimension of the problem is given equal attention these days. Talk of disparate results across creative, targeting, and campaign levels of analysis swirls around every media analytics practice, while frequency – perhaps the most simple and changeable element of all – is relegated to an afterthought. There is no doubt that the compositional and contextual differences across media are important levers in identifying what is comparatively effective; but if you’re concerned with the bottom-line cost of driving results, you may want to begin your journey to improvement by first looking at the number of impressions you serve.

Frequency capping is an exercise that you have likely heard of, at the very least; if not one that you have employed in the past. While the ability to limit the number of media impressions that a publisher serves to an individual user is powerful in itself, proper approach and practice are what ultimately unlock its potential. Here are three ideas to help you make the most of this powerful capability.

Capping Should be Part of Your Regular Optimization Routine
Frequency capping shouldn’t be classified as something to “set and forget.” While implementation of caps may be a victory in itself – especially if it required some tussling with your publishers – remember that you’ve set these caps based on a single snapshot of time. Over time, you may launch new media through your capped publishers that alters the landscape of how users engage; or perhaps an environmental change such as seasonality will accelerate or decelerate the performance of your impressions. You may even find that a previously implemented cap is stifling your reach to a point where it conflicts with your pre-campaign goals. For these reasons, caps should be implemented, revisited, and adjusted on a regular cadence. A once-per-month check should suffice, as you won’t want to act prematurely on user behavior that hasn’t been fully fleshed out.

If You Don’t Implement Caps as Part of a Media Launch, You Should Reconsider
With sanctioned media budgets often reinterpreted as “expenditure goals,” limiting a new campaign’s ability to spend money may seem conflictive at first thought. However, in the context of larger and/or programmatic buys especially, it is important to understand that many users will be reached tens (or even hundreds) of times in an uncapped environment – well beyond the threshold of effectiveness. Even if there is no history of frequency and conversion from past buys with a specific publisher, leveraging data from comparable buys with other publishers can help to inform a safe baseline cap. This will begin to limit impression waste immediately, saving valuable dollars that will be better spent once you can field insights directly from in-market data. In a worst-case scenario, you can always loosen the cap if concerns about reach or expenditure arise.

Don’t Implement a Publisher-Wide Cap Based on a Subset of that Publisher’s Performance
It is often said that marketing is both art and science; and this adage holds true for frequency capping. If you are running multiple, distinct campaigns through a single publisher, it is important to understand that variance in ad specifications and creative context may drive varying impacts from impression frequency. As such, you will want to group media for frequency capping by a semantic factor that is both sensible and actionable– an exercise that is subjective and inexact by nature, but integral to success. For example: if you are leveraging a publisher for both a branding campaign and a direct response campaign, you will likely want to set separate caps as these efforts are exclusive of one another. Audience, call to action, location, and ad type are examples of characteristics that may differ between the two, so it should be assumed that each is worth handling separately.

Ultimately, your publishers are your partners in business, and it’s worth your while to explore all of what they can do to make your media more efficient. By committing to frequency capping and leveraging these ideas, improvement is all but guaranteed. Happy capping!

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