Marketing impressions — what they are, how they’re measured, and why they matter

Illustration of marketing impressions

Good impressions matter all the time — not only when you first meet someone in person. Although an impression is one of the most common marketing terms, many executives cannot define it. Marketers also struggle with explaining how to measure and analyze impressions — especially since they can be tricky to track.

While marketing impressions may seem confusing, once you understand them you’ll be able to recognize how you reach your audience and where you can improve your business strategy.

In this guide, you’ll learn these must-know details about impressions:

What are impressions?

To help visualize impressions, let’s start with an example. Imagine you’re advertising for a new restaurant with a billboard. Hundreds of people drive past the billboard every day — getting the chance to see your ad many times over and over. Others might pass it only once while taking a road trip or exploring a new route.

A marketing impression is defined as the number of opportunities people have to view your campaign. So, using our billboard illustration, the impressions would be how many times people passed the sign — regardless of how often they drove by it or even glanced at the ad.

Although it would be difficult to count the number of cars passing a physical billboard, tracking impressions for online campaigns is almost effortless with marketing software options. In the digital world, impressions usually describe how often content appears on a user’s screen or feed.

Impressions aren’t the same as engagement or reach. While impressions indicate the possibility of customers viewing an ad, engagement and reach concentrate on actual views or interactions.

Impressions don't equal engagement

Reach represents the number of unique people who look at your content. In our example, the sign’s reach would include the total individuals who looked at the ad. If a person saw your sign on multiple drives, they would only count once toward the overall reach.

On the other hand, engagement focuses on meaningful customer interactions that build a relationship with your company. For the billboard, this would include the number of calls from people who contacted the restaurant using the reservation phone number listed on your ad.

In social media, engagement often includes likes, comments, shares, or clicks, while reach shows the number of people who saw your content on their screens or feeds.

Impressions can be difficult to measure and assess — even with technology. Apps may not always be able to track whether marketing assets or web pages have loaded fully. Ad-blocking software might prevent people from seeing your content altogether.

Although you can’t track conversions perfectly with impressions, they provide valuable feedback about how users may see your ads and the effectiveness of your marketing strategy.

How to evaluate impressions

Now that you have a basic knowledge of impressions, let’s check out how to use them to understand campaign performance.

Since we don’t measure impressions through clicks or interactions, think of them as potential views. For example, let’s say 200 people saw your company’s Facebook ad. The ad was displayed 300 times, with some people seeing it more than once and others scrolling past it. Although your ad reached 200 people, you would have 300 impressions since users had that many chances combined to see your asset.

Many marketers define the role of impressions in a campaign’s success before launching an ad. It’s crucial to use many metrics to gauge campaign performance accurately. Depending on your goals, you should evaluate impressions alongside data like reach and engagement to get the whole picture.

Served impressions

You can track impressions in a few different ways. The examples so far describing potential views are called served impressions. They are the current standard for measuring content delivered on a web page.

Like a physical billboard, it can be difficult to track exactly how many people had the chance to see an online ad. It can also be hard to determine an asset’s impact without analyzing additional data. Many marketers have pushed for a more precise benchmark to measure impressions.

While impressions can’t give the complete story about campaign performance, they offer key insights into your strategy’s effectiveness when complemented by metrics like reach or engagement.

Viewable impressions

Thanks to many professionals’ efforts, a more rigorous metric is in sight. Viewable impressions use device data to account for circumstances that prevented an ad from being seen or loaded fully and exclude them from the total impressions.

Generally, an impression is considered viewable when at least half of the asset is visible to a potential viewer for one second or more.

The Media Rating Council and Interactive Advertising Bureau define viewable impressions based on a pixel metric and a time metric. First, no less than 50% of the ad’s pixels must be on an active, open browser tab and viewable on the page. Second, this pixel standard must last for at least one second after the ad has been rendered.

Viewable impressions can give a more accurate read on how many people have the chance to view your ad, providing vital data about how your content is delivered and viewed.

Regardless of how you track them, impressions are a metric you won’t want to leave out from your upcoming campaigns.

Why evaluating impressions matters

Even though impressions can’t give the complete story about campaign performance, they offer key insights into your strategy’s effectiveness when complemented by metrics like reach or engagement.

Think of impressions as a building block for understanding other analytics, like the click-through rate. For example, if your email impressions are high but your click-through rate is low, you can determine where you need to improve the design or content quality to inspire more people to engage with your newsletters.

While many executives have difficulty explaining marketing impressions, it doesn’t have to be confusing. Now that you have a solid understanding of their purpose, function, and importance — as well as the difference between served and viewable impressions, and how and why to evaluate them — you can start measuring and improving your marketing.

Impressions are essential to familiarizing customers with your products or services and building positive associations with your brand. And with technology, tracking and understanding impressions have become easier than ever. The right platform can empower you to collect and analyze impressions in real time, transforming data into actionable insights.

Adobe Experience Platform makes real-time customer experiences possible. As the foundation for Adobe Experience Cloud products and services, Experience Platform is an open system that stitches together customer data from every interaction through every channel in real time. The result is true, comprehensive customer profiles that drive relevant experiences for every customer.

To learn whether Adobe Experience Platform could be a good fit for your company, read about the full features or request a free product demo.