Share of voice has not survived the great shift in media spend

Share of voice has not survived the great shift in media spend

SOV no longer represents the majority of a brand’s communication focus. Drawing conclusions from it can be highly misleading.

For some while now, the industry has faced a problem with its basic metrics.

I say “faced”, although the truth is we haven’t faced up to the issue at all, doing that curious media dance of sticking our fingers in our ears, twirling round three times, clicking our heels and hoping the problem will go away.

Take basic words like “viewer” or “reach”. What do they actually mean? Why can’t we agree on a set of common definitions? Surely, if they’re to be useful, the same word should mean basically the same thing whichever media form it’s applied to?

Sometimes the issue is less to do with what something means as with its relevance. It is dangerous to assume a word means what you want it to mean or that its relevance has survived the shifting of tectonic plates.

When SOV dominated planning

When I was an active planner, share of voice (SOV) was a big deal.

Understanding competitors’ creative and media activities was a standard feature of every campaign evaluation. These evaluations made us raise our eyes from our own assumed brilliance to learn from others.

SOV was also considered as an input to plans. Far too many briefs read: “We aim to maintain/increase our SOV.” This assumes the planner possesses some magical predictive power, enabling foresight into what competitors were planning. How else could a plan predict a SOV?

Many studies advocate spending ahead of share of market. Excess SOV is necessary to build market share. Retrospectively this may be so, but how can it be planned for?

The biggest problem with SOV as a retrospective metric is that it relies on available ad expenditure or analysable audience data. That made some sense when the majority of major brands’ media spend was on media forms where brand expenditure and exposure data was collected and reported on across the industry. Media forms like TV or press.

But that is no longer the case. Owned and retail media forms are growing, as are online channels where data is limited/non-existent.

So SOV is based on data from media forms that no longer represent anything like the majority of a brand’s communication focus. It doesn’t include most of the places where brands spend their budgets. Drawing conclusions from it can be highly misleading.

The other end of the telescope

It makes more sense to examine activity from the other end of the telescope; moving from what’s transmitted to what’s received.

The IPA has recognised the importance of owned media and has worked with Mesh Experience (where I’m a non-executive director) on why owned channels are so important and how to create tools to measure them.

This allows brand owners to assess the relative importance of all relevant communication channels, from paid-for advertising channels through retail media to owned websites, vehicles or shop windows.

In her IPA work, Mesh’s Fiona Blades demonstrates how Mesh is able to calculate an “experience impact score” for all brands within a category. A little like a comms-focused net promoter score.

It would make a lot more sense to consider share of experience over SOV as a metric in evaluating competitive activities.

Share of experience allows brands to look solely at paid-for ad media or, indeed, owned or earned channels. It also highlights the means used by competitive brands so that specialised techniques can be used to examine a brand’s use of a particular channel.

In every case, the data is based on what’s received and what’s noticed. And, if it isn’t noticed, why does it matter anyway?

SOV has been useful; it’s time to lay it to rest.

Brian Jacobs is founder of Crater Lake & Co BJ&A. He has spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including Leo Burnett, Carat and UM.

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