Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Defining The Term Engagement

I posted my article with Mediapost's Online Spin today all about how we might take a stab at defining the term Engagement. I had to give up on that term going away, so take a peek and let me know your thoughts!


I tried. I really, really tried. Over the last few weeks I’ve created many opportunities for someone to give me a definition of the term “Engagement” in its marketing sense, but alas I’ve yet to be given one. The term appears destined for use in our industry for many years to come, regardless of my relative defiance against it. Since the industry has spoken and you’ve all decided not to vote it off the island then it comes to me that maybe we should come up with a definition for it?

Last week at Ad-Tech I began to think of a definition that would be easily understood, easily measured and standardized so that advertisers and marketers could apply it on an apples-to-apples basis for all formats of media. The term cannot be an online-centric term because that would be short-sighted. The term, if used properly, needs to be applied to all media vehicles and formats and needs to convey a single purpose and define a single component of said media.
Engagement, if used properly, describes the media vehicle, not the advertising. In television I’ve seen and heard reference to a Q-Score, or Quality Score. The Q-Score applies a value to the attentiveness of the audience watching a program. For more highly attentive, more emotionally invested programs the Q-Score can be high (think LOST, Heroes and Desperate Housewives). A low Q-Score applies to a show that is viewed with a lower level of attentiveness. These are the types of shows that a viewer can become distracted from (think Larry King Live, The Evening News). Shows with a higher Q-Score are considered stronger for branding because the viewer is more involved. The shows with a lower Q-Score are considered better for direct response advertisers because a message that resonates well can create an immediate response.
The idea of a Q-Score is a good start to defining Engagement, but it’s not the only component of the measurement (plus I have to honest in saying that I don’t know the methodology for that measurement). Attentiveness is but one of what I consider three possible components. The other two components are Monthly Repeat Visitors and possibly a measure of Growth or Trends.

Attentiveness provides a measure of how deeply involved the audience is for a site and a proxy for attentiveness might be time-spent. We would have to measure time-spent against categories and formats in order to be accurate. As an example, TV programs that are 45 minutes to an hour would inherently be more engaging than a website which offers a 10 minute (or so) experience, but a website with a 10 minute experience is infinitely more engaging than a search engine whose job is to provide a link to content. This measure of time spent might be one very strong component of Engagement.

Repeat Visits (on a monthly basis) provides a measure of “stickiness” or how often the user comes back, implying how invested the audience is in the site/magazine/newspaper/etc. For a website this measure implies a higher level of Engagement than a magazine which only gets read once, whereas a site can be visited multiple times in a week or a day. A TV program gets watched at least once a week, and in the case of American Idol you get up to 3 in a week. That is a highly engaged program vs. some other shows.

Growth or Trend data supplies a measure of where in their lifecycle that media format currently is. For example, Facebook would have a higher growth rate currently than MySpace, implying that users are more interested in Facebook right now than MySpace. It can be considered a measurement for a fad, or a highly temporary trend, but overall you can get an idea of whether a vehicle is in its prime or maybe it’s “jumped the shark”, both of which can add value.
These three measures can be used in tandem to provide some insights into the quality of the audience that’s being exposed to a media vehicle. For a website these are very easy to gather. For more traditional media formats, the information is a little more static but just as important. Think of a TV Show like LOST. The show is on 4-5 times per month, but some viewers watch the episodes multiple times to gather in all of the information. The show is 45 minutes long, so the time spent is much higher and if you average out these three measures you would likely see that a show such as LOST is more highly engaged than a number of websites. That’s a hard point to argue, so the measurement makes sense to me.

Of course the other component to consider is the source of this data. For Engagement to become a true metric, one of the third-party syndicated research sources would have to start tracking and offering this data. The formula for calculating the numbers would have to be approved by the industry and accepted by the marketers and the agencies who work with them. I hope to see this motivation in the coming months because try as I might, I don’t see the term going away.

What do you think of this proposed measurement? Am I missing something? Please respond on our message boards and let me know!


James Hipkin said...

Perhaps we should look at "engagement" from the consumer's perspective. They are the one, and most important constant in this.

I don't think it's about how interested or engaged the consumer is in the content. Your TV example supports this perspective but your Search example doesn't. Someone who is actively searching may not spend much time on Google but they are very engaged in the content and therefore the messaging they receive.

Bob Hoffman said...

Like all marketing cliches, "engagement" doesn't mean shit. It's just an empty word second-rate people use in place of a thought.