Today’s advertisers aspire to treat advertising as an investment to maximize growth, not an expense to be minimized. This makes perfect sense because you expect business growth as a result of your advertising.

The biggest and best advertisers are striving to move from an expense mindset to an investment mindset with their advertising expenditures. For example, the World Federation of Advertisers’ recently published Project Spring report opens with, “it’s time for a revolution in marketing procurement. A transformation from savings to value.”

But advertisers lack data and technology

Unfortunately, there’s a big problem: advertisers lack the data and technology needed to monitor their advertising investments.

Old school advertising approval and expense tracking systems don’t report on advertising investment performance in a meaningful way. A new breed of technology is required.

The purpose of this article is to lay out the design of the new system required for advertisers to successfully achieve transformation from savings to value in advertising.

What is an advertising investment tracking system?

An advertising investment tracking system is a specialized business intelligence system focused on tracking the efficiency and effectiveness of advertising. At its core, your advertising investment tracking system should answer countless variations of three basic questions:

  1. Where is your money going? It should tell you exactly where your advertising budget is being spent, including full transparency of intermediaries in complex advertising supply chains.
  2. When and where are your ads running? It should tell you the schedule of your advertising across all channels, platforms, stations, publications, websites, apps, and other outlets.
  3. Is your advertising working? It should tell you how well your advertising investments are achieving your performance objectives and KPIs.

The 3 D’s – Dashboard, Database, Data

Like most business intelligence systems, an advertising investment tracking system is comprised of the three D’s: Dashboard, Database, and Data.  There are many good options with dashboards and databases. The devil is in the data. But let’s start at the top.

Advertising investment dashboard

The main user interface of your advertising investment tracking system is your Advertising Investment Dashboard. This Dashboard should answer all commonly asked questions and provide easy access to reports on your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It should also provide ad hoc reporting capability to answer unusual or unforeseen questions.

Of the 3 D’s, this is perhaps the easiest to solve. There are plenty of good business intelligence tools with dashboarding and reporting capabilities such as Tableau, Datorama, Google Data Studio, Domo, Sisense, Power BI, Qlik, Looker, and dozens of others.

Even the best dashboarding software in the world will fail if you don’t have the right database supporting it. This is where this system starts to get difficult.

Advertising investment database

Your dashboarding system will only be as good as your database. Your advertising investment database should have these characteristics:

  • Comprehensive. Accounts for 100% of your advertising investments. Not a penny is missing. Every media channel is included, not separated in silos.
  • Centralized. All your advertising investment data is in one place, not scattered across multiple systems and databases.
  • Standardized. The data should have been cleaned up and standardized before entry into the database. All data should be properly identified, coded, categorized, and cross-referenced.

There’s nothing surprising on the list above. This is what you expect from every database, right?

What is surprising is most advertisers don’t yet have a proper Advertising Investment Database. That’s because sourcing the data is a major problem.

6 types of advertising investment data

Your database is only as good as its data.

Sourcing good advertising investment data is tricky. In many cases, the data is not easily accessible.

Advertising investment data is often stored in hundreds of spreadsheets on dozens of hard drives scattered across the advertiser and their agency partners.  In other cases, the data is scattered in myriad systems that don’t talk to each other nor share a common nomenclature. As a result, the data is not properly identified, coded, categorized, nor cross-referenced. It’s a big mess.

The most critical part of every advertising investment tracking system is its data pipeline.

Your data pipeline should deliver a continuous flow of clean, standardized, granular data you need to analyze your advertising investments.  Here are the six types of advertising data you need to feed your advertising investment database:

  1. Budget Data. For every advertising campaign, the overall budget broken down to bucket-level media plan (e.g. by market, channel, or initiative) and associated media authorization and purchase orders.
  2. Placement Data. The details of each advertising placement including vendor, program, product, targeting, start date, end date, unit of measure, rate, price, gross amount, net amount, and all other costs itemized.
  3. KPI Data. Every placement’s KPIs broken down into daily goals including spending, delivery, engagement, and commercial goals.
  4. Performance Data. Daily (or more frequent) performance data for every KPI on every placement extracted from the appropriate marketing systems and transformed into standardized metrics.
  5. Pacing Data. Pacing data is derived by calculating the difference between KPI goal data to actual performance data.
  6. Finance Data. Follow the money by tracking invoice, reconciliation, and payment transactions.

Of the data above, the easiest to get is performance data. There’s no lack of performance data, particularly in digital advertising.  The problem is performance data alone will not tell you how your advertising investments are performing. You need to combine it with the other data to get a meaningful picture of your advertising performance.

Missing placement data

A common failure missing placement-level data. That’s because placement data is scattered in spreadsheets on media planners’ hard drives.  Insertion order data provides part of the puzzle, but lacks key data points like costs outside of net media costs and KPIs. IOs don’t account for programmatic, Facebook, Twitter, and platforms that don’t take IOs.

Without placement data, you will never get a complete picture of where your money is going, when and where your ads are running, nor if your ads are working.

Missing KPI data

Another common failure is missing KPI data. Most advertisers have established benchmarks for cost efficiency with goals for cost per point, cost per thousand impressions, cost per acquisition, and other “cost per whatever” metrics.

However, very few advertisers have KPI goals in the form of quantifiable performance objectives laid out on a calendar. In any given period, you should know your media spending and how many GRPs, spots, impressions, acquisitions, sales, and other business objectives.

Without properly structured KPI data, you will lack the baseline you need to evaluate advertising performance once your ads start running.

Missing pacing data

Another common failure is missing pacing data. It’s common to see beautiful dashboards that pull performance data from a variety of advertising platforms. You’ll see a report that tells you that you delivered 8 million impressions and got 1200 clicks and sold 150 widgets yesterday, but doesn’t tell you how that compares to your KPI objectives.

Without KPI and pacing data, you will never know if your advertising is truly achieving your business objectives.

Start with the data

Many advertisers make the mistake of working top-down starting with the advertising investment dashboard. They spend months selecting the best dashboard only to find out months later they can’t get the data to analyze their advertising investments. To avoid embarrassment, they eliminate important parts of the dashboard and hack together proxy data. You end up with a system you cannot trust.

Before you invest time and money into dashboards and databases, it’s wise to should perform an inventory of your data assets. It won’t cost money and won’t require much time.

Once you have sourced your data, you can build your data pipeline.

Then, build your data pipeline and database

If your data is stored in multiple systems, this is going to be the heavy lifting part of the project.

For each of your data sources, you’ll need to build a process to extract, transform, and load (ETL) the data into your advertising investment database.  The typical point of failure here is the data transformation step because it is tedious work and a minefield of problems. It will require a diligent effort to normalize the data so it all fits together in the database.

Finally, build your dashboards

This is the fun part.

After all the grunt work building the database, it’s fun to build the dashboards. With a complete set of clean data in your database, it’s easy to create meaningful advertising investment dashboards and reports. Even though this is the easiest part, it’s the dashboards that win respect.

In fact, it’s your advertising investment dashboard that will earn a nice raise and a promotion.

Is this a huge project?

Unfortunately, it’s a huge effort to lay down the advertising investment data foundation for your dashboard.

According to a Gartner Group study, implementing a business intelligence solution like this typically takes more than 12 months to complete, costs $500,000 to implement, and costs almost $2 million first year total cost of ownership including administration.

There a MUCH easier way

Fortunately, there is an easier way.

Bionic offers a complete advertising investment tracking system right out of the box. Bionic provides all the data you need, builds your database, and provides dashboarding tools. Plus, you can extend Bionic with your own customizations.

You avoid months of grunt work sourcing the data and building the database because Bionic automates all of this for you. With Bionic, you can jump right to the fun and rewarding work of dashboarding and reporting on day one.

Best of all, you can be up and running today. Visit to get started.