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Who Cares About Engagement?

Madison Avenue has turned to "consumer engagement" as its new planning metric, possibly replacing frequency in media plans. Embraced by ANA, ARF and AAAA, the new mission is called "MI4" for "Measurement Initiative: Advertisers, Agencies, Media and Researchers."

The new metric is trying to figure out the marketing effect of emerging media: web forums, gaming, blogs, et cetera.

The questions: What can this new metric mean? How does the concept lend itself to measuring new technology? What are the elements of engagement that lead to sales and positive ROI? One would suppose that these would all be figured out in and through the major research initiative.

Defining new media engagement

At this time, I would like to make a contribution to the engagement party, even at the risk of being self-serving.

Engagement, pure and simple, is an act of communication. The term signifies a pledge or promise; it requires a relationship. Therefore, two sides are brought together.

Engagement applied to new technology, therefore, is both a unifier and mediator of persons or events for the purpose of communication. This means the new technology both creates a structure of perception and expression and also impacts the perception and expression of the communicators.

In our mobile, multitasking society, engagement with new media is intermittent, not sustained. It is also accompanied with background activity, such as listening to radio, or TV, while on the cell phone, or scanning/reading a newspaper, and/or a magazine while simultaneously plugged into your MP3 player.

New media engagements happen within a simultaneous media system (with one media becoming foreground and other or others moving into the background). So, new media cannot be separated from the other media in use at that time. In fact, due to their mobility, new media always have competitive background environment making various possible engagements more or less simultaneous with other activity.

About influence

Nonetheless, engagement as an act of communication is a promise or pledge to perform. Engagement as communication implies the ability to do something. The ability to engage and be engaged assumes the ability to be influenced.

The following are the key facts about engagement for marketers, advertisers and planners within the new media context:

  • Engagement is an act of communication

  • Engagement involves an interplay of intermittence and permanence

  • Engagement is multiple and simultaneous

  • Engagement has both foreground and background activity

  • Engagement cannot be isolated from the ecosystem of new and traditional media

  • Engagement has a performance criterion: influence

What does engagement mean for new tech?

To address this question, let's take the cell phone data that we have discussed over the past few weeks as an example:

The cell phone has features that can be foreground and background within the same system. 

One can be listening to a person on the phone and viewing a picture on the screen, or viewing a moving picture unrelated to the conversation and walking through a store looking up at a store TV. This last example introduces yet another background.

My intent is not to muddy the water but to underscore the complexity that background media activity has on assessing and creating engagement. At the very least, acknowledging this sort of complexity requires understanding the customer's environment and the disposition either to attend to a particular medium more than the others or to engage them equally and virtually at the same time.

Engagement is also a process

Engagement is an interlocking or coupling process, i.e. engaging in the process of becoming interlocked or coupled.

By definition, engaging is to be attractive, yet the attraction can be with different communication styles: rational, emotive, or evocative, varying with different consumers. Therefore, the engaging requires a coupling of sensory experience, audio/visual/tactile, between the consumer and the technology, as well as with the communicative style of new media ads.

A word of caution: New technology does embody some traditional media viewing/listening components such as a TV-like small screen. However, the online screen embodied in the new tech also requires looking at it through a different set of aesthetic dynamics such as amalgamation, graphication, contingency, simulacrum, fragmentation, et cetera. (No, I am not going to discuss them at this time, but they are vital to measuring the new tech.)

Marketers, advertisers and planners need to attend to the following, or …

The Takeaway: the questions you should be asking about engagement:

  • What is the criterion for successful engagement?

  • How do I know it's my customer who will be engaged? (Demographics won't tell you).

  • What media will be competing with the new media at any given time of the day?

  • Will traditional media complement or conflict with media of engagement?

  • How do in-store media interact with new media?

  • How will engagement be translated into sales?

Engagement has both a process and a product component. The process component relates to the conjoining of sensory modalities between the consumer and the technology. The product is the influence generated from the engagement, which can be general or acutely directed.

So marketers, advertisers, and planners, do I have an answer?

Well, of course, I said at the beginning I was going to be self-serving.

The answer is to start paying attention to SIMM, or Simultaneous Media Consumption -- your consumers are mixing and matching media, and what that means for your marketing message.

To get more details on SIMM, keep reading our regular charts and columns here at iMedia Connection, take a look at BIGresearch's Simultaneous Media Database, Media Map (it's free), or read "Understanding How Media Advertising Works," a free white paper which I co-authored with Don E. Shultz.

Joe Pilotta is vice president of BIGresearch and a Professor at Ohio State University's School of Communications. He holds two Ph.D.s from Ohio University (Communication Research) and from University of Toronto (Sociology), Canada. He is Senior Fellow, Midwestern Universities Consortium for International Activities (Bitten) and Co-Founder of the Center for Globalization, Guatemala.

BIGresearch is a consumer intelligence company which creates a syndicated product from the consumers' point-of-view; their experiences, needs, wants and difficulties in the consumer arena. Our monthly survey allows over 8,000 consumers to speak to the National Retail Federation, Retail Marketing Association and the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Our survey has been featured in numerous publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and myriads of local and international newspapers, online, as well as personally featured on CNBC.

Joe Pilotta was Vice President of BIGresearch, and a former professor at Ohio State University, School of Communications. He holds two Ph.D.s from Ohio University (Communication Research) and from University of Toronto (Sociology), Canada. Senior...

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