Get Ready to Engage With the Engagement Metric

In case you missed the buzz, a significant movement is afoot to overhaul advertising measurements. Are you ready to engage?

An AD:TECH Chicago keynote two weeks ago provided folks with a sneak preview, but the formal announcement dropped last week at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA’s) 2005 Marketing Accountability Forum in New York.

On the table for discussion and debate is a potential measurement standard and metric for how consumers interact with ads. The watchword is “engagement.” The broader initiative is nicknamed MI4 as four key stakeholder groups are involved: advertisers, agencies, media, and researchers.

“This important initiative will lay the groundwork for the evolution to a new method of measurement that reflects the complexity of today’s media choices and consumer-empowered media consumption,” explained Bob Barocci, president of the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF).

Several factors underpin this reform, the most obvious being advertising and media clutter. Ad messaging is proliferating at unheard-of levels, across a growing bevy of platforms, eroding the impact of single exposures. Put another way, the media math simply isn’t working the way it used to. Moreover, the evolving field of interactive and digital media is presenting new opportunities to quantify levels of consumer involvement with advertising.

What Exactly Is Engagement?

How exactly should we define engagement? And how do we develop a framework for informing media decisions and evaluation that’s consistent and defensible across all advertising categories? Presumably, this new model would bring new weighting to different media. Or will it? The higher the level of engagement, logic would conclude, the richer the score or higher the media multiplier.

These questions are important and timely, as only two weeks ago the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) held its first research conference. There, entirely new metrics for measuring consumer expression — arguably the highest order of consumer engagement — were articulated, discussed, and debated. Whether we use terms such as “word of mouth” (WOM) or “consumer generated media” (CGM), we’re talking about powerful new ways of quantifying consumer involvement.

Trying to Define Engagement

Still, what is engagement? I quickly huddled our marketing analysts and account managers to mull over a definition. William Mason, one of our analysts, suggested engagement is “any action reflecting an experience or touch point with a brand, product, group, or message.” That could involve interacting with an ad, requesting an ad, or even talking about an ad or product experience.

Account manager Ryan Rothring pointed to consumers requesting branded content via RSS (define) as classic example of engagement, especially since opt-in, on-demand, and RSS requests often correlate directly with ad stimuli or targeted media.

Kim Jackson, an analyst who focuses on consumer comments related to beauty care, asked whether engagement should “take into account the people who seem to be actively requesting information from others, specifically those who are imploring actual companies for help.” She added, “These are people attempting to start dialogue, wanting to know answers, and who could be dangerous to a company if their questions go unanswered.”

An important implication of Kim’s comment, if broadly accepted, is the scope of engagement-centered media planning and measurement would extend across hitherto marketing no-fly zones, such as consumer affairs, or even external relations. Is direct or indirect consumer feedback a form of engagement? I think so, and I’ve attempted to make this case in previous columns about the potential for consumer affairs to serve a de facto media department role and the need for agencies, brands, and media planners to be held accountable for negative GRPs (define).

In the absence of formal definitions, let’s form a framework for thinking about engagement. First, let’s subdivide engagement into two core categories: marketer-initiated and consumer-initiated. Both are equally important.

Marketer-Initiated Media Engagement Measures
Engagement Activities Key Weighting Variables
Permission or opt-in Length of relationship, open rates, calls to action
Interaction with an on- or offline ad Participation, depth of involvement, length
On-demand behavior (ads, RSS, etc.) Frequency, targeting method, longevity
Web site visit Traffic patterns, length of stay, call to action
On-demand samples or demos Actual usage, depth of involvement, follow-up
Ad skipping or filtering Ad content triggers, message triggers, frequency
Opinion solicitation (Web site, research) Issue triggers, depth of advocacy
Cross-platform activity (TV to Web) Platform integration, frequency
Propensity to search, seek, or request branded content Traffic patterns, time between ad placement and request

CGM Engagement Measures
Engagement Activities Key Weighting Variables
Unaided propensity to tell others To whom, in what context, total reach
Aided propensity to tell others Pass-along utility measures, survey design
Unsolicited feedback (email, call center) What issue, depth of emotion, or influence
CGM on blogs and boards How public or searchable, how validating
Propensity to offer product suggestions Depth of loyalty, consumer profile
Formal brand review or opinion Positive or negative, listeners


One thing’s clear: the gravitational pull toward engagement is spot on and has real implications. The key stakeholders behind this proposed initiative: the ANA; the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA); and the ARF, should be applauded, encouraged, and prodded to keep it moving.

I worked with these same groups in the late ’90s as part of P&G’s “Future of Advertising Stakeholder” (FAST) initiative. It also sought to shape and influence industry measurements and metrics, albeit with mixed results. So I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenge of breaking, or even tweaking, addictive media planning and measurement habits.

Now’s the time. The current media measurements model is broken. We must converge on a better model suited to this new age of consumer control.

I’m engaged. Are you?

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