Engagement All Grown Up: 5 Reasons to Re-Evaluate this KPI

By Scott Clark, Innovid

After spending decades trying to quantify "Engagement" as a KPI, brands and advertisers have all but cast it off-just as unceremoniously as they did other "fluffy" KPIs like awareness and positive brand sentiment. But 2016 promises to be the year that Engagement goes mainstream. 

Engagement has morphed from something seemingly abstract into something that advertisers can now feel and touch. And that's exactly what it is: a click, a download, social sharing, game playing, quiz taking, sign-ups, purchases, view mores and any other direct, voluntary interactions with your ad. 

So while in the past engagement wasn't seen as a useful KPI because it just meant...engagement, which was too abstract, engagement is now concrete and quantifiable because it is directly responsible for a host of tangible outcomes: Knowledge about the customer (data), confirmation that an ad has been viewed (viewability), more time with the customer (time earned), and a significantly decreased amount of time between customer awareness and action (flattened purchase path)-including real-time buying and downloads (yep, even sales).

Here are five reasons that online, mobile, over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV advertisers should factor engagement into their target KPIs for the New Year.

1. Engagement is the best indicator of viewability 

Viewability and verification continue to be top of mind for advertisers, but how they're measuring it doesn't always tell the whole story.  For instance, brands can currently get confirmation that a certain ad was served to a specific IP address, but how do they know if it was actually viewed or watched? Without including an opportunity for engagement, all this really tells advertisers is that the ad was delivered. For all they know, the ad was delivered and the user was busy looking at the 100 other things on their screen. The ad was delivered and the user turned away to talk to a friend. The ad was delivered and the user got up to grab a sandwich. You get the point.

Inviting viewers to participate with your brand-rather than just broadcasting your ad-with things like added content, quizzes, social media integrations, content downloads or even the opportunity to buy your product right then and there without leaving the ad unit clears up a lot of this confusion. And while there's no guarantee that all viewers will take the bait, you'll certainly know more about the ones who do.

2. Engagement is more powerful than Completion.

When it comes to video ads specifically, "Completion" has traditionally offered advertisers the perception of engagement, but whether the viewer truly engaged with it is only something advertisers can really know if there's something to engage with.

Completion tells us nothing more than the fact that a video played from beginning to end without being stopped. But it's really anyone's guess why a viewer completed it: They liked the content. They hated the content but watched in the same way they'd watch a train wreck. They got a call while it was playing and forgot to stop it... Notice a theme here? Completion rates may give advertisers data but they don't give them answers to the question, "Why?" 

3. Engagement results in Data. Data results in optimization. 

The type of data that's valuable to advertisers is the type that lets them make reliable and actionable conclusions. So whereas relying on Completion Rate as a KPI paints only part of the picture, things like clicks, downloads, sign-ups, game plays and other forms of participation give advertisers knowledge about what resonates with customers as a whole, as well as what speaks to them on an individual level. Advertisers can then use this information to optimize individuals' experiences the next time they "see" them online, tailoring the content they show to them specifically to fit their preferences.

Say, for instance, that a TV network or channel runs a promotional video featuring snippets of footage from several of its most popular shows. As each show preview plays, a button appears prompting the user to "launch the trailer." Depending on what trailer(s) the viewer clicks, the advertiser now knows what show(s) this particular viewer is interested in. So next time, instead of showing an ad with multiple shows again, the advertiser might instead show an ad for the specific show(s) the viewer responded to with a prompt to get alerts when a new episode airs, or-if the user's on a connected device-a prompt to download the channel to their library in just one click. The same can be accomplished with interactive product galleries that showcase an entire product line and let consumers decide which they want to see more of.

4. Engagement gets customers to act-and even buy-in real time.

Advertisers who are still thinking of video as their TV spot blasted around the Internet are not accepting the reality of what people expect: seamless engagement or buying in real-time. Customers are no longer interested in operating on a long timeline; awareness and action must be almost simultaneous. The goal for advertisers should be to make the connection with customers and give them the opportunity to engage or buy in that exact same moment. The way to link a customer's awareness of a product with an opportunity to interact with or buy, of course, is through integrating opportunities for engagement.

A fast food chain advertises for its late-night special...and simultaneously offers a coupon download or map to the nearest location. An app advertisement gives viewers a way to download now rather than leave the ad unit to visit the App Store later. A product ad creates excitement for the item at hand and uses interactive features to offer product details, customer reviews and finally, a Buy Now button that lets audiences take action in the moment.  

5. Engagement means you spend more time with customers and they spend less time with someone else.

What do you do when your audience seemingly knows everything there is to know about your product? You hold their attention and let them interact with the product you're selling in as entertaining and inviting ways as possible with the tools you have.

The goal is to help them get to the buying opportunity quicker. Automobile brands understand this better than anyone else. They know that people want information about the make and model. They want third-party reviews. They want to see, feel and touch the car, which leads to engagement opportunities in the form of realistic virtual tours and even virtual test drives, all taking place directly within a video ad.  

With all of the interaction that's now possible through advertising, engagement is not just a standard KPI that represents what audiences are likely to do, it's a KPI that tells us what they are doing and have done. 

Scott Clark is the VP, head of brand partnerships at Innovid, where he works directly with brand marketers and their creative agencies to maximize their investment in Innovid's advanced creative solutions.