It's All Geek To Me

Ask any brand or business that’s ever been tasked with finding a new agency and they’ll no doubt say that the most challenging part is finding someone who was actually speaking their language.

Why is this? After all, businesses share fairly common marketing challenges: launching a new product, promoting a brand, attracting new audiences, and keeping existing audiences excited. At the core, it would make sense that we all speak the same language. But since we all approach the same problems from different perspectives, we’re all left talking about the same stuff, albeit differently. Add in the constant emergence of new trends, evolving data and technology, and, well, it’s not confusing why we’re all speaking different languages.

From a technology developer vantage point, we spend many years innovating and advancing our solutions, and priming them for market launch. By the time we actually go to market, all we want to do is talk about their inner workings and capabilities. And from the brand strategy side, we spend a lot of our days thinking in terms of tactics, planning and benchmarks. Meanwhile, our brand clients primarily speak the language of outcomes and KPIs. 



Long story short: While things like “personalization,” “time earned,” and “awareness” are crystal clear to you, what they’re actually communicating to the client varies depending on their background, their knowledge of what you do … and their general willingness to stretch to understand your native marketing tongue. 

In hopes of absolving myself of years of mystifying clients with insider marketing lingo, I’ve identified a few of the most commonly confusing terms used, tried to find common ground we can all agree upon, and mapped out what you need to know the next time your agency uses one of them.

1. Engagement This term is fraught with confusion since marketers, agencies, vendors, and even ratings committees, often use it as a catch-all KPI. (Used in context: “Our campaign will increase user engagement with your brand.”) It can encompass everything from paying basic attention to a piece of marketing to a full-blown interaction in some way with the technology used to deliver it. But that’s a mistake. When a marketer uses the word “engagement,” you’ll need to ask them to break down exactly how they quantify it. Is it more time spent with your brand? Is it a click? Is it a social media connection? A purchase? Whatever the answer is, that’s what you want to measure and that’s what you want more of.

2. Awareness This term is used by marketers across practices and disciplines — from public relations professionals to advertisers. (Used in context: “Our campaign will increase awareness of your brand.) And it means exactly what you think it does: people will be more aware of your brand. That’s great, of course, but how do you seal the deal once people are aware of you? If there’s no action tied to “awareness,” then you’ve just got an audience of people who know who you are. Now what? Make sure you give them something to do. Action is far easier to measure than awareness anyway, as marketers and their clients will no doubt attest to.

3. Personalization In the old days (like, 10 years ago), this could be as simple as writing a customer’s name on a Starbucks cup (bonus: with the correct spelling!), recognizing a regular customer and saying hi, or dynamically placing someone’s name in what was otherwise be a mass email. Today it has numerous applications, each of which shares common roots with the three preceding examples. Most often, however, personalization refers to tactics that translate data (or knowledge about a specific customer or group of customers) into a more personal experience for them—creating the right brand moment at the right time.

This could be anything from showing them more relevant content the next time they visit your website to sending them offers, coupons and promotions that are very specific to what you know about them and their spending habits. Amazon is a known pioneer in the field of personalization. We’re all more than familiar with their “People who liked this, also liked that” feature. That’s a form of digital personalization that has since inspired a whole digital movement dedicated to customizing suggestions based on past, and now real-time, customer behaviors.

4. Time Earned This is one form of user engagement and is a term often used in conjunction with video advertising. As with the other terms, it means exactly what you might think it would: extra time you’ve gained with a customer. (Brands are often familiar with this concept but sometimes refer to it as “time spent.” Same thing.) In the video advertising world, we know that the more time a customer voluntarily spends with your marketing, the more their purchase intent increases. So “earning time” with a customer is a nice way to measure how engaged they are with you. And of course, seeing that additional time convert into additional purchases is even better.

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