In a world where consumer attention is finite and ads are infinite, how can brands effectively drive engagement?
We know that most people go online with a specific purpose, whether it's to converse with friends, read the news, play a game, or make a purchase. This is why the digital channel, whether online or mobile, is so different from more traditional media such as TV or print. Digital is much more active for consumers, and this presents a challenge for brands and advertisers. The self-directed consumer motivation of digital makes it especially difficult for brands to place themselves into the consumer attention path without disrupting the experience. We believe this is why display advertising has such low rates of success, except in instances when the ads have been made relevant or creative through applying technology (e.g., retargeting, page takeovers, etc.). It's also why advertising that is based on some degree of user initiation (e.g., search, value exchange, etc.) is often more successful at getting the consumer's attention and garnering results.
The dynamic at play between the consumer and the brand is probably not going to change. In fact, it's probably going to get worse for brands as consumers become more adept at cutting through the clutter and adopting technologies that help them ignore unwanted advertising. For this reason, we believe brands that can enhance a user's online experience, while communicating a specific brand message, are best positioned for success as media and consumer attention continue to fragment.
Due to this clutter and fragmentation, the most valuable commodity for advertisers that want to build brand value -- in any medium -- is engagement. We define engagement simply as when a consumer is actually paying attention and actively interacting with some piece of media, advertising, or messaging. It's what you get when you combine attention with experience, and it's much more powerful than either is alone. The challenge for brands is that in today's age of media immersion, much of it digital or mobile, engagement continues to be one of the most difficult things for advertisers to capture. Faced with attention as a finite resource, advertisers are too often turning to reach and frequency as proxies for engagement -- when in reality, those are more often measures of a media planner's willingness to spend than of a consumer's intent to buy. The good news is that marketers who understand this finite "attention economy" can take advantage of the technology behind it and use it as a powerful tool for engaging an audience.
Much of the push in our industry is toward strategies and technologies that help the advertiser reach consumers and gain their attention. It's not a big leap to see how shifting your budgets more toward email marketing (opt-in, not spam), search, social, rich media, and retargeting are all ways to gain and isolate a consumer's attention. These strategies are typically more effective and efficient than simple display advertising at identifying and targeting a consumer that is inclined toward your brand message or call-to-action. That said, each comes with unique disadvantages: Opt-in email has to compete with spam and is often ignored, search puts you "on the list" with all of your competitors, social tends to be disruptive to a user's intent in that channel, rich media is expensive and hard to scale, and retargeting, although effective, brings with it the limitations of most standard display formats. What is needed is an ad strategy, or technology, that combines the best of these methods, while minimizing the disadvantages inherent in each.