I'm Sold On Engagement

I am sold on engagement. No, I am not talking about the period of time from now until my wedding in September, although if @ChristeM ( is reading this, I am sold on that, too! What I'm talking about now is that after a great conversation with Mike Barbeau, who has spent his career on the agency side and is now head of account strategy for SocialVibe, I am sold on engagement as a key metric for buying and selling branding online. Given the proper definition and standardization, engagement can provide the right baseline for marketers to plan, buy and measure brand campaigns online. But there is work to be done.


I hate buzzwords as much as the next person -- unless I can use them to fill time between having original thought ? -- but after talking with agencies and marketers about the issues facing branding online, I'm convinced the key is that there's no baseline unit for purchase that works for branding. Every online campaign seems to reinvent the wheel, making it difficult for media buyers to purchase. When brand strategists buy a TV commercial, they know they get 30 seconds of sight, sound and motion to deliver a consumer a message. What they do with those 30 seconds is up to them. The two key metrics used today for online marketing -- clicks and impressions -- have fallen short of giving media buyers what they need, due mostly to lack of transparency and a significant variance in quality.



What we would need to make engagement the baseline metric it could be (and not just a buzzword) is definition and standardization. For example: Engagement occurs when a person interacts with a brand asset of a certain size and technical capabilities, resulting in active attention.

Other standards to be set would be a minimum time or actions needed to constitute an engagement, as well as a minimum size of the brand asset (so as to give creative agencies the proper canvas to work with. Ideally the size of unit could be standardized -- are you listening, IAB!?!?). This probably oversimplifies what is needed, but then again, maybe what we need is a simple solution.

Of course engagements alone will not make an online media strategy. As with all other advertising standards, engagements will need to be applied to audience demos and marketers' delivery method desires. For example, marketers wouldn't want to just buy 500,000 engagements, the same way marketers wouldn't want to just buy 500,000 TV viewers. Marketers need to know who the TV viewers are and what content they're viewing when they're shown your advertisement.

Likewise, being able to target engagements and understanding how the engagements are delivered will be key. An additional benefit of engagements is that they can, and probably should, occur wherever people are online, rather than making people "click" away from what they are doing. The analogy would be: most TV ads do not require that viewers stop what they are doing to do something else, which would ruin their experience of the content. TV ads simply ask for your attention for a short period of time.

There are a number of hurdles to reaching a standard for engagements. Most pressing is that you can't simply buy engagements outright. The harder you push for engagements people don't want to give, the worse the quality of the engagements will be, as a result. Marketers have to earn engagements, along with buying the placements to achieve them. But is this so different? You can buy a television commercial, but if it doesn't capture viewers' interest, are they going to give it active attention? Another benefit of engagements is that they would not require redirection.

Online media in general, and social media in particular, is interactive and engaging by definition, so why wouldn't a core standard for advertising online be engagements? Why can't we come up with a baseline metric to put advertisers and their agencies on a level playing field by saying "online media can deliver you x number of engagements, which means real people's active attention to a canvas of certain dimensions: engage them, delight them, tell them a story."

I want to know what you think -- so comment here and/or send me @ message on twitter @joemarchese ( to keep the conversation going. I promise, I read every comment and tweet, even if I can't respond to them all!

8 comments about "I'm Sold On Engagement".
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  1. Rick Lavoie from RUCKUS, February 24, 2009 at 1:20 p.m.

    Hey Joe,

    You pose an important question. I don't think we can make our decision-making clients agree to an engagement metric unless it includes the potential for a 2 way dialog. The near future of online engagement will include conversational marketing and tracking platforms to an increasing degree and less digital advertising which is basically 1 way traditional advertising. The alternative, somewhat effective option is simple interactive engagements. I agree with you about what you said on clicks and impressions. Those days are numbered. We need to be spending our time planning, creating, and building real Conversational Marketing platforms and metrics.

  2. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo, February 24, 2009 at 1:37 p.m.

    As a family we were engaged in communal banter on the internet for 19-days this past December. Over 700 comments were logged into the stream, between just 11 people.
    If someone had been delivering us a targeted brand message they would have had plenty of opportunities to sell. Then if that brand was smart, it would have given us a reason to bring it along into the conversation. That would have been an engagement and marriage made in advertising heaven.

  3. Kevin Dwinnell from Brand Thunder, February 24, 2009 at 1:47 p.m.


    This is a first bite of a very large elephant that morphs and regenerates at a rapid pace. The 30 second spot has been around for a long time, without much variation (60 or 15 or 1 second spots aside). The banner has Internet longevity, but it has not been consistent either from a size or capability within (and without) the border of that asset. The foundation for the baseline is not solid.

    Then you have engaging applications that don't map to this baseline at all. We build branded browsers and sell every day the value of connecting brand with consumer in the primary application the consumer uses when online. You'll have similar considerations with widgets, Facebook applications, Flash games and so on. None of these are directly comparable to the other, but neither are they mutually exclusive.

    We're playing in an environment that inherently allows marketers, developers and other creatives to break any rules that preceded them. Working toward that baseline goal will put us in a better place than we are today, and hopefully, eventually, we'll solve for it. I just feel the solution is farther out than any of us would like.

  4. Neil Napolitano from A+E Networks, February 24, 2009 at 2:25 p.m.

    From the research side of things, until there is a gold standard for measurement (the way MRI is in print) I feel an effective engagement selling approach is a long way off. Our site has awesome engagement metrics relative to our sports competitors according to one measurement service. However there's no consensus on which variables matter most (avg minutes per page, minutes per day, minutes per visit, etc.). And you've got 6 or 7 different services (and new ones popping up every few mos) saying 6 or 7 different things about the same website. Heck, there's no agreement on the most basic measure of all, unique visitors. It's overwhelming, and I don't think planners have the time or willingness to look at anything beyond what they perceive to be the site with the greatest number of eyeballs; or a platform with a definitive or obvious demographic skew.

    We need the MRC or IAB or some other industry watchdog to make this happen. Until then, it's the Wild West out there.

  5. G rod Schwartz strauss from Sporting News, February 25, 2009 at 9:34 a.m.

    Joe, Hello
    I normally don’t respond to online spin or other industry though I do find myself learning from most of them. However, your recent column on engagement has compelled me to respond. (Oh Yeah congrats on the nuptials)

    Engagement on line pertains to product –primarily content be it social or otherwise. Looking at advertising online concurrent with content is sound and marketers need that data to evaluate metrics and success.

    Looking at most digital advertising is let’s call it anti engaging. Four, five and often more ads per page. A host of sizes and I even saw on a well branded highly traffic site 3 ads (different sizes) units one of which was a rich media ad running adjacent to video content.. One might have engagement there but I can not venture to guess what the viewer was engaged in

    Joe, should one want to improve engagement in digital advertising, less should be more. 1 large ad per page preferably with rich media if appropriate (sites run more ads, more $$) Rich media often works very well and digital creative definitely needs to be upgraded. I am currently an integral part of a team that has put together a novel digital product reaching sports fans that is delivered digitally but is formatted like a magazine. But CTR is the metric folks mostly evaluate a campaign or mass eyeballs as they work a new plan look at as the lack time, consistent measurement standards, and research services

    Engagement selling/buying is a good idea and I hope you keep exploring this topic. Just a long way off

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. J A, February 25, 2009 at 3:07 p.m.


    You're spot on about the need for measuring engagement and using it as a primary metric for web advertising. As Rick mentioned, simple interactivity beyond ctr should be the starting point of any online campaign.

    The central issue is that consumers online and off are refusing in ever-growing numbers to pay attention to campaigns that are mere broadcast carry-overs. Agencies and advertisers don't like the extra work and many flat out don't know how to design interactive campaigns. But it's not rocket science.

    Partnering with content producers through product placements and ugc contests a la the Grammys' "My Favorite Grammy Moment" campaign is a good place to start. Within that context, related video/banner ads will become exponentially more effective.

  7. Mark Jaffe from Strategic Growth Consulting, February 27, 2009 at 6:32 p.m.


    I'm sold on engagement, too. And glad to hear you feature this word as a cornerstone of brand relationships.

    Information may inform, but communication engages. Engagement drives relationships. The online and mobile experiences are so much more than content and information, yet that is much of what advertisers are using to drive their brand relationships. Advertisers need to use digital communication for one of the main purposes that set it apart from traditional media - the ability to communicate for the purpose of personal engagement.

    Online and mobile communicatin can be very personal, and it gives advertisers the opportunity to begin a relationship on a personal level. While information and content attracts interest, it is the interactivity of the medium back and forth about topics relevant to the user that engages consumers and builds stickiness and loyalty.

  8. Bob Hallock, February 27, 2009 at 11:56 p.m.

    Joe, I agree that measurement of engagement is key, and even more, if possible, getting to an ROI. It's amazing how many of our clients don't realize at first some of the great metrics which are available.

    For instance, in one of our clients, after we added customized tools and well designed social networking to their existing site (which already had a message board), the number of users jumped from 80,000 to 400,000 in just three months.

    For another client which sells products online, we compared their customers who did not use our customized tools and community with those that did, and found that customers purchased twice as much product when they were part of the community.

    Especially in these tought times, clients have the right to expect a return on their investment, and I'm glad you're talking about it.

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