Video: Dr. Joe Plummer On Consumer Engagement

Regurgitating my video work over at Engagement By Engagement, my MediaPost Spin column this week is actually a video interview! I think this is a first for MediaPost. Most important, my interviewee, Joe Plummer, Chief Research Officer of the Advertising Research Foundation, offered some great insights. What do you think? Comment on the Spin blog right here.

Dr. Joe Plummer on Consumer Engagement

by Max Kalehoff, September 29, 2006

To commemorate Advertising Week and one of its top buzzwords–engagement–I’d like to share with you my recent video interview with Dr. Joe Plummer, chief research officer of the Advertising Research Foundation. Beyond a lifetime of contributions to advertising research, Plummer is largely responsible for leading the industry’s efforts to make engagement part of the measurement and planning mix.

Wait, did someone say video? That’s right–I’m bringing you this entire Q&A via video! This discussion with Plummer is part of an ongoing series on Engagement, which I’ve been producing over at Engagement By Engagement, the official video blog of the Consumer Engagement conference, organized by the ARF and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).

To view our short discussion, press the play button on the image below. Alternatively, I’ve included a summary transcript below.

What do you think? Is this interview engaging?

Summary Transcript:

Max Kalehoff: What’s the key issue garnering your attention at the ARF?

Dr. Joe Plummer: The thing that worries me the most is that we’re at a critical juncture and at some risk of losing the invitation by consumers to enter into their lives. If we just keep yelling at them, pushing at them, assuming that tonnage is going to attract them to become customers and ambassadors of the brand, then that whole permission is going to be pulled out from under us. Just like our news programs that end up shouting at each another, we’ve ended up shouting at the consumer to see who can end up shouting the loudest and most often. So we’re at risk of losing that wonderful permission, and we’re taking advantage of consumers wanting to know about brands and services and products. That worries me.

Kalehoff: What’s with the buzzword ‘engagement’? You’ve led several initiatives around it, and even a major conference this week. What’s it all about? Why should we care?

Plummer: I think you should care because engagement starts from the vantage point of the customer–either current or potential. By starting there and thinking about whether they are engaged, how can we engage them, and how can we help them achieve their desires, goals or needs, then the risk of not being invited in goes away because you become more relevant. It’s about providing messages, services and advertising storytelling in a way that resonates.

The chord to engagement is the notion of co-ownership of a brand, where the brand owner is in part the customer. You get there through this act of co-creation. It occurs when messages and a brand idea triggers associations, metaphors and experiences that are already in the person and creates a richer, personal and relevant meaning. You achieve both a bonding relationship and differentiation from other brands–both of which are in service to the customer.

Kalehoff: With so much emphasis on the customer, it would seem that customer service would become a more relevant discussion versus media and paid impressions.

Plummer: I don’t know about the question of more, because there are an awful lot of things where the services opportunity or ability to enhance the brand experience is limited. Take candy bars and everyday products like garbage bags and other things you use at home. But where that’s the case, you’re right. The service and enhancement of the brand experience becomes very important. Take a brand like Red Bull, which has grown greatly. It has a very small percentage of their go-to-market outlay in mass-media advertising. It’s in events, sampling and other ways to connect with the customer at the grassroots level. That gives Red Bull the meaning and creates the brand loyalty and preference that it so strongly enjoys.

And getting new customers also involves both; we’re to the point where it’s not either- or. Even attracting people who’ve never heard of you, it’s got to be a balance between push and pull, and between paid media, service and experiences.

Kalehoff: Where is the advertising business today with respect to engagement?

Plummer: There’s a very clear recognition among most people in marketing and advertising that we’ve got to move beyond just creating brand awareness or purchasing opportunities. I just don’t think there are a lot of people still feeling that’s the name of the game. So we’re moving to things like engagement–thinking about it as a two-way street. People are no longer just thinking of one or two media as the primary carriers of their connections or abilities to attract and retain customers.

There’s a certain amount of convergence on what engagement means. I don’t mean everyone’s bought into our definition of engagement–which is ‘turning on a prospect to a brand idea, enhanced by surrounding context’–but I think we’ve made that idea move.

I think next we’re going to be spending a lot more time finding the right sets of measurements to make sense out of it, and, additionally, how to organize to make it happen. Over time, we’ve created silos of functions and disciplines within organizations, and silos of go-to-market channels. But the silos are a figment of our imagination and historical behavior; they’re not real in the eyes of our customers. Which is why I think early on, when studies were coming in showing that people could be involved in several media at the same time, people said: ‘Oh my gosh, really? I thought their full attention was on whatever it was they were doing?’ Surprise, surprise!

Finally, we’re going to pay a lot more attention to the kind of human insights research that tells us more about what’s important to people. Not just what’s important to us, the advertiser, but what’s really important to people. And then we’ll start to work back the other way. I don’t intend this to be a plug, but this is where the discipline you and others are creating comes into play–understanding what people are talking about, and what they’re passionate about. That is valuable input that you need to pay attention to more and more.

That’s what I see as we go forward.

Comment on the MediaPost blog here.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Join the Conversation


  1. Bravo Max! .. and Joe. Its about time someone just let Joe say what he thinks instead of trying to force him into a box. The fact is that our Engagement project at the arf was about exactly what Joe was talking about – trying to discover ways to measure deeply into the experience that content evokes. You have rightly documented the truth about this: We don't know the answer, but careful, scrupulous, attention to what media experiences mean to an individual will put all of us in a better place. t.

Leave a comment