A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column based on the fact that some estimates believe we currently have only six seconds to engage a consumer with digital content. Today, I’d like to focus on what engagement actually means. I was prompted by the the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s release of a new report on the subject, and I was struck by the fact that it goes beyond things like cognition -- what we consciously think -- to include both emotional and physiological engagement. The announcement got my heart rate going for several reasons (some cognitive, but some no doubt unconscious and entirely physiological), because it doesn’t go far enough.
Don’t get me wrong -- it’s a good first start. At the very least, it finally recognizes that other factors are at play beyond things like “viewability” and “dwell time,” and that people engage with content -- yes, even advertising content -- in ways we cannot always attribute to simple thought. The reason my heart rate is pumping so fast, however, is in the section defining how “measurable” these components of engagement are today.
I’ll skip over the cognitive ones for now, but according to the report they are all simply about conducting surveys measuring things like awareness, recall, intent and consideration.
I’ll also skip over the physical measures, for now, which the report narrows to things like eye-tracking, Web and social analytics.
I will focus for now on the emotional ones, because, quite frankly, I’m feeling some strong ones about the report’s conclusion that they’re not all that measurable today, and that the best we can do is conduct surveys to measure the emotions surrounding brands, or use biometrics to measure physiological responses to brand messages. It’s that last part that has me so emotional, because it does a profound disservice to the burgeoning science of neuromarketing research, which most definitely can measure emotional engagement with digital content -- on behalf of a brand or otherwise.
Yes, neuromarketing researchers generally use biometrics methods to detect things we do unconsciously that are signals for our emotions -- brain scans, pulse rates, sweating, eye movement, and even facial expressions -- but the science isn’t about detection, per se. It’s about understanding how to read and interpret those signals.I applaud the IAB and the other industry organizers behind the new report for at least recognizing the need to include emotion and physiology in the way we measure engagement. But I don’t think they’ve thought -- or felt -- enough about the science around how we can actually measure it.