Adland Has No Idea What Engagement Really Means! And Why We Need To Correct That

Adland Has No Idea What Engagement Really Means! And Why We Need To Correct That

‘Engagement’ has been a buzzword in Adland for almost as long as the industry itself. However often the term is used without a full comprehension as to what it really entails. In this opinion piece, Bryan Melmed, vice president of insights at Exponential, examines what the term means today.

Karen Terranova
Posted by Karen Terranova

For decades, the ad industry has used the term “engagement” without understanding what it truly means or why it truly matters. It is a concept that everyone agrees is important, but without a clear definition, no one can explain why. At one point or another, brands, agencies and vendors have all been guilty of this crime. But engagement matters, so a course correction is necessary.

To do that, marketers should focus less on the word itself, and more on the active consumer engagement that powers this buzz-worthy ad metric. The goal of brand advertising campaigns is to raise awareness, which is prompted on a subconscious level. The pathway to a consumer’s unconscious – indeed the best way for them to learn and retain something new – is established through conscious active attention. If engagement is truly important, marketers should not think of brands as entities or messages, but as learned behaviours, or expectations of outcomes based upon active experiences that eventually become second nature.

That’s a lofty goal, and one that’s hard to achieve by spraying ads across the web. Our recent focus has been on ensuring an ad is visible, but just seeing an ad is not enough when we know that only 0.06 percent of banner ads are clicked on in Australia. Capturing conscious active attention demands a strategy, not a series of long-shot gambles. Marketers must understand the focus of a consumer when that ad falls into view. As Stephanie Fried, VP of research at Vevo, recently put it in a whitepaper on the subject, “The amount of things consumed is less useful than time.”

Optimising campaigns to engagement drives interaction

The ball starts rolling when consumers spend time with an ad; this is intuitive. They think about it, interact with it, and retain its message. Numerous studies have shown that once engaged, the average consumer is willing to spend 60 seconds actively exploring a brand message. Even armed with this knowledge, advertisers still find themselves relying on outdated metrics – fuelling low-involvement, click-bait content that does not increase brand equity. In contrast, when campaigns are optimised to engagement, interaction rates can climb by double digit percentage points.

Engagement metrics: embracing its multiple dimensions

If brand awareness is an unconscious phenomenon, then easily quantifiable clicks are at best a terrible shortcut to what you really want to quantify, and certainly should not be the sole measure of success. Measuring engagement requires the marketer to understand its many multiple dimensions by closely examining several metrics.

When measuring brand impact, advertisers should consider cognitive, emotional and physical engagement. Brand awareness metrics include purchase intent, sentiment and seeking further information. Physical metrics are still valuable, but should go deeper than counting clicks; average time spent, conversion rate, dwell time and interaction rates are great starting points for engagement-minded marketers.

Embracing these metrics isn’t easy, especially if current brand expectations for agencies and campaign parameters hinder what lead tomore interactive campaigns. However, the demand for engagement is only increasing – and hence, we see budgets shift swiftly to media that drives true user interaction.

Cue the growth of video advertising.

How video advertising powers engagement and vice versa

Video advertising has grown massively – both driven by the demand for engagement and because it’s the most powerful vehicle for engagement. Last month the IAB Australia released a study The Changing TV Experience: Attitudes and Usage across Multiple Screens which outlined the dramatic shift in consumers’ television viewing habits and offered marketers insights into reaching audiences as connected TV ownership and multi-screening becomes more prevalent. The video advertising opportunity is set to boom in Australia. We know that video significantly increases the average dwell time for an ad in Australia to over a minute and makes a consumer three times more likely to go to a brand’s website. Consequently video ads are a sweet-spot combination of sight, sound and emotion – arguably making them the most reliable way to truly engage with consumers.

The familiar 15- or 30-second video is a blank canvas brands can use to amplify their brand message and capture the consumers’ attention and imagination. The challenge for marketers is crafting a brilliant teaser, balancing ad integration and creative messaging for the optimal result – all while respecting the consumer journey by not intruding on their online experience. We need to make video the primary focus without the extra frills that can disturb, and distract, from the video experience.

Today, video also possesses the power to drive engagement across multiple devices. Repetition and consistency ensures memory retention – therefore, the most powerful tactic to increasing brand equity across various mediums is ensuring a consistent look and feel that is adaptive across computer, mobile and tablet.

Get with it: staying relevant in the era of engagement

Timeless brands that create lasting, memorable campaigns have embraced engagement in a way that most of the industry has not truly understood – yet. Engagement is no longer a buzzword. We’re moving (perhaps uncomfortably) fast, but it’s time to get with it. Your next campaign depends on it.