On Engagement and the Search For Meaningful Metrics

Last week, Gene Liebel, a managing partner at Huge, wrote a terrific piece for Mediaweek that took a skeptic’s view of engagement as the ‘metric du jour’ for success in digital projects.  As someone who has a turnkey presentation titled “Engagement is the New Black,” I read Gene’s article with a decidedly vested interest.  What was most interesting is that he doesn’t discount the importance of engagement; he simply doesn’t believe it is an accurate indicator of the ultimate metric of in-market success.  He considers engagement more of a ‘side effect’ and offers very strong cautionary arguments for anyone who would make it the end goal.

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Possibly the strongest point he makes–and one that’s not surprising coming from a User Experience expert–is how optimizing an e-commerce web site to make finding products easier will actually reduce page views and time on site, both of which are key measures of engagement.  At the same time, that type of optimization will increase a site’s conversion rate dramatically as visitors find what they need more quickly.  So even though engagement falls, sales increase–a powerful argument against making engagement your end goal.  Liebel contends consumers rarely invest time ‘engaging’ with brands anyway; when consumers visit sites, they have specific, practical needs–whether that’s information or purchasing.  Staying on a site longer does not necessarily correlate to deeper engagement–it could just indicate that consumers must dig deeper to accomplish what they want–a strong negative.

What he’s really arguing for–just like so many other leaders in the field today–is a better measure of value.  In a difficult economy that continues to squeeze marketing budgets, we need to arm our client partners first with programs that work and then with solid proof that those programs work.  As data points continue to improve (Google claims 85% of all media will be trackable by 2012), we will need new measures of our programs’ in-market effects.  More importantly, we will need multi-dimensional measures; today’s socially-networked world of mass-channel opinion requires a new measure of the combined impact of both paid and earned media, and how that drives sales.

Sales may be the ultimate metric for brands, but accountability remains the ultimate metric for agencies.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

I Don’t Have All The Answers. But The Internet Connects Me To Smart People That Might…

People like Ad Age’s Randall Rothenberg certainly provide good, informed opinion and perspective around this whole marketing convergence thing.  Today, he posted a long, incredibly thoughtful, and refreshingly blunt assessment on Interactive Advertising Creativity.  Or rather, the horrific dearth of it.

...But Not Daniel Pink's

...But Not Daniel Pink's

Randall cites a number of valid reasons for this medium’s anemic achievements as a creative medium, starting with the direct marketing culture bred into its DNA.  From the outset, the web has been a metrics maven’s dream, easily measured and quantified. On one hand, we should take comfort that the industry avoided making up putative measures of creativity and imagination like so many over-reaching testing methodologies in the traditional ad world.  But still, the accepted practice has been an over-reliance on the logical, the rational and scientific, as opposed to the magical, the thrilling and inspired.

The industry’s finest mind, Bill Bernbach, nailed it years ago when he wrote:  “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Amen sir, amen. It’s too bad the logic-bound left brainers insist on grafting intellect into every sell, when the most fundamental decisions of humanity belie this conceit.  I did not marry my wife for measurable reasons like her IQ or her time in the mile–I fell in love and changed the course of my life based on the emotional imperative of passion.  Lucky thing too.  We go to war, we choose religions, we get surgery for dying pets for entirely emotional reasons: how can a logical mind dismiss emotion’s impact on buying decisions?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  Do yourself a favor and read Randall’s blog.  It’s smart.  And timely.  And a clarion call for a resurgence of creativity in online.

You know, the kind that would come if traditional agency creatives focused their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

Or rather, the kind that WILL come WHEN traditional agency creatives focus their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

In A Just World, Creatives Seeking Ad Jobs Would Find Them…In Media

Confidence means jobs.  Unfortunately, consumer confidence, client confidence, market confidence: all languish at crushing depths compared to a mere year ago…

Lack of work means more than losing fat in the agency system: today’s historically bad numbers cut to the bone, costing talented thinkers and rich imaginations their paychecks, health plans, and office camaraderie.  The number of paying creative jobs don’t support paying the same number of creatives.

Still, one area of advertising desperately needs creative minds in a way it never did: media.  Social networks and the ongoing new media revolution put media professionals at a horrific disadvantage.  Decades of metrics and planning no longer apply to a three screen world.  Worse, robust platforms like Facebook call for ad formats yet to be invented.  Platforms that will be most prevalent five years from now have yet to be invented. Seriously.

With the vast data engines of the internet and digital TV pumping out actionable information about audiences with unprecedented accuracy, our industry needs creative thinkers generating ingenious responses to these opportunities.  Hyper- customization, day-part targeting, contextual messaging and digital couponing: all of these will be commonplace tomorrow, despite being largely impossible today.  The media discipline has never faced a greater need for innovation and ideas.

In his delightfully-imagined book The Happy Soul Industry, Euro RSCG Chicago’s Steffan Postaer tosses his angelic protagonist into a modern hotelroom, where he turns on the TV news: “Finally and mercifully, the piece ended.  But then came the commercials.  And in their own way, David found them more obscene.  Not because of what they were about–banks and cars and video games–but because of how blindly they went about their business.  Like the reporters, the spots traipsed across the screen utterly unaware of their context…”

Great insight from Steffan.  But we will soon see the final days of commercials that are ‘utterly unaware of their context.’  The sad comScore fact that US Internet users saw 4.5 trillion display ads last year will soon become an archaic indictment of lazy media.  Context will change everything.  Context and that convergence thing: a convergence between disparate marketing entities far beyond mere online and offline…

I’m talking the convergence of creative and media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79