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The New Frontier in Engagement

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It’s not rocket science.

- Matt Kowalski, Gravity

Last year I wrote about how page views are dead and the need for new metrics for engagement. But this uncharted territory still requires a lot more navigation. With page views there’s no guarantee, no attention. With engagement, a brand knows that it has taken the conversation a step forward – the user is coming to it. But what does the new world of engagement look like?

We know that consumers have short attention spans online – just eight-seconds for online content (that’s one second less than a goldfish!). So if marketers want to make an impression, it has to be quick. Mobile changes the equation even more radically - there are fewer pixels to work with. The average mobile user reaches for their device more than 150 times a day and mobile has moved beyond just a platform to more of a behaviour - it’s changing the way consumers shop, watch TV, travel and experience content. Times have changed and just last year instant messaging overtook standard text messaging (SMS) for the first time ever.

So of course this means the digital world has evolved significantly from the days of the five standard IAB units where the job of a marketer and their creative agency was a lot more simple. Today, marketers have hundreds of opportunities to make themselves heard but they have to be willing to try new ways to engage consumers and non-traditional ad formats.

This gives advertisers the opportunity to be more creative in getting their message across. It’s no surprise that “snackable” content apps such as Snapchat and Vine really took off in 2013. Brands including Taco Bell, Honda Motor Company’s luxury division Acura and MTV UK have been quick to jump on the “selfie” trend and use these platforms in interesting ways to get attention and really engage audiences.

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Just look at Instagram’s video feature, where we’ve seen big name brands such as Burberry, Ford and Starbucks running some really imaginative campaigns across the platform since it was recently introduced. On Foursquare you’ll find American Express, Red Bull and Gucci exploring new territories in location-based marketing and getting it right.

Of course, all of these platforms are operating in the social sphere where engagement tends to be higher. But even Web pages now have the capabilities to be more innovative. Forget standard leader ad and midpage units. Users are becoming more sophisticated and blind to ad placements on web pages and apps. The digital page is becoming less compartmentalised and it’s the publishers that are thinking outside the box that are able to offer advertisers the engagement levels they desire. Contextual ads, interstitials, in-stream… publishers are allowing brands to play around with endless options.

ReadWrite, for example, takes a completely different approach. It doesn’t look or act like a standard Web page - the user experience always come first. The menus get out of the way and content is the main event. So it makes sense to find the right moment to place an ad without interrupting the flow of the content. Working with Acer and Siemens, ReadWrite was the first site to debut our Adaptive Ads cross-platform solution which instantly adapts to any size device.

And then there’s native advertising - probably most talked about disruptor on the digital advertising scene. Even The New York Times - once strongly opposed to native advertising - announced that it would start selling ‘Paid Posts’ to live within its digital content. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon but why? Because it works. A recent campaign with Lush products on racked up more than 1,100 shares and 80 comments, another for Arbonne with more than 1,700 shares and 32 comments. That’s an engaged audience and it’s every brand advertiser’s dream.

The standard way of working here is going to be more and more challenging as we move forward because of the way pages are built and even more so with mobile ads due to small screen and the lack of adjacency. People want great content, and brands long for engagement in the hope that it will move consumers one step further down the funnel. Engagement is still the Holy Grail of online marketing and the next frontier will be finding that perfect balance between what the consumer wants and what the brand wants.

Paps Shaikh is EU General Manager for Say Media and is based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter at @papscallion

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