I recently read an article in Forbes that highlighted the 89 most over-used business clichés. I found it both comical and true. There are various versions of this same concept floating around the Internet. Paradigm shift, data-driven, ROI. Online advertising is not immune to this catchy and largely non-substantive phraseology.
One could argue that “engagement” deserves to be included, as well.
If you’re making the claim due to its over usage, you’d be right, however, if you’re making that claim due to its lack of relevance, you’d be wrong. Why? Engagement is not a four-letter word; it’s a very real and important measure of how effective your ad campaign is. But what is that measure? Is it the controversial click-through-rate? I would argue it isn’t, and many in my profession would agree with me, most notably the IAB and associates, who are making inroads with their 3MS initiative (making measurement make sense).
For our purposes let’s define engagement as a consumer taking an active interest, and ideally consciously participating in activities that engender brand promotion. Our industry has done a great job, to our detriment, of commoditizing ads and using technology to serve the right ad to the right person at right time.
Problem is, consumers are not commodities; they are individuals who want to be treated as such. Brands that recognize this, and can tell a compelling story in the right medium, will win out. Randall Rothenberg said it best when he stated that: “Advertising's future is not based solely on technology, and the next wave of mega-growth will not stem from a new algorithm or new digital video compression mechanism. Rather it will come from the advancement of the classic art of storytelling.”
So as a brand, how do you get your consumers to engage with you in a more meaningful way?
Interactive Rich Media, video, online/offline sponsorships? Sure, those work. But what else? Social media? You bet, but not every video goes viral. Any way you can get users interacting with your brand for a sustained period of time is worth more than a short-term click through or viewed impression.
The good news is that there are forward-thinking publishers that are building nuanced brand integrations that enable consumers to get the reach they require and the engagement they covet. Contests and other crowd-sourced initiatives designed to harness user engagement can propel consumers to interact with brands meaningfully for 20 hours or more.
This level of engagement is reached by focusing on the audience, their interests and their ability to create art, content, or spread the right message through implied ambassadorship of the customer’s brand.
According to the current working standards outlined as part of the 3MS initiative, in-view is defined as an ad impression with at least 50% of the ad’s pixels in the user’s viewport for one second or more. While this is a helpful definition, and will certainly help the industry move away from wasted impressions, how can one compare 1 second v. 20 hours when speaking about meaningful engagement?
There are examples of publishers that are working to differentiate themselves by providing endemic ad products. Facebook recently retired their reach generator, but definitely get the concept of utilizing a user’s online relationships to promote and recommend brands. Tumblr has opted not to serve “traditional” digital ad units and instead focus only on custom integrations. YouTube and others promote contests.
That said, the bottom line is that no one publisher has cracked the code and brands and their respective buyers and planners are increasingly looking for something that goes beyond the norm. Every brand wants to get noticed. There is a massive opportunity still on the table. Publishers need to examine their audience, examine their competitive advantages and find new ways to unlock their users’ passions and focus those passions on the brands they love.
For brands introducing new lines or building long-lasting relationships with their customers, looking beyond the click through and focusing on engagement is imperative. The right creative partners, differentiated concepts and insightful execution are prerequisites. Innovation through a varied media mix is what will separate the “viewed” from the “engaged.”