As much as the marketing industry is talking about “consumer generated media”, it’s talking about “engagement”.  The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) put forth a working definition that’s as good a starting point as any:

"Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context."

Problem is, that “brand idea” is most often an advertising idea.  In that way, “engagement” feels like it has been co-opted by the advertising community as a way to protect budgets.  By doing so, they’re suggesting that an advertising idea can change behavior to a much greater extent that it really can.  News flash: Unless you’re talking about direct response, advertising is a means to awareness. 

I posted a similar sentiment in a comment that I left in response to Max Kalehoff’s post about a marketer from Coke and their perspective on engagement.  I agree with the Max and the Coke guy that sales really are the thing.  Max ends the post with this question:

But short of sales, can’t engagement also be hugely important if it ties to a pre-defined business outcome, like a changed attitude, preference or behavior?

Since I’ve had time to think about this since I posted the comment, I can address this question from a different angle.  Specifically, I think the net positive with all of this focus on engagement is that marketers are now getting serious about how to place value on soft measures.  What engagement ultimately speaks to is an attempt to develop an overall integrated measure.  While that may be impossible, it’s also important to shift how marketers judge value for those perceptual and attitudinal measures that help create a holistic picture of how well a campaign is performing.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • Well said. I presume that Google and the larger Internet has had a lot do to with the emphasis on direct response. Engagement may not need to show direct response, but it needs to show itself in greater context to some business result, versus a fuzzy feel-good-o-meter.

  • I agree – looking for metrics to measure engagement is a welcome development.
    Still, engagement always seems to be discussed in the context of big companies (Coke, Nike, etc) when it offers small and medium sized businesses substantial benefits, including low cost.
    Engagement occurs best when a company can demonstrate that its values and passions align with its customers, and frankly, that’s something a small company can do better than a large one.
    I see a lot of other benefits to smaller organizations, but it largely boils down the ability to out-compete a much larger competitor (something that cost factors would prevent in print, direct or broadcast).
    Keep up the discussion!