Tune up engagement marketing


crystal-ball.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Engagement is the hot topic at any interactive marketing gathering these days.

We want to know how to do it, how to measure it, and how to get the highest return on our investment in it. Increasingly, engagement marketing, and therefore interactive marketing, is at the heart of an integrated marketing strategy. Engagement, however, is not an event—a singular moment during which the stars align and the brand and consumer become one—nor is it the ultimate goal of a marketing program.

Engagement is better thought of as a cycle, a series of touchpoints designed to create engagement with a brand in order to drive a purchase over and over again, each time in a more meaningful and valuable way to both brand and consumer. Too often, we marketers focus on the sexy, creative part of the process and lose sight of the bottom line.

The touchpoints of an engagement cycle can be described as awareness, recruitment, engagement, motivation and purchase (or Action). Throughout the cycle, marketers must measure and learn in order to add value to the next turn through the cycle.

Promotions play a prominent role in the engagement cycle and in integrated marketing campaigns because they excel at moving consumers from one touchpoint to the next, and they offer ample opportunity for direct measurement and learning. They further key brand marketing goals: identify customers, segment customers, learn about the segments, tailor products based on feedback, and target differentiated products appropriately.

What’s new about an online engagement cycle? What distinguishes it from traditional advertising or promotion? Two key elements: it can create true two-way conversations on a mass scale and it can provide real value to both parties.

These elements have been possible but impractical in the past; focus groups and surveys provided proxies for actual engagement on a broad scale. The Internet makes real one-to-one engagement possible today, and while the focal point of promotional engagement (and “integrated marketing”) is often an offline purchase, it is increasingly rare not to include an online component, to create conversations on a large scale.


The first task of any marketing program is to make the consumer aware of its existence. Promotions are designed to grab attention. One of the recurring themes in marketing today is breaking through the clutter. Where advertising tries to create impressions, change attitudes, and tap into emotions, promotions have far more specific consumer actions in mind, and therefore have more freedom to do whatever it takes to grab attention. Interactive marketing is often more promotion-oriented than advertising-oriented.

Increasingly, we use the metrics of promotions—success in inducing a specific action—to measure its effectiveness. In a recent survey Coupons, Inc. conducted among consumers who had ever printed an online coupon, 64% said they were more likely to click on an ad banner or a search listing if they saw a coupon being offered. And 73% said they were more likely to open an email if they knew a coupon was being offered. In order to drive the engagement cycle, consumers must choose to participate—soft “impressions” don’t count—and therefore promotions that generate significant lift in awareness are an important tactic.


The fundamental element of successful recruitment is a demonstration of the value in the proposed interaction. A value exchange. Do this, get that. Take that, give this. Join the Army and See the World. Follow me, I’ll lead you to food. Listen to me, you might learn something. Or for us coupon folks, tell me your story, I’ll pay you.

Money is easy, straightforward, and effective, but there are other valuable currencies that work equally well or better for a certain group of people. Rewards and points programs, sweepstakes and contests, even a little bit of fame or recognition goes a long way. Today we’re seeing the creation of entirely virtual forms of value; in worlds like Second Life and Gaia Online and social networks like Facebook, virtual objects represent value to participants.

Of course, the key to any value exchange is that the value to the consumer of the thing offered has to be equal to or greater than that of the thing desired from them. So obviously increasing the face value of the offer is going to make it a more effective recruiting tool. In the Coupons, Inc. study cited above, we found that there were significant differences between the information someone would provide in exchange for a $1 coupon vs. a $2 coupon. Bumping up that value made it 68% more likely that a consumer would provide their postal address, for example.

The ability to increase the relevancy of an offer to an individual consumer, thus increasing its perceived value to that individual, is the subject of a lot of attention across our industry. It becomes particularly critical for promotions because relevancy is directly connected to perceived value. Also, the sooner value is demonstrated after creating awareness, the more efficient the tactic, and so everything about how you present an offer to the consumer is important; how it looks, the words you use—the entire user experience counts.

Finally, be careful to present the offer and its value fairly during the recruitment phase. If the consumer finds out after the value exchange that what they thought was valuable can’t be used, that it is actually far less valuable than they thought, not only do they lose any motivation to complete the purchase, they feel cheated. They’re not likely to accept that thing again, or re-engage with the brand. Keep it real.


Online engagement can be active or passive. You get awards for creative, active engagement: turning 7-Elevens into Kwik-E Marts to create engagement with the Simpsons brand. Getting millions of people to make some guy in a chicken suit do stuff on a webcam. Creating a brand website where consumers can fling meatballs at the lunch-lady as my friends at General Mills did last year.

The best engagement programs, however, allow consumers to demonstrate interest in the product and intent to purchase, and help segment and differentiate consumers. When you offer printable coupons on a brand website, for example, the coupon creates awareness, provides value to help recruit, and the act of printing the coupon demonstrates interest in and intent to purchase the product, and including that in the engagement experience is an efficient way to differentiate and segment visitors.

There is also passive engagement, and that’s an area where work-a-day promotions really excel. A promotion may touch 100,000 consumers, helping to start all those little conversations, but it can also deliver 100,000 stories about the engagement. When you run the right promotion to engage consumers you can tell your clients where you found them, what they were doing at the time, what got their attention, how they are the same or different from each other, what else they like to buy and how often, and more.

The metadata around engagement provides demographic, contextual, and behavioral data to your clients. As marketers you can provide context, measurement, and learning around the engagement, and in doing so, make yourself indispensable.

Next week I’ll talk about the “back half” of the engagement cycle, motivation and purchase.

— Express your opinion, comment below.


  1. One of the most intelligent synopsises of the digital advertising space I have read in a long time. Thank you.

    The only constructive comment would be in the concept of a “brand website”. It is this floor in our thinking that causes all advertising to be taking the consumer somewhere to have fulfilment of the experience. Other media seeks engage the consumer where they are on the display device they are in front of, yet digital expects a transitionary path to no-man’s-land which is counter-culture to consumer wishes, and proven by appalling CTR.

    I wouldn’t build a car showroom in middle of dessert and then think afterwards how do I get people there? I build a showroom on the high street… It is location, location, location!!

    We have got to get better at delivering brand messages, changing mindsets, producing conversions in situation on a page against the content where the user is.

    And that means agencies have got to get out of mindset of making money building micro sites that few ever visit and instead utilise their creativity and budgets in building experiences where the people are.


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