Q: I contract with a marketing firm. They report success using media impressions. What is the value of media impressions? Should small businesses spend resources on tracking impressions?

A: Media impressions may be valuable or may not. The central questions: What can impressions accomplish, and do the people who see your content fit your customer target?

Counting impressions across media platforms represents a spectrum. For instance, billboard impression estimates assess the number of cars that pass daily. Many of those drivers may not see the ad because they’re focused on something else. On the other end of the spectrum, counting impressions on web banner ads may be closer to the actual number of people who looked at the ad, because software provides more specific measurement. But think how many digital ads you ignore in a day — each of which counts as an impression in some client report.

In the case of a billboard, we can’t expect much immediate impact with a call to action. That impression generally supports awareness more than direct impact on sales. While the banner ad or other digital impression may have a call to action, the number of click-thrus are more important than the number of deployments (impressions) of ads. The digital billboard, then, also supports awareness more than conversion to a sale.

Regardless of the type of media being measured, if the audience doesn’t resemble your key target for the message, no number of impressions will have any value.

Of course, you might want to know how many people could have seen your message so you can calculate a percentage of those that converted to a click-through. Still, that assumes you are simply dumping promotional messages out to broad, undifferentiated audiences (like motorists or readers of digital newspapers).

More energy dedicated to knowing and tightly targeting your messages to key audiences will provide more return on the marketing investment. Once you have a tightly focused set of media channels that reach your target, then you might return to impressions — within those audiences — to see if you can find some new ideas or insights.


Mike Porter is the faculty director of the MS in Health Care Communication at the University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business.