When Engagement Matters, and When It Doesn’t

When I first started working at Enlighten, I was surprised to learn that unlike most agencies, there were no account managers. At least, they weren’t known as such. The company instead employs what it calls “engagement managers,” whose responsibilities are split between keeping clients engaged with our company and ensuring consumers are engaged by the sites and media campaigns we produce.

The concept of engagement has been prevalent lately throughout the online media space, particularly where ad measurement is concerned. It’s been determined that engagement should become a bona fide media metric. That has marketers scrambling to figure out just how to measure this slippery action.

What action is that, you say? Well, engagement has been described as everything from a “depth of brand experience,” to “any action reflecting an experience or touch point with a brand, product, group, or message.” It’s what moves a consumer beyond simply making a purchase to establishing a lasting relationship with your organization — whether that occurs through the creation of positive CGM (define) relating to your brand, or by consumers opting-in to receive branded content through your RSS feed.

Engagement also involves that most dubious aspect of the marketer-consumer relationship: emotion. That’s where things get tricky.

As organic as engagement on the customer level may seem to us (every marketer worth her salt should always have engagement in mind), the issue of how to measure it has marketers in an outright quandary. How can we be sure our ads resonate enough with consumers to promote a deep brand connection? How can we distinguish between ad interactions fueled by purchase intent and those motivated by brand interest based on long-term loyalty?

One thing’s for certain: engagement as the objective of your next marketing campaign doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least until we’ve figured out how to definitively measure the results. Given online media’s long-standing reputation for delivering tangible measurements such as impressions, click-through rates, even brand awareness and product recall, I have no doubt that day will come.

In the meantime, what does make sense is producing online campaigns that promote engagement on the way to achieving other, more tangible goals. Doing so successfully lies largely in the applications and marketing tactics you choose to employ.

Consider advergaming, for example. Countless automotive marketers use it to communicate vehicle features and build brand affinity through entertainment. In these campaigns, engagement is more than an afterthought. But it isn’t the primary goal, either.

“It’s not about selling a car this weekend, but engaging consumers, allowing them to experience the vehicle,” said Subaru’s national manager of marketing programs Jonathan Rivard in a recent “Automotive News” article. Still, Subaru encourages players to volunteer their contact information, allowing the company to “collect prospect data for later use.” This allows Subaru to tie a solid metric to consumer interaction, while simultaneously working toward establishing a long-term relationship with its customers.

Viral marketing applications can also be effective where engaging consumers is concerned if they serve a purpose beyond just that. Take a moment to recall some of the most popular viral videos and interactive tools and you’ll realize their success wasn’t measured in their ability to engage alone. Sometimes, the subject matter reinforces the core benefits of their products. Often, it boosts purchase intent. Either way, engagement is just a happy bi-product of an already valuable marketing effort.

At first, the concept of “engagement managers” seemed a little foreign. And now? I’m thinking the title could be used to characterize all interactive marketers.

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