Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category


Defining & Measuring Engagement – A Holy Grail? (part IV)

September 4, 2008

The 5 C’s of Engagement
Fundamentally, engagement is a state of deeply occupied attention. This may or may not include active elements of involvement and participation. For example, I might find a video highly engaging, although watching is pretty much a passive experience. Playing games, creating digital art, and messaging friends are good examples of active engagement.

I categorize digital engagements/experiences by 5 Cs

• Captivation
• Conversation
• Collaboration
• Creation
• Commerce

Captivation is often a passive form of engagement: watching videos, listening to music, or viewing images. It’s important to understand there is a strong qualitative factor that separates apathetic media consumption from captivation. This is one reason I feel ‘time spent’ is an inadequate measure of true engagement. Ten minutes of exposure to second-rate content doesn’t carry twice the weight of a compelling experience lasting five minutes. I also consider single-player games, demonstrations, and e-learning applications interactive platforms for captivation.

Conversation is a highly interactive form of engagement and a fundamental characteristic of social media. Posting, commenting, and messaging are means for users to engage others in opinions and ideas. From a brand marketer’s perspective, conversations are a powerful force that can drive product awareness, consideration and affinity. Like captivation, conversations that are entertaining, emotional, or otherwise provide value are more engaging than conversations that don’t.

Collaboration through wikis, multi-player games, and work applications are other examples of engagement. Brands have only scratched the surface in building collaborative experiences that let consumers not only interact with each other, but with a brand in creating something interesting.

Creation is a form of engagement that encompasses two separate activities: making and sharing. Digital toys, drawing and music applications are just a few examples of platforms that allow users to make their own creations. Product customization and visualization features also fall into this category. Media sharing platforms that allow users to post and share images, video, and digital documents overlap the creation and conversation experience.

Commerce might be the most powerful form of engagement. The seemingly prosaic process of shopping and purchasing is often one of the most memorable interactions we ever have with a brand. Likewise, the experiential factors of seeking product information, quotes, and customer service have a critical impact on conversion and affinity.

Next time: Are all engagements created equal?


Defining & Measuring Engagement – A Holy Grail? (part III)

September 2, 2008

engaging eyes

What is “engagement” anyway?

Engagement means something a little different to everyone. Here are just a few examples:

ARF (Advertising Research Foundation)“Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.”

This definition is a bit confusing and sounds more like a branding goal than a description of a user experience. Isn’t “turning on a prospect to a brand idea” the goal of most advertising? If so, does engagement simply mean ‘advertising enhanced with surrounding context’?

The ARF definition is also very broad and includes three qualitative variables that would require sophisticated (if not expensive) measurement methods.  How do you measure “turning on”, “enhanced”, and “context”?


Steve Hall of Adrants “Time Spent (with medium) + Response Rate (average CTR, letters to editor, subscription/renewal rates, number of comments left on a blog) + Average Ad/Content Recall Rates + Uptick in Measured Brand Metric”

Steve admittedly didn’t spend much time whipping up this formula, but it’s definitely more tangible than the ARF definition. Unfortunately the variables Steve offers raise important questions about the qualitative aspects of measuring engagement.

  •  ‘time spent’ – Are extremely compelling interactions that take little time less valuable than moderately compelling activities that take more time?
  • “response rates” – I assume Steve believes engagement with publisher content provides value to the advertiser. As discussed earlier, this probably isn’t the case.  Also, ‘response rates’ as a metric assumes the last interaction before a “response” is always most valuable. We still don’t know if that is true.
  • “recall rates” –  I can vividly recall many ads I do not like, as well as ads for brands I do not buy. That said, recall is still a useful measurement of attention and awareness.

Eric Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified “Engagement is an estimate of the degree and depth of visitor interaction on the site against a clearly defined set of goals.”

Visitor engagement formula

Eric’s formula of engagement is a decent framework for publishers and brand site managers, but doesn’t provide much guidance for creating a universal advertising metric.

The other problem with formula is also strength; each component can be weighted to fit what each publisher believes to be most important. As a result, “engagement” would never become a quantifiable constant that can be used to measure one publisher against another.

Many types of engagement
All definitions of engagement illustrate another challenge: there are many activities and experiences that can be considered engagement. Peterson’s formula demonstrates that publishers can readily establish a consistent, formulaic metric representing numerous activities. For advertisers, this isn’t so easy.

A single campaign can simultaneously span many touch-points, each offering a different set of possible activities. And this undoubtedly changes with each subsequent campaign.


Next time: The five Cs of engagement


Defining & Measuring Engagement – A Holy Grail? (part II)

August 28, 2008

Publishers and advertisers view engagement differently
Advertising supported publishers and corporate/brand site managers have always used web analytics to measure basic forms of user engagement, e.g. number of visitors, page views, time spent, etc. These measures also provide publishers with immediate feedback on traffic levels, and ultimately, the trend of available impressions that could be sold.


As Internet users began spending more time with high bandwidth content and Web 2.0 applications, publishers soon realized revenue models based on pages served wasn’t such a great idea. Some even theorized users of this content might be more valuable to advertisers.


Advertisers already knew rich media outperformed standard banner ads in both branding effectiveness and CTRs, so it was easy to conclude that high bandwidth content and social media experiences would provide similar value.


Many managers of brand sites and interactive marketing researchers successfully identified correlations between site metrics such as repeat visits, time spent, and page views and brand metrics. Unfortunately the traffic on most brand sites is relatively small, thus difficult to move the needle in a big way. Brand marketers are increasingly dependant on high traffic publishers and ad networks to connect with new consumers.


The wall between advertisement and publisher content is high on most ad supported sites, as it should be. However, banner blindness is now an unspoken truth and the primary goal for most online advertisers today is to simply get a user’s attention.


In many ways, advertisers and publishers compete for attention – this is nothing new, but if a publisher is successful in growing highly engaged users, doesn’t that engagement come at the expense of the advertiser?


Advertisers are primarily interested in getting consumers to engage with their brand, not in increasing ad exposures to users who are engaged in doing something else. Too often brand engagement is peripheral to the engagement experience.


Next time: What is “engagement” anyway?


Defining & Measuring Engagement – A Holy Grail? (part I)

August 27, 2008

I’ve written a long diatribe on our industry’s attempts to define and measure engagement. I’ll post my thoughts here in bite-sized chunks over the coming weeks.

Engagement is still a hot topic in the interactive marketing community, even after years trying to define, measure, and monetize it. I want to take a closer look at the challenges we’ve faced and even offer some suggestions.

Advertising media is most often valuated and purchased using ‘exposure metrics’ like GRPs, impressions, and time spent. Although brand marketers have been long frustrated to translate audience exposure into a real ROI, these metrics have become both familiar and grudgingly accepted yardsticks of media value.

By the early 90’s most of us believed the experiential nature of interactive media could offer far more value to advertisers than simply exposing consumers to a commercial message. In the years since, broadband penetration and the explosion of user generated content increased our interest in packaging engagement as a metric.

The barriers we face
After much discussion and debate, we still find ourselves unable to address these key challenges:

  • Engagement means something different to ad supported publishers, brand site managers, and advertisers
  • Too many activities can be considered “engagement”
  • The value of engagement is highly dependant on qualitative factors

Next time: Publishers and advertisers view engagement differently


Broadband video ad guidelines released

June 17, 2008

CameramamThe IAB’s Broadband Committee just released guidelines for broadband video commercials online. Unfortunately they punted on the question of optimum length and ad effectiveness per content category.

I would also like the IAB to establish some guidelines regarding minimum interactivity options: clickability, video hot spots, and links to additional info. Leaving so much to publisher discretion isn’t going to do much to enhance production efficiency or ultimately drive user engagement.


Listen and watch because they talk

June 10, 2008

Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Online wrote an excellent article for ClickZ summarizing the issues that should be top of mind for CMOs. You’ll notice a few common threads that run through a number of these.

  • It all starts with listening to your consumers
  • Conversation (including CGC and social media) is more important than ever
  • Authenticity matters

The age of steamrolling brand ideas into a consumer’s head with glossy print ads and :30 second spots has come to an end. Brands have to stop pretending to be what they’re not. It’s time to get real.


The price is…wrong

July 26, 2007

Pre-rollThere’s nothing worse than watching a 30 second TELEVISION AD on the Internet…except to be forced to watch it as a pre-roll to 2 minutes of video content.

Let me re-phrase that for publishers and advertisers too dense to understand what they’re doing: I’m not really watching your ad. Yes, I see it. Yes, I hear it. But I’m not watching or listening to it. My brain is busy processing a string of adjectives as each second goes by: disrespectful, bad-mannered, boorish, brusque, discourteous, graceless, impolite, inconsiderate, insulting, intrusive, ungracious, unmannerly, etc. You should feel lucky your brand isn’t registering in my grey matter because its not going to leave any fond memories.

The aggrevation of sitting through 30 seconds of incontextual and irrelevant television advertising isn’t a price I’m willing to pay to watch 2 minutes of video content. Sure, every few months I’m stupid enough to click on a sponsored video link, but it only takes a ten seconds or so before I realize the horrible error I just made. Apparently media buyers and online publishers are slower learners than me.


What’s wrong with agencies?

July 20, 2007

Broad brushI’ll admit I’m using a very broad brush but let me know if you don’t agree:


  • are led by offline thinkers with no hands-on, indepth interactive experience
  • don’t truly understand online user/consumer behavior
  • don’t understand concepts like authenticity and context
  • believe interactive media is just another way to “broadcast” ads to consumers
  • and their media buying fee structures make online media the red-headed step child
  • focus more on winning new business vs. servicing current clients
  • continue to hype the latest shiny new objects far beyond their ability to deliver marketing results
  • believe they’re entertainment companies…and good at it
  • hate metrics and spend as little time with them as they possibly can
  • don’t understand program/campaign execution is just as important as the so-called “big idea”
  • don’t teach their clients
  • think audio, video and animation = interactivity
  • think in terms of “campaigns” and “windows” – they have a short term orientation and don’t understand interactive marketing is a long term engagement with consumers – not a window

UGC, CGC, and UPCs – Part V

July 16, 2007

In this post I’ll begin listing my thoughts on how marketers can actually use UGC/CGC. Feel free to join in.

Trip Advisor reviewEven the best agency can’t polish a turd
Marketers often look past the most powerful form of consumer generated content: word of mouth. I have personally spent countless thousands of dollars based entirely on reviews posted on sites like Amazon and TripAdvisor. I have also spent well over six figures on automobiles (both new and used) based on Consumer Reports Used Car guides, where rankings are based primarily on consumer input.

Companies who fail to deliver innovation, quality and top-notch customer service are doomed in an age where CGC/WOM channels play a huge role in driving consideration and conversions.

Rule #1 of CGC is to make sure your product doesn’t suck.

Pillsbury Bake-OffEncourage consumer generated value
When embarking on a marketing program that leverages CGC, design it so the content generated will be of value to other consumers. I’ve seen hundreds of branded contests with the goal on catalyzing CGC, but too often the resulting content provides no value. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is a great example of a CGC program that provides value for both the creator and the brand’s target consumer.

Grab the long-tail – with caution
Blogs, podcasts, and social networks can provide unique opportunities for marketers to engage influencers within a relevant niche. The key word here is “relevant”. If your product isn’t highly relevant to both producers and their audience, don’t waste your time.

Also recognize that social networks, whether explicitly private or not, are personal spaces. You are an uninvited stranger and interruptive marketing doesn’t work here.

As always, provide value and relevance first, engage users later. I have a hunch sponsored widgets will lead the way in providing relevant connections between brands and consumers who use social networks.


UGC, CGC, and UPCs – Part IV

July 15, 2007

George MastersIt might be easier to wrap our brains around the commercial potential of UGC/CGC if we put producer-types into groups. Thus far we’ve discussed amateurs and professionals, but there are two additional producer-types that are making the most notable consumer generated content: skilled amateurs and semi-pros.

Skilled amateurs excel in using one or more content creation tools and often have some degree of creative talent. They aren’t pursuing a career directly related to their talent but may want to monitize it through channels like contests. Skilled amateurs are few, but exactly who CGC proponents and brand marketers want to catalyze.

Semi-pros fall into several camps. Some are sporatically employed actors, writers, directors, and artists trying to break into the big time. Others are students in art, film, or journalism schools trying to get noticed. Often semi-pros are already commercial artists or media professionals who have a personal interest or excel in an area outside of their current jobs.

Many ballyhooed examples of CGC content come from folks in these two groups. George Masters, who created the iPod Tiny Machine animation is the epitome of a “skilled amateur”. Examples from semi-pros, including the creators of Dorito’s Superbowl ads are far more numerous.

Pop Secret spec adThe allure of cheap but potentially breakthrough advertising has spawned Internet services like CurrentTV’s VCAM, letting marketer’s solicit spec work from both semi-pros and skilled amateurs. These so-called “consumers” are unlikely to have a deep affinity for the brands they create content for, but the Koolaid drinking proponents of CGC aren’t very interested in discussing this point. The illusion of loyal consumers toiling away to produce branded creative is far too sexy to distroy.

Part of the illusion is a perception of authenticity. This is often more a result of less-than-professional production quality than the heartfelt affinity of the creator. Even though the illusion may be more hype than reality, marketer’s should take interest leveraging CGC created by semi-pros and skilled amateurs.