Friday, February 29, 2008

Is the Engagement Metric Evolving?

Microsoft’s announcement of its new Engagement Mapping metric at the IAB conference this week created additional buzz around what was already one of the hottest online marketing topics of the moment. And not just this particular moment—it has been ongoing for awhile. Last summer ARF Chief Research Officer Joe Plummer defined it this way, "Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context." That’s an interesting concept, but it doesn’t give me any guidance as to how I could measure it.

Several marketers have proposed approaches to measuring brand engagement, especially online. Forrester has a concept that includes four factors--involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence. That appears to combine attitudinal and behavioral measures, and that would be a strong approach. The public information makes it clear that it requires both online and offline data. That doesn’t make it cheap, but it makes it comprehensive, which is essential.

Brand Keys offers measures of engagement that are category-specific. Their measure relies heavily on customer expectations of brands in the category. They publish a list of highest-scoring brands in various categories each year.

Nielsen//NetRatings has changed its key measure of web traffic from page views to time spent on the site. They tout it as a better measure of engagement, and it certainly beats page views, which have well-known problems. However, that goes back to an old academic argument on the definition of brand loyalty (is engagement a precursor to loyalty--I think so). The argument is that loyalty is more than repeat purchase behavior—that can be just habit. True loyalty—and I suspect true engagement—requires understanding of attitudes as well as behavior.

Earlier this year Kevin Mannion wrote a three-part article (1, 2, 3) for MediaPost’s Metrics Insider Newsletter that gives an excellent summary of efforts to date. He references the work of Eric T. Peterson and Avinash Kaushik, both prolific writer/speakers on metrics issues. Mannion’s analysis of this body of work produces an engagement metric with six components. They are:
Loyalty: how often visitors return to a site over a long period of time.
Recency: how frequently visitors come to a site within a narrow time period.
Duration: how long visitors remain on the site.
Click Depth: the degree to which visitors view site content.
Interactivity: the kinds of actions visitors take with content (downloading content, viewing videos, attending webinars, posting content, etc.).
Subscription: the extent to which visitors register for services or content.

In the third installment he gives an example of how this metric would work. Note that it is all behavioral; to be specific it is all based on online metrics. That means it is based on data that online marketers currently can access.

That brings us full-circle to the Microsoft Engagement Mapping platform. According to Brian McAndrews of Microsoft, “Our Engagement Mapping approach conveys how each ad exposure — whether display, rich media or search, seen multiple times on multiple sites and across many channels — influenced an eventual purchase. We believe it represents a quantum leap for advertisers and publishers who are seeking to maximize their online spends.” I can visualize what such a map would look like and how useful it would be, especially to the multichannel e-retailer.

It doesn’t solve the metrics issue, however. Engagement Mapping is all behavioral—more a measure of impact than engagement in my mind. If engagement is indeed an attitudinal state that is manifested in brand behavior of various types—both on and offline—we still don’t have a metric that truly captures the concept.
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