Thursday, April 8, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Defining Engagement Ain’t That Hard

I don’t get it.

Why is it so difficult for everyone in our industry to develop a measurement for Engagement? Our business has so much data available; it’s not a matter of finding the data, it’s just a matter of finding the right data that you can work with.

The simple fact is people are overcomplicating the issue. Engagement is an arbitrary term that the industry is looking to standardize but you can’t standardize it because it’s tied to individual brand objectives. The broad term “engagement” refers to any metric that measures involvement, whether it is interactions, actions, time spent or other. It’s a transitional metric that provides a bridge between exposure and end-actions like sales. Sales are typically the goal of any and all marketing, but sales data can be hard to come by, especially as an outside partner. In the absence of that data we rely on proxies. In traditional media we look at Reach, Frequency of exposure and brand metrics like awareness, consideration and intent. In digital media we look at all those same metrics, but we add the engagement metrics. The industry can create a bucket of metrics that fall under the umbrella of “engagement”, but they cannot be standardized because each brand will be different.

I think it’s actually a matter of laziness. Too many people are looking for someone else to solve the challenge for them. The challenge is “how do we define engagement in a way that is accurate” by creating a true, relational proxy for sales. You measure engagement in hopes to provide a close-to-real-time measure that you can optimize against and that will provide an idea of the impact for your marketing on driving sales. The industry can’t tell you what that is, you need to develop a formula and figure it out for yourself. You need to invest in analytics to understand the various data points that you have available and examine the correlations of these different data points over time. You develop an observation, you formulate a hypothesis and you either prove or disprove your ideas. The industry can provide guidance, but it can’t do the work for you.

Engagement is a blanket term for individual metrics that you establish, test and utilize going forward. They are strategic in nature and they evolve over time as your business objectives evolve as well. The ideal situation is that you and your partners have a “data summit” to evaluate all the metrics you have available and begin to identify the correlations. Maybe time spent on the site is relative to sales? Maybe interaction rates are relative to inbound inquiries, which is relative to sales. Maybe ad-spend is relative to new visitors, which is relative to search volume on your site, which is relative to visits to the FAQ page, which is relative to sales. It can be a simple model or a complex model, but there is certainly a model that exists for your business. Unless your business operates on pure Chaos Theory (which I truly doubt is the case, no matter what it feels like in the middle of the week), there is a model that will work. It just requires time, analysis and some more time.

Patience is not exactly my strongest virtue, but on this one issue I find peace because I like the numbers. The numbers rarely lie, which is why I like media so much. The numbers can certainly be manipulated but a good marketer can always cut to the important numbers and those tell a story. They describe a path and they show you what your consumers are saying.

If you can hear what they are saying, and if you can see the path they are taking, then defining engagement based on the metrics they leave behind ain’t gonna be that hard!

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