Commentary

Getting Engaged: Survey Shows It's Still Work In Progress

Everyone's talking engagement. But its definition--and how to measure it--remains anything but universal. That's one reason Advertising.com recently conducted a survey of 110 marketing executives to solicit feedback on how they define, measure and track "engagement."

The survey results confirmed that engagement is on the minds of online marketers but that there is little industry consensus on its meaning or metrics. In fact, the survey revealed that many marketers are using a very limited set of metrics to assess engagement. They continue to apply traditional and familiar metrics to this somewhat novel concept, ignoring factors that may be the keys to understanding the true relationship between engagement and revenue.

Online marketing has the power to create unprecedented interactions between brands and consumers, and it offers a broad toolset for measuring that interaction. Marketers who avail themselves of more of these tools will be better equipped to translate engagement into dollars.

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Findings. Most survey respondents claim to be measuring engagement as part of their marketing efforts. But it is telling to note which factors they consider to be indicators of engagement. Although the marketers describe engagement as promoting a "deeper connection" with consumers, the majority of respondents believe that the traditional metrics of conversions and brand impact (metrics with which most advertisers are very comfortable) are the most valid evidence of that interaction.

Here are a few key results from the study:

  • 64 percent of respondents claim that they are already measuring engagement for their online campaigns. This surprisingly high figure is likely a product of inconsistent definition. Respondents may simply be counting conversions and feel this is a valid measure of engagement.

  • Of the 36 percent of respondents who are not currently measuring engagement, 48 percent indicate that they will start measuring engagement for their online campaigns in the coming year.

  • Although the majority of respondents indicated that they are currently measuring engagement for their online campaigns, less than half of the respondents (42 percent) said they have an employee or department dedicated to engagement. This indicates that most marketing/advertising executives will likely have to incorporate engagement metrics into their campaign evaluation without assistance from a specialized group or individual. Given this situation, any standardized definition and measurement system for engagement must be practical, uncomplicated and easy to apply to multiple campaigns.

  • When asked which among a given list of factors should be considered when defining engagement, most respondents felt that engagement could be measured through metrics with which they are already comfortable, such as conversions and lift in brand impact. Interestingly, time spent with an ad and time spent on the advertiser's site were the third- and fourth-ranked factors for defining engagement. This low ranking reveals some incongruity, as the majority of respondents see engagement as a way of getting consumers to interact with a brand.

  • When asked which reporting tools should be used for measuring engagement, site analytic tools were ranked among the most popular with 74 percent of respondents. Ad servers followed closely behind, with 65 percent of respondents. Ranked in third place, surveys were seen as good reporting tools for measuring engagement.

    Where do we go from here? Despite the confusion, the industry-wide interest in engagement stems from a very valid desire on the part of marketers to connect more deeply with consumers. It represents a clear shift in thinking, revealing that connecting with consumers is becoming an online marketing goal in and of itself, instead of an afterthought in media plans designed simply to solicit cheap clicks and conversions.

    The measurability, effectiveness and interactivity of online advertising are leading marketers to recognize its unique value as a brand-building tool. However, as this study indicates, it's a tool they are still learning to use and evaluate. Advertisers will have to think outside the conversion box in order to fully exploit the brand-building power of online marketing, focusing more on metrics such as time spent interacting with an ad and Web site. Analyzing these factors in relation to overall sales will provide marketers with unprecedented insight into what motivates their target markets to buy and how they can drive sales in new ways.

    The engagement furor will likely serve as a catalyst for a much-needed change. It is time for marketers to broaden their performance measurement horizons, incorporating exposure, duration of interaction, and other signals of brand connection into their notions of successful marketing. The analytical and reporting tools are out there. It's now up to advertisers to use them, interpret the results and formulate strategies accordingly.

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