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Using "Engagement" as a Media Planning Metric

Rules of Engagement

Man ReadingIn selling advertising, publishers often promote as a key benefit the value of engagement. This term is understood to mean the quality of a consumer’s experience of a publication, with the clear implication that the greater the engagement, the greater the value to the advertiser in terms of ad performance.

AdAge.com recently reported on research that discounts this conventional wisdom (“Study Rebuts ‘Engagement’ Assumptions,” AdAge.com, May 22, 2006). The article cites a Starch Communications Research study that found no correlation between in the percentage of readers who remembered ads and a publication’s degree of engagement. The study categorized 25 different magazines as high-, low-, and medium-engagement based on the frequency with which they are read, the time spent with each issue, and how much of each issue gets finished.

This finding raises several important questions, not the least of which is whether recall alone indicates ad performance. Who remembers the ads? Are they qualified prospects? Do they buy? Do they have money? Does the recall translate into action?

The AdAge article quotes publishers and media buyers who say that “engagement is more complex than the study acknowledges” and also cites efforts by industry groups to validate engagement as a planning metric. I look forward to their results. In the meantime, I’ll offer my view of engagement, which I appraise not in terms of a static metric such as ad recall, but in terms of value delivered throughout a consumer conversion process. I segment this process into four steps:

  1. Identification of the target consumer. Engagement begins with attracting likely buyers. Does a more engaging publication attract a more qualified consumer? Does it reach prospects who buy in categories related to the content? Are those prospects more active and more powerful buyers?
  2. Acceptance by the consumer of the publication. After being identified as more likely buyers (by virtue of their interest in the content), consumers can accept or reject the publication. An engaging publication is one that responds to specific consumer needs in a substantive way. Does the target consumer open and read it or throw it in the trash (or click away)?
  3. Reliance on the medium for a particular purpose. After accepting a publication, does the consumer use it to find products, improve productivity, or other specialized purpose? Does the content support purchase action in the relevant categories?
  4. Frequency of ad impressions. Does the consumer spend more time reading a publication, refer back to it multiple times, and then more readily accept future delivery?

It seems to me that any study of the value of engagement must consider the entire conversion process as each step represents refinement and added value. A more engaging publication implies a better targeted and more qualified prospect, a higher percentage of issues opened and read, a more supportive editorial environment for purchasing in relevant categories, and greater frequency of ad impressions. Attempting to isolate the value of engagement at one step misses the forest for the trees.END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc. and editor of BrandMagnet.