Consumer Engagement, But Not Yet Marriage

How many times have we been asked (or asked ourselves) to come up with a valuation of a minute of a prospect’s time and attention, AKA consumer engagement? Almost all advertising is bought and sold using some version of the metric (cost per person, mostly expressed as CPM) and yet no one seems to have nailed an equation that can reliably be used as a baseline.

How many times have we been asked (or asked ourselves) to come up with a valuation of a minute of a prospect’s time and attention, AKA consumer engagement? Almost all advertising is bought and sold using some version of the metric (cost per person, mostly expressed as CPM) and yet no one seems to have nailed an equation that can reliably be used as a baseline.

It’s not that marketers haven’t tried. The most recent expression was reported in Media Daily News at the end of July. Advertisers and agency executives were researched to determine what they “considered” (perhaps better described as their “best guesses”) on the per-minute value of engaged consumer attention and they came up with $1.81. They even produced a bar graph to add verisimilitude.

consumer engagement chart
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

This didn’t impress one skeptical reader who commented wryly: “With a sample of 300 people AND no hard guidelines as to how anyone in the survey determined ‘value’ other than for a very narrowly-defined universe, this is just cocktail party fodder.”

Even after a couple of martinis, it would be hard to derive much value from this yardstick of consumer attention. As so-called “opt-in” and “rewarded” advertising models — which let the prospect have some free content before “opting-in” through a paywall or some other device to more content — are becoming increasingly fashionable, it is not surprising that marketers are trying to put some metrics in place to value them.

This illuminates the fact that in today’s multimedia marketplace the “value” of a minute or some other measure of someone’s time, and perhaps even more importantly, attention, depends on a basket of variables that will be unique to each prospect or cluster of prospects. If we can discover which ones are critical to the purchasing process and at what point they influence the customer journey, we may have the beginning of metrics which will intelligently inform our marketing actions. The question is how we get there and the answer remains elusive.

First we need to know what we mean by “engaged consumer”? We all have lots of experience with commercial messages (Wendy’s “Where’s the beef,” for example) which can be described as highly “engaging,” because the creative brilliance attracts the attention of viewers. But that attention has no value whatever for say, vegetarians.

How much the marketer would be willing to pay for an engaged customer, someone who has demonstrated interest in the marketed category and hopefully has the resources to purchase, is more to the point? The Lamborghini dealer should be willing to pay quite a bit more for that engaged minute than the corner taco vendor.

In a September column addressing marketing metrics and suggesting that we stop chasing our tails, I tried to put a figure on the real cost of reaching the target audience for an advertiser like Pampers. Using a $25 CPM cost of a TV spot reaching only women and, after eliminating all women who were neither in the last trimester of pregnancy nor had children under two years old, I came up with a ballpark figure of $208 per thousand. In fact, with a normal average viewing frequency of five times, capturing the engagement of each one of those thousand women for 30 seconds should be worth about $1 ((208*5)/1000), twice that for 60 seconds of attention, not far off of that $1.81 guess.

But will the “engagement” lead to a committed relationship, a marriage if you will, of consumer and brand? Certainly, if the prospect can opt-in or be rewarded with truly relevant and valuable content by clicking to visit the advertiser’s website, and the website can elevate interest to purchase, and the product satisfies and stimulates repeat purchase, the investment in getting that initial 60 seconds of attention will have a quantifiable value.

But putting a figure on that value is as likely to be correct as predicting the length and quality of the marriage.

As a friend of mine says, instead of trying to figure it all out in advance, just start dating.