Jim Nail Breaks Down Engagement

Jim Nail at Cymfony penned a nice piece on engagement for iMedia. He describes four dimensions of engagement, which he synthesized from discussions at the Consumer Engagement conference:

  • Media engagement. Ad-selling media organizations have pounced on engagement like a pride of lions on a wounded wildebeest. They aim to prove that their audience is more engaged with their media property than their competitors. But they typically fall back on old-school metrics like traffic or time spent with the medium. The ARF is trying to move beyond these metrics.
  • Ad engagement. Advertisers and agencies have begun to talk about how engaging their ads are but, again, typically relying on old communication metrics like attention or recall. These fall short of the ARF’s new definition because they only capture whether the audience saw the ad, while the ARF is aiming for a more subtle measure of whether the consumer reacted to the ad.
  • Engagement marketing. An approach that plans a sequence of activities to draw the consumer through the purchasing process, e.g., running an ad that drives the consumer to a website where they sign up for email that delivers additional information over time until the consumer buys. This sequence actually comes after the more emotional engagement the ARF is focused on.
  • Brand engagement. This sounds closer to the ARF’s idea, but also often defaults to old-school metrics like customer loyalty or the more recent Net Promoter score. Important metrics to be sure, but the ARF is looking to identify when the earliest beginnings of this consumer relationship happen so it can be nurtured and grown.

Coincidentally, Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ presentation and contribution to the ARF’s “meaning of engagement” white paper last March specifically detailed engagement in context of media, advertising and the brand. (Why isn’t this white paper freely downloadable somewhere? I have a few highlights of our contribution here.) In hindsight, the shortfall of these dimensions of engagement, on their own, is that they are centric to everyone in the marketing equation except for the customer. This is a catastrophic omission in a world where consumer response to commercial messages is falling and aversion is skyrocketing. Seriously! What good are media, advertising and brands without the consumer agenda represented? There is strong lip service paid to engagement, but left out is the consumer, the party that enables all the others to exist in the first place.

Reflecting this fact, Jim offers three ideas for advertisers:

  • Everything we know about advertising is wrong. Well, maybe not everything, but Dr. Plummer did effectively shoot down the "AIDA" model of advertising, in which the sequence of communication is assumed to start with getting the consumer’s Attention, giving them reasons that will stimulate Interest, which turns into Desire, and eventually results in Action (i.e. purchase). "Recent research shows this model is wrong," Plummer said. I know that as a direct marketer, I was raised on this model and I suspect direct and interactive marketers still are.
  • Engagement is a new mental model for advertising. Instead, consumers process a lot of new information, including ads, on a subconscious, emotional level first, and later engage their rational mind to lead to action. He noted that research has shown that measures of "brand feeling" are much more highly correlated to purchase intent than ad recall. So instead of a "Think then Feel then Do" process, Plummer stated that consumers Feel, then Think, then Do. In this model, an ad’s job is not to provide compelling, fact-based features and benefits of a product, but to seduce the consumer into beginning that subconscious processing of the brand. "Storytelling is more powerful than argumentation," Plummer concluded.
  • The concept of co-creation exposes this non-rational process. When the consumer "engages" in this subconscious processing, he or she creates associations, affixes symbols, imagines metaphors and imbues experiences into the ad message to give it personal relevance. It all sounds rather obscure, but Gerald Zaltman, a member of Harvard University’s Mind, Brain and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, and originator of "brand co-creation" has a technique to delve into the process. At the Engagement Conference, he showed the results of drawing out these subconscious elements from a Heineken beer ad.

Jim offers a few explanations of how different parts of the media mix should now fit together. But I think his three ideas beg one big question: Are the agendas of media, advertising and brands precisely what are keeping companies from engaging with their customers in the first place? Maybe it is the selfish legacies of these silos which are prohibiting the evolution of more meaningful relationships between companies and their customers? What do you think? 

Check out Jim’s full story here.

(This is a cross-post with Engagement By Engagement.)


Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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