Why Engagement Is the New 'Click'

The online advertising industry has recently started to focus on trying to get brands to spend more money online, this is being driven by the intense competition for performance marketing and direct response dollars brought about by search, the rapid commoditization of banner ads and by the pot of gold that brand awareness dollars represents. The good news is that marketers are also now starting to take online (I am using the term online to refer to mobile, too) advertising seriously as a platform for building brand awareness, engagement and loyalty. There are three ad products that are driving this movement: video, mobile and social media.

Video is compelling because it provides a similar experience to TV commercials. Say what you will about a TV commercial but it has by far in the history of advertising been the most effective branding product (and therefore takes the largest share of ad dollars even today). Mobile advertising is interesting to brand marketers because the next generation of buyer is doing almost everything from research to purchase on mobile devices. Just this past Christmas, eBay reported almost $100 million of purchases made via mobile phones in the U.S. alone and $230 million globally. That shows how adept users have become doing complex tasks on a mobile phone -- all without a mouse! Social media is also very attractive because it creates levels of engagement that have simply not been achieved by traditional branding campaigns -- primarily because it is based on sharing of information from and by trusted "friends."



What is common to all three ad products is that they are all "engagement" oriented products, i.e., they are demonstrating measurable levels of engagement as high as 10 - 20 times more than traditional banner and text/search ads. While this is a tremendous opportunity for marketers one of the immediate challenges has become how to measure success such "engagement" ads. These ad products also work together well and are increasingly intertwined, for example, users now watch video ads on mobile devices and "Like" the brand or become fans and Facebook has now become the second largest video destination in terms of number of videos watched by users. Video ads themselves also increasingly have social media elements woven into them.

The click, the long-reigning measurement tool for tracking the success of advertising online, is hardly sufficient or even relevant for measure success of such engagement oriented campaigns. On touch based mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, new tablet devices etc. the concept of a click itself doesn't exist anymore as these devices have done away with the mouse altogether.

It's time to consider a new, more relevant approach: Measuring user engagement and intent. Video, Social media and mobile devices let users enjoy a far more intimate and engaging experience when seeking and sharing information. In this more interactive landscape, users actually make a deliberate decision to enter into a deeper dialogue with brands they like or want to know more about. And online video, an essential tool for growing brand awareness and persuading people to make an emotional connection with a brand, is helping to strengthen these relationships even further by both entertaining and educating users.

With today's more interactive Internet, it makes sense that the success of a brand campaign should be measured in terms of the levels of engagement it generated and not by how many clicks were received. After all, your ad earning a high number of clicks doesn't translate to success -- it could be that users were trying to stop the ad from playing or to reach other content. However, by evaluating user engagement, you will gain more meaningful insight that can help you create ads that will persuade users not only to click on your ad, but also, to "hang out" with your brand for a while and hopefully "Like" the experience and "Share" or "Tweet" about it to their friends.

There are many ways to measure user engagement. You can evaluate how users are interacting with your online ad -- such as whether they choose to share the ad with others or to download a special offer. This can reveal valuable information about their purchasing intent, for example if a user chooses to download a coupon, click to buy, locate a store, etc., this indicates a likelihood of purchase. You also can measure the amount of time a user spends interacting and engaging with your ad while they participate in a survey, watch a movie trailer, or play a game. And social media activity is also very relevant to this measurement approach: "Liking," "Sharing," "Following," and tweeting about a brand are all forms of engagement that reveal a great deal about users -- and whether your ad is resonating with them.

Of course, engaging users and creating a positive experience demands that brands offer more compelling, useful and entertaining content within their ads. But the end result is that more meaningful ad content will lead to more engagement, and thus, more meaningful measurement. The analytics gained will provide a far more accurate reading of how users are interacting with ad content online -- and will allow for better comparison against results gathered from other mediums. Ultimately, this insight can help brands to refine and build more effective ad campaigns.

Today's Internet supports a user experience that goes far beyond a simple, one-dimensional mouse-click. As more interactive elements like digital video are added to online ad campaigns, making user engagement the "new click" becomes an obvious choice for brands looking to more accurately measure the success of their efforts.

1 comment about "Why Engagement Is the New 'Click' ".
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  1. Milind S from Everything Media Pte Ltd, June 4, 2011 at 1:21 a.m.

    Engagement is definitely the key while it is indeed very difficult to measure it and then correlate it to purchase intent. Time spent is definitely a major determinant but this engagement must translate into affinity for the brand and positive user experience (likeability).

    As you rightly point out, sharing a brand communication and following a brand in social media are good indicators of affinity, it does not guarantee engagement- it only means that the audience is open to receive messages from the brand. Similarly, the "click" is the first step towards the audience wanting to know more so I would not write off the click entirely while it is definitely not adequate.

    I believe that Television as a medium is popular because of cost efficiency and reach rather than effectiveness. It is the creative execution that makes the difference and that will hold true no matter on which platform the video is being watched. If it fails to engage, another channel, another website is just one click away.

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