A debate on engagement, the fuzzy metric

Owen Lee, who is embarking on an ad career at Starcom MediaVest in London, has an intelligent post about the fuzzy metric of engagement. First he articulates what “engagement” is:

Think of the last brilliant dramatic film you went to see. One where all of a sudden you realise that your eyes hurt from watching the screen so intently. Now that’s engagement. That’s engagement to a point of personal immersion. Whilst this isn’t achievable (yet) at a campaign level, this example serves to show the extent of what a fully engaging experience can do to you. This is what the goal should be. Not the eye-watering part, but that feeling of unbiased personal connectivity to the previously unknown content put in front of you.

And then notes that while it now is difficult to measure this true immersion, current digital metrics on clicks and conversions aren’t enough:

Judging whether a user achieved this connectivity through examining whether or not they entered their details or clicked through is clearly insufficient…

To ask for performance metrics to be used on what’s been briefed as a solely branding campaign makes achieving communications goals tricky to say the least. Not only does it make digital teams less likely to choose more “engaging” rich media over its more ROI-friendly brothers of standard display, but it causes a lack of creativity.

I responded:

This is well done. I agree with the first half; however, not that current engagement metrics are preferable to CTR and CPA. Current engagement metrics are extraordinarily weak — “likes” and “retweets” etc. have little connection with user intent, as you allude to in the top of this.

The problem, as I see it, is we are trying to measure two paths:

1. Direct response: Impression > Click > Sale
2. Brand engagement: Impression > Interaction > Engagement > Rise in brand awareness or intent > Eventual sale

The first doesn’t work, because it neglects the huge additional value digital campaigns have in building brand engagement.

The second doesn’t work, because the steps from interaction to engagement (from retweet to really engaging) and from brand awareness to sale are both extraordinarily hard to parse.

So we’re stuck for now with direct response metrics that tell a portion of the story, and a brand engagement path that currently can’t be measured.

I think all smart marketers realize the overall pattern. And some of this can be parsed out via broader tools such as regression analysis, which look at overall lift from the entire digital prong as a variable against all other communication components.

It’s a thorny problem. If you can solve (2) above, you’d have a nice service, indeed.

Owen’s best point is an online campaign measured solely by digital response metrics removes creativity — the interactive and viral design elements that might make the message break through. Banner ads have become a commodity. Response rates are down. Not playing with the channel, format, or engagement structure means you’re likely to achieve only subpar, average response performance. That is the saddest part of this current marketing dilemma; if we focus too much on what we can measure, we may not do the things that truly drive results.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

2 thoughts on “A debate on engagement, the fuzzy metric

  1. “…[I]f we focus too much on what we can measure, we may not do the things that truly drive results.”

    Well said. I may have to quote on that.

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