Reach is a long-term staple of marketing research. It’s the constant across all media — from bench billboards to specialty magazines.
My first college advertising book from 1978 defines reach as “The number of different persons or households exposed to a particular media vehicle or media schedule at least once during a specific time period“ (“Advertising: Its Role in Modern Marketing,” Dunn and Barban). Yep, still accurate more than 40 years later.
I loved highlighters in college.
I believe reach is still important, but less so. It is just one metric to study and evaluate. One thing I do know now is that distribution is not reach. A newspaper delivered to a Walmart is not reach. Oonly when it is purchased should it be in circulation numbers. A digital ad on 40 display networks is not reach. A specialty magazine delivered to hotel rooms is not reach.
Real reach is the total number of people who will see your content. Now impressions are the number of times your content is displayed. Not read, not clicked, not understood. Reach is the number of unique people who see content. Impressions is the number of times something is delivered or distributed. Impressions are important to study for digital ads, but it is just one metric, like reach, that leads you forward.
You can have lower reach and lower impressions and rising clicks, purchases or conversions. That’s when the right message is delivered to the right audience.
Every message has a potential audience (reach and impressions), an actual audience and performance (conversions, sales, form fills, video views, etc.).