In my last article for iMedia, I talked about the technical definition of engagement, saying that it was more of an effectiveness than an exposure metric. In this article, I want to talk about engagement from a logical laymen's perspective. I feel a need to write this as more and more conferences are being scheduled about engagement, and more media are claiming that they have a superior claim relative to engagement. Simmons is even developing an engagement metric.
As I have said before, engagement, while related to the medium that carries the message, is primarily a product- or service-oriented attribute. Let me give an example: Opting in is a sign that you are engaged. You have made the decision to get involved with messaging from a brand by agreeing to have it sent to you on a regular basis.
In my mind, engagement is clearly on the shoulders of the brand and those who convey the message. But it is not totally in the control of the messaging (advertising) folks. Two examples: while a commercial, print ad, internet message or some other form might convince me to try a new toothpaste or soap (yep, probably a TV spot, as they still work best for a lot of new things), I probably do not become fully engaged with it until I try it in the shower, smell it and feel it. Yet I became engaged with the Maserati Gran Turismo Coupe the first time I saw it at an auto show. Engagement is an unconscious tick of the mind that causes you to think differently about and notice a brand differently in the future. And advertising can help big time in this process. You don't even have to be able to afford it.
The web has a clear lead in engagement. After all, did you ever even hear the term opt-in before the web came along-- even though we had been opting in to catalogues, consciously or unconsciously for years? And there have been TV spots loved and hated. But the web, with its lean-forward aspect, gets you involved. And puts choices in front of you that cause you to make conscious decisions about further involvement with something. And whatever that is, you can perform an efficiency ranking on it. Registrations, downloads, visits to a site, purchases, requests for more information-- you name it. That's why I don't recommend using the CPA term in computing efficiency. CPA is now forever branded in the metric associated with an online ad sales methodology. I suggest (with a smile) that you use CPW (or cost-per-whatever you are trying to measure). Once you do this, you end up having discussions about engagement metrics.
With other media, we evaluate them all based on their CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions). With the web (and other media as they become digital and trackable), the subject changes to CPW, not CPM. And we end up having two discussions. First, what is the "W" that we are going to measure? Then, what kind of CPW can we achieve, and does that meet the goal to successfully sell the product or service at a profit? We're over 10 years into the web advertising revolution, yet none of the other media that we use can measure up to the metrics of the web.
If you want engagement, other media can claim it, but only the web can prove what the cost per engaged user is, whatever your metric.
David L. Smith is CEO and founder of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco-based media agency. Read bio here.