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Consumer Engagement: What Does It Mean?

Consumer Engagement: What Does It Mean? Jodi Harris

This year's iMedia Agency Summit focuses on the essence of the latest industry buzzword: engagement. It's becoming clearer that as online moves from being accepted to being essential, it is no longer enough to just get consumers aware of your brands; they must interact with it, and feel that they have a personal stake in its success as well.

For marketers in the online arena, the challenge is now to define, design and measure experiences that achieve the desired level of consumer participation and support. Appropriately, the summit's keynote presentation, "Consumer Engagement: What Does it Mean?", aimed to help attendees do just that. Presentation moderator, Doug Weaver, president of Upstream Group, began the session by putting it all in perspective:

"One thing we all know from being part of the industry is the consumer is in control. Another thing that is clear is that the old metrics no longer work," said Weaver. In order for marketers to do their jobs in the current media climate, Weaver stressed that, "the internet should not be seen in a vacuum, and neither should engagement. We need to be part of the larger mosaic, part of the larger world of media and marketing."

Bob DeSena, CEO, Engagement Marketing Group, then took the microphone. He discussed the great fragmentation of media that marketers are coming to terms with, as well as three fundamental changes that are resulting: 

  1. Democratization of content

  2. Communication that has gone from passive to active

  3. The new importance of consumer choice and control

DeSena then stressed the need to start moving beyond the point where we recognize these changes to the point where we are starting to see the actions marketers need to take. He feels that agency personnel are active co-creators of brand content, and that it is their job to provide opportunities for the audience to not only see something but to do something; to capture what they hear about a brand and use that knowledge in a personal way. "We are moving through the 'awkward teen years' of mass targeting to personal communication." DeSena asserted that the question each company needs to ask itself is, "Do we have the skills to get there first?"

Essentially, engagement is a way of thinking about today's marketing and media from the perspective of today's active consumer. Along with this shift in focus is the need to alter the fundamental approach, to become accountable for the ideas that marketers present-- a concept that DeSena refers to as marketing directly. He then went on to outline four easy steps to achieve these engagement goals: 

  1. Understand who is the target

  2. Understand where the target is (where and when I can meet him)

  3. Understand how to use unique characteristics and attributes of active media channels (determining the creative plan/brand idea)

  4. Ensure that you listen to what was said, can analyze it and then use this feedback to refine your understanding of Step 1 through 3

The next panelist, Ken Wollenberg, the EVP at Simmons Strategic Planning and Marketing, presented engagement from a research perspective: "Change is the enemy in the syndicated research side that I come from… To survive we needed to become consumer neutral."
Wollenberg asserted that for his company, engagement is a multidimensional concept: "It is the ability of the brand and the brand media environment to meaningfully connect with the consumer."

Wollenberg's presentation focused on the point at which the urgent need for more sensitive research kicks in: knowing whether your efforts are achieving the level of consumer engagement that your clients are looking for on a specific campaign. To this point, he shared some key measurement objectives:

  • To create a metric for planning buying and selling that goes beyond the simple measure of age/sex and click streams.

  • To create ratings of cognitive, behavioral and emotional involvement

  • To validate that engagement translates into a positive halo effect for brand advertising

  • Examine inter- and intra-media channel synergies

  • Enable users to identify brand attributes that resonate with engaged consumers

Wollenberg feels that a global set of involvement dimensions will be developed that will be measured across media channels. "Overall, engagement will be measured against trust, discovering personal timeouts, relationship building, critical images and action receptivity," he said.

The final panelist of the session, Kate Sirkin, EVP and global research director at Starcom MedaVest Group, provided a lesson on engagement from the agency point of view.

When talking about exposure vs. engagement models, Sirkin talked of finding the right contact points and feels it's clear that exposure models are failing. "Contacts are valued for the way they connect with the consumer; the effect that results when the exposure occurs, the ability to captivate the consumers' attention and the response that is co-created," she said. "The job today is to find contacts that both expose and engage."

Sirkin outlined four suggestions for choosing the best contacts from the almost infinite array of options.

  1. Select the right criteria (and be sure to bring in the creative team as early as possible)

  2. Assess the tradeoffs you will likely have to make

  3. Use tools and processes that inform the decisions

  4. Be innovative

Of all the questions and discussion points raised by the keynote panel, it seems to all come down to where agencies should be focusing their efforts. According to Sirkin, it's, "the ability to get response, to learn what is engaging for content and contact and refine it in real time."

Why do you want to create a viral video?
Think about that. Do you have a promotion you are going to run and want to drive interest? Are you desperately trying to prove digital's worth against TV?

We often try things because we're bored with the status quo -- not just for our companies, but also for ourselves. And while the safer route is to stick with the status quo, some brands are crying out for change. I'm not talking about the people at those brands, I'm talking about the brands themselves. The brand has a voice. It is what comes to mind when someone mentions that brand.

When someone says, "Mountain Dew," I think "X Games," hip, athletic, adventure, hardcore, and alternative. The brand has a voice in my head, and it does in yours, too. You may not be consciously listening to it, but it's there. What makes a brand resonate is that universal agreement between vast groups of people and the qualities the brand name embodies. Seriously, the name is Mountain Dew. We should be thinking about a wet morning as we frolick through the hillsides. But what makes a brand a brand is its ability to create a new and unique meaning for itself, and a great way to achieve that is through viral video.

The impetus is change
So why is your brand's voice important when talking about viral videos? Change. One of the fundamental strategies of a viral video is to change perception. That's the reason it goes viral. If you said "Old Spice" to me a few years ago, I would have thought -- isn't that the old-man cologne I bought my dad for Father's Day? But now when I think of Old Spice, it's something very different, and that's all the result of a brilliant viral video outreach effort.

If your brand name garners responses like "stodgy, old, tired, safe, or bland" then your strategy for a viral video should be about changing the perception of what you are as a brand. A brand needs to stand for something that emotionally affects people and compels them to become advocates.

You should not create a video that merely reinforces your brand position; you should use the opportunity to change what consumers think about you. The difficulty here is that company culture often invests in the status quo of a dying brand with dwindling sales. But it's your job to change that.

The most successful viral videos are not ones that reinforce a brand position, they are the ones that stake new territory for the brand.

Finding and understanding your advocates
The seeders and advocates are the important ones, not the end viewers. End viewers are those who felt the content was not compelling enough to redistribute. Just because someone has a large social network does not mean that everyone they distribute to actually engages. So don't get caught up in the actual view number. That number combined with a positive social media monitoring sentiment score is usually a good proxy for advocacy of your brand.

The consumers that you initially distribute your viral video to (seeders) are crucial. Some people have engaged networks of friends, and others don't. You can make someone aware of your marketing campaign, but you cannot guarantee that you can turn them into product advocates.

Don't distribute your video to everyone you, your agency, and company know because guess who they are already familiar with? Your brand. While it's great to score political points, it's very difficult to reach the kind of viral network that will help spur the spread of your video and your brand by staying so close to home. That group would be a great place to test your video, however, because if it's not working, they will tell you, and if that's the case, then it's time to go back to the content drawing board.

Whatever you do, do not just post your video on YouTube, send out an email blast, and hope that viewers will come -- because they won't. There are plenty of highly engaged consumers out there -- in some cases celebrities -- with great networks that could align with your brand for a good viral boost. You just have to do some work.

Here are the top six takeaways:

  1. For viral video to be deemed a success, 100,000 views is the magic number.

  2. Counting views only as a measure of viral success is dangerous because it's advocacy that is important.

  3. What you are looking for is positive sentiment score movement using a social media monitoring tool.

  4. The advocates are important, not just someone viewing your content. People trust their network recommendations more than they trust you.

  5. Seeding your video is crucial. Find someone or a group of someones that align with your brand to help propel your efforts.

  6. Don't just post your video on YouTube and Facebook and hope people will come.

You have 100,000 views! Congratulations, you made a viral video. So now what do you do?

So what about the content?
I didn't talk about the content in viral videos because there is no secret formula for successful content. If there were, there would be no use for creatives in advertising. However, the content of the video is what will communicate what you want to change, shift, or reinforce in people's perception of your brand.

Here are some tips to help get you started:

Don't take yourself too seriously. Use humor, but ensure that the humor supports your brand. Humor is very personal, and in order for most things to be funny, it will usually push the edges of NSFW (not safe for work) -- and if you don't know that acronym then you should definitely not be judging whether something is funny).

Don't do creative by committee. If you want a viral video effort to work, you must free the hands of your agency from company politics.

Be aware that it might backfire. Inform those in the company that it may generate a lot of chatter, which is not always bad.

Don't get discouraged. If one viral video fails, get up and make another one.

So there. That's about as much of a formula for viral video content as is possible. But remember, you can make a really funny video with a 1 million views, but if it isn't turning people into advocates for your brand, then it's probably not worth your time.

Sean X Cummings is chief digital strategist at Suite Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As an independent consultant, Jodi develops strategic content programs and projects for brand, media, and agency clients in the marketing, entertainment,...

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