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 (http://twitter.com/joemarchese) to keep the conversation going. I promise, I read every comment and tweet, even if I can't respond to them all!