What is Share of Voice?
Share of Voice is an advertising metric used in Marketing, measuring the percentage of media spend by one company as a proportion of the total media spend for a product or service in a defined market.
e.g. if Apple paid for ad posters on 6 of the 10 bus stops on a street, this investment would equate to a resulting 60% share of voice on this street.
Real examples should for completeness or precision:
- scope the whole market (or product sector), not just one street – this highlights the importance of measurement by defined market or sector, or by individual channel (see Dimensions).
- use monetary ad spend values, not the number of ads – this highlights the metric used, given the inherent difficulty in measuring total ad spend and suitable proxies (see Metric).
In the competitive world of advertising, Share of Voice (SOV) is a score of the intensity of one brand’s advertising relative to its competitors; a brand visibility gauge, or how much it dominates the conversation to potential buyers. Microsoft describes SOV as “how well you’re competing”.
In the reality of everyday marketing departments operations, SOV is something of a holy grail; highly revered and sought after. Relative performance measurement brings understanding of how well they are communicating to their market and the efficacy of their overall marketing activity.
SOV is then an intuitively simple measure: how loud you are compared to other sellers. The pragmatic reality can be more complex and nuanced, but is explained in this best practice guide.
To better understand the metric and its value, we cover aspects to its use and elements it contains, while aiming to keep this simple, with as little as possible overblown marketing guff.
- Why: to know an impact on a target audience by measuring advertising relative to others.
- What: a metric to score voice in conversation, or visibility in front of customer eyeballs.
- Where: in a defined market, specifically to which insight delivers value to advertiser.
- How: by measuring data of marketing activity and result that is feasible and valuable.
- When: at a point in time and over time to understand causality on market share.
- Who: by advertiser offering a value proposition to a defined target audience of customers.
Scope & Dimensions
The scope for SOV is an identifiable and measurable market or sector. Ideally this is a whole market for a particular brand or product according to the value proposition, or from the utility or value gained by a consumer or purchaser.
e.g. the Apple iPhone within the mobile phone sector
With a geographic dimension, this is often by country.
e.g. Apple iPhone in the USA
Marketers model funnel stages through which a potential customer journeys, from their initial awareness a product exists, through their consideration as a purchase option, and on to their evaluation compared to competing options, leading to a decision to buy it. And if loyal, a decision to continue to buy it with repeat purchases.
SOV sits atop this figurative funnel as a metric of Awareness, and as a seller’s comparative reach to the potential market of target buyers, and how well they are communicating with that market.
Channels used within awareness generation form identifiable and measurable avenues, for which SOV can measure the dominance within an individual channel.
e.g. in search engines, in Google, in either natural (/organic) search results or paid ads
Indeed marketing teams are geared up to planning and managing channel activity, and often they have better access to data – sometimes existing data – of each bounded channel.
Time is a key dimension for SOV, with short term interpretation of the metric bringing different insights compared with longer term analysis, and even planning, using SOV.
SOV is of interest to brand advertisers, marketing teams and media planners responsible for the activities, costs and plans of actions in the marketing process; the subjects of the marketing activity. While the objects are the consumers whom are influenced by the marketing activity.
In addition, and when required, providers of SOV data assist marketers with additional expertise, offering as their business the provision of the data or metric, creating a market for SOV provision.
Metric & KPI
Share of Voice (SOV) is a metric to score the ‘level of the voice in the conversation’ with potential listeners, and relates to advertising money spent by a business directed at a market.
As visibility in front of customer eyeballs, this might be expressed as the physical quantity of ads created; the presentation created or received inwards by customers. In digital marketing terms for instance this could be impressions in an online channel, rather than bus stop posters. A more customer-centric metric would chime with Amazon’s successful ‘customer obsession’.
The connection between outward spend and inward recognition is part of the marketing funnel, where activity translates into awareness. Classic SOV considers the outward activity; the aim to be heard. However, impressions and views can be measured as proxies of awareness activity (subtly different, blurring with consideration).
Any metric ultimately relies on using data that is feasible sourced and captured, and accurately processed and presented into a usable number. It needs to be created efficiently at low cost, fast enough to be timely to decision making, and for overall ROI from the effort of doing so.
Effective data needs to be sufficient so as to be trustworthy and provide insight that informs, and marketers can learn from or act on to make improved actions and affect outcomes – not just be reporting porn.
The derived nature and extra effort in the production of SOV needs balancing with its value.
Value & Benefits
The frequency and time frame of SOV impacts the value derived from it.
Practical analysis of Share of Voice (SOV) informs a marketing team of the results of their work, their performance, so they can test and learn the effectiveness of advertising media and channels.
A current state snapshot of SOV is a measure providing insights into how to exploit channels. Using a single instance or cycle of time for one purchase relies on brand recall and a lasting impression, driven by the opportunity to see a brand before purchase. So even a snapshot of SOV has a period of time built into it, but can be considered short term analysis. Analysis at a point in time can be extended to trend analysis to track the impact of actions to outcomes over time – see benefits of SOV in the short term.
This value is also relative. In Game Theory advertising isn’t necessarily zero sum, but an inherent competitive sense of performance has more value when compared, when customers are choosing.
Then over time, in the long run involving multiple purchases, there is also value from SOV in driving sales and leading to more share of the market. This leads to the concept of a higher SOV leading to higher market share. The concept of Excess SOV (eSOV) is as a measurement model that predicts brands can grow market share in the long term when their share of a category’s total advertising spend exceeds their market share in the short term.
Thus measurement of SOV becomes a tool for affecting and controlling market share in the long run. A tool for budget planning and setting, even predicting growth – see Les Binet.
Extra SOV now then might be an investment to grow market share, though care should be taken to balance building the brand in the future and still activating sales now.
Insights can therefore be both introspective and relative, now and later, and tactical and strategic.
Channels & Use Cases
Helping marketing teams understand what is working in a campaign by using a Share of Voice (SOV) metric should then constitute part of effective marketing, which typically with key phases of diagnosis targeting positioning and objective setting, see SOV built into short and long term analysis.
At a macro market level, brand management across a total market incorporates eSOV analysis, relies on whole market data availability and the corresponding assessment of actual market share achieved – strategic market causality. Total market needs measurement of offline media and print. This has been a mainstay of marketing measurement since the start of advertising but is slow and uses secondary source data when compared to digital media which tend to be faster and primary source.
At a micro channel level, narrowing down SOV to channel analysis allows for more definable and measurable sectors. Marketing activity is implemented on a channel by channel basis, and hence SOV data becomes part of tactical channel management – the use case and benefits being informing channel activity beyond best practice activities. In digital marketing this level of channel analysis focuses on optimisation of ad copy and websites, the digital brand assets that form the weapons used in the channels.
Digital channels that lend themselves to SOV by virtue of their data availability include:
- Search Engines – inc. Google & Bing
- eCommerce – inc. Amazon
- Social Media – inc. Twitter & Facebook
In each of these digital channels natural (/organic) and paid channels can be considered together or separately to calculate a digital Share of Search (SoS), which in name or meaning becomes analogous to SOV.
Analysis of digital SOV for each digital channel can use ad spend (voice) or brand occurrence (visibility), but both as the input Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) data to measure SOV:
- impressions – how many times a brand appears in a search result
- positions – where a brand appears for a search result
- clicks – where the brand search result is clicked (straying into the interaction and consideration part of the funnel, not authentically faithful to SOV but eminently measurable and provides more information, into quasi-share of funnel).
The measurement of the lowest level of details can inform the tactical implementation or execution of activities in online channels, relative to the competition. Both structural insights (for instance which websites dominate for which keyword search terms) and behavioural insights (for instance which brand is bidding for which keywords) add value to brand channel management.
Issues & Caveats
Where SOV can consider the whole market for a particular brand or product, this is simple to grasp but relies on more data for the whole market, across all channels and all competitors; in turn putting the focus on what data should or can be captured, its availability and trustworthiness.
Traditional non-digital channels have come under-fire. The fragmentation of media and the shift towards and increasing prevalence of digital channels has led to questions over the reliability of TV viewing data – in 2021 to the suspension of Nielsen’s (a stalwart in market data provision) accreditation for national TV rankings.
Ad spend is the classic measure of SOV but directly reflects the price paid, and charged, to advertisers and so only forms a proxy of the resulting actual voice generated. With the next stage in the marketing funnel of consumers opportunities to see the ads impact the measure.
Numbers of ads can serve as a measure for SOV, however, attention by customers to adverts is not even and this distorts SOV. This introduces a middle ground between quantitative and qualitative data to take how good ads are into account – introducing more of the funnel. The association of strong brand creative in helping brand recall over time is inherent in the long term causality of voice share to market share.
The type of product and sector, B2C Vs B2B, also impacts advertising effectiveness and brand loyalty and thus impacts eSOV and its effectiveness as a digital marketing metric. Non-marketing factors obviously impact performance: a poor product will not acquire nor maintain market share how strong the SOV promoting it.
(Marketing teams also talk about Tone of Voice but this is not directly related to SOV, instead focusing on the style of brand communications and concerns the qualitative delivery instead of quantitative.)
Micro analysis by channel brings benefit in data measurability and availability but stops short of reliable causality tracking where sales and market share cannot accurately be attributed back to individual channels. Long term eSOV is then traded off at the benefit of more accurate channel data.
Whilst digital media is making funnel tracking more complicated, it has given SOV a new lease of life and a resurgence within digital channel reporting and given rise to more models of SOV calculation.
There might be no perfect definition or method to SOV but its value has been known for many years and grows from the rise of digital and advent of automation of fast accurate SOV tools.
1920s: Nielsen Corporation founded to provide advertising and marketing data – and remained the market leader in broadcast audience measurement until the mid-2000s;
1930s: Niel McElroy while a junior brand manager at P&G heralds in a new chapter in corporate brand management and beings a new era in the professionalisation of market share metrics.
1970s: James Peckham, from work with Unilever and Nielsen, gives his name to the Peckham Formula positing a brand launch should set its advertising budget based on the objective share of market.
1980s: Michael Naples researches advertising impact of “opportunity to see”, showing “an exposure frequency of two within a purchase cycle is an effective level” of spend when related directly to the next purchase occasion, and an eSoV model grows in popularity and use.
1990s: John Phillip Jones shows the relationship between SOV and market share, and because of their correlation a brand could gauge share of market and SOV in order to estimate whether it is overspending or underspending compared to competitors.
2000s: Binet and Field publish their study of the factors that influence marketing effectiveness.
2010s: SOV has a resurgence in popular marketing following Binet and Field’s work in showing the c2010s: SOV has a resurgence in popular marketing following Binet and Field’s work in showing the causality over time of an excess SOV and its impact on future market share, increasing awareness of brand share management and brand governance.
2019: The explosion in digital marketing led Ritson to expound Share of Search (SoS) as the new practical metric for SOV given the prevalence and importance of digital media.
2020s: The rise in media coverage is joined by the advent of new tools for automation of Share of Search (SoS) by market data providers Kantar and seemingly every digital market blog, including Alexa.com – now defunct https://blog.alexa.com/marketing-research/share-of-voice/.