Read more about this issue in this Ayzenberg white paper.

Source: Altimeter Group

Video games and their highly engaged consumers are showing the greatest potential in maximizing returns on earned media investments. That’s what Ayzenberg Group is discovering after running integrated programs for some of the biggest game brands. It’s led the agency to develop an entirely new approach to partnering with companies on these types of campaigns, where potential impressions are forecasted and the results guaranteed. Ayzenberg calls it the “Earned Media Performance Guarantee.” At its core, the program addresses what the agency bills as “the vagueness of virality.”

Speaking to [a]list daily, Ayzenberg’s Chris Younger, Principal, VP of Strategy, Keith Pape, VP Social, Mobile & Emerging Media, and Simon Ward, Director of Strategic Development, discuss the genesis of the program and how it works.

Describe what you mean by “Earned Media Guarantee.”

Simon Ward: To be specific, we are predicting and then guaranteeing an ‘earned media multiplier’ — that is the additional performance from earned media generated by our approach and actions across all activities in an integrated 360 campaign. We’ve seen that our most successful campaigns have been the most integrated, combining paid, owned and earned media. This highlights a very important trend towards the power of converged media to get better results. But successfully bringing them together is a highly challenging and complex task. It demands skill in each technique, as well as an additional skill in how they all interrelate. This is over and above our core craft of generating relevant and compelling creative strategy and execution across these different media.

When you get it right, you achieve a very powerful multiplier on your investment. So we’ve decided to take our in-house expertise and methodology on how to deliver this and work closely with our clients to predict what a multiple should be. And then we put our money where our mouth is to share risk and reward on the outcome of that multiplier. It underlines our fundamental belief in the effectiveness of our approach. This is based on a foundation of expertise and experience, and really in our view pushing the boundaries of how agencies can work with their clients, and of what agencies can and should be able to deliver going forward.

What are you measuring, and what are the exact values that you’re putting the guarantee on?

Keith Pape: This is about impressions and reach. It’s the most common metric still used by both parties -agency and brand marketer. What we want to do is resonate the effect of social media and this earned media guarantee by something that they’re used to working with as a baseline for everything they do. Like all campaigns, there are many KPIs [key performance indexes] and ROIs for success, but this guarantee is really based on reaching the audience and the CPM they’re used to dealing with.

How do you forecast impressions for a campaign?

Simon Ward: We use our methodology but we work very much hand in hand with the client. To ensure that the prediction is valid, we do some initial work with the client — you can call it an audit. The length and detail of that very much depends on the client. Working with their data and our data, the formula might involve looking at number of video views, influencer outreach impressions, Facebook or Twitter impressions, but then not just impressions, actual engagement activities that may lead to passing on and ultimately pushes prospects through the funnel. We do that with forecasting the initial investment in paid media, the multiplier effect, and then obviously come to a view where we agree what the end result target should be. We then have a separate conversation about the degree to which we can guarantee that, underwrite it, and share risk and reward.

How did Ayzenberg develop this approach?

Chris Younger: I can tell you that our clients over the years have really driven their relationship based on accountability. Those campaigns, those measurements are benchmarked against sales. It’s hard to be in the business today and not be accountable to working all the way through the sales funnel. One of the most powerful vehicles that has come into play is the relationship with the consumer in context to earned media. That is the earned media that comes with the owned and paid investments you’re making. As an agency, we need to be structured in a way that delivers against what we’re seeing as an evolution by our clients. That’s not only understanding the social relationship, it’s understanding the content, the brand, the positioning, and tying that together where we’re able in very unique situations to provide a guarantee against our work that goes beyond just the one-to-one dollar relationship you have with paid media. Each client is certainly unique on this, and it’s a challenge that I don’t find many agencies raising their hand to take on. It’s one that we spent many years working on here and feel quite confident in our abilities to do it for those people who are willing to partner with us.

Is there anything unique about this program?

Chris Younger: What’s unique is an agency that’s willing to put their skin in the game. We’ve done dozens of these programs on different scales and with an understanding of the different types of analytics that are in play. And probably the most important element is most of that work, all of the relationship, all of the thinking is done within the scale of the agency. Having social, having digital, having branding, media, strategists, and partners all built on behalf of our clients within the walls of this agency is actually part of the unique package in itself.

What are key starting points that a brand manager or product marketer needs to understand before signing on?

Chris Younger: They need to know what paid media and owned media is currently doing for them, and also need to have an understanding of the definition of earned media in today’s marketplace. If we can work from that baseline, that general understanding of the moving parts that are at play for marketing and advertising in today’s market, then we’re in a great situation for something like an earned media guarantee to be deployed against.

Second to that is an understanding of their organization and what they’re capable of, or willing, to do. This is a concert, and it’s a heavily orchestrated process. It is not without risk, but the reward is far greater, we’ve found, in this relationship of really driving the performance on all platforms.

Does this only apply to video game campaigns or is it suited to other brands or products?

Simon Ward: This is definitely of high interest beyond the video game sector. We’re working with or talking to companies in the beauty, electronics and toy sectors as well as a very large music retailer. Across all those different types of categories, this is a trend, the importance of earned media, and accountability is very important point. In general these categories can get intrigued by some of the great learnings that are coming from the video game sector, and this is one of those learnings.

What are requirements on the client end in terms of company or marketing department infrastructure that need to be in place to participate in a program like this?

Simon Ward: Two words come to mind, one is data, and the other one’s culture. With data, the availability within companies of the right data and the ability of the client to access that data is really key. And then with the cultural one, there’s a positive side to that, which is that if the client can break down silos then it leads to more collaboration. Invariably they may need to do that to be able to have a more converged approach, and an approach that can be measured. Actually having a client taking this on and challenging the company internally to do it could have a powerful cultural benefit of working collaboratively. It’s a side benefit but it could actually be a very strategic one.

Keith Pape: The last word on that is that this is an opportunity for clients and brands that are trying to get there but don’t have the systems built in. The nice thing about Ayzenberg being more than just a social media shop or a video shop, but rather being a holistic integrated shop, is that we can bring all the pieces in, help clients build internal systems, and execute and get that full 360 approach.

Any final thoughts?

Chris Younger: Clearly a process by which a client receives an earned media guarantee is not for everyone. However, having unified paid, owned and earned media approaches is where companies need to be going. As an agency, that is absolutely where we’re going. Those who are interested, we’d love to have a further conversation.