In an attention starved world why are marketers still failing to incentivise engagement?

Bryan Melmed

In an attention starved world why is our industry still failing to incentivise engagement?: If brands want more attention then the adtech ecosystem needs to incentivise engagement argues Bryan Melmed.

“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass; it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Henry Miller

It would seem that Mr Miller has hit the nail on the head for the conundrum marketers face – how to get customers to focus on their brand?

Engagement, measured by sustained attention, is where the industry is shifting focus to, although it is increasingly hard to achieve and, when it comes, is hard earned. In short – engagement is both one of our industry’s most important goals and its greatest constraint.

Engagement is increasingly difficult for marketers because time seems in increasingly short supply and consumers face a vast (and sometimes bewildering) array of options to spend their time on.

Familiar past-times such as playing golf or even eating cereal are suffering – people simply no longer have the personal bandwidth to play 18 or even 9 holes or linger over food in the morning.

It is not surprising that our average attention span is shrinking and the cost of gaining our attention has gone up by 700 per cent in the last ten years. Combine these trends and the fact that consumers have more control over what ads to see than ever before and the challenge for our industry becomes obvious.

We can start by addressing the problem that our industry has not agreed to even incentivise engagement. Quite the contrary, advertisers still pay for serving ads that no-one notices.

One of the easiest examples to point to are the low-cost, low involvement impressions driven by ‘clickbait’. It is a perfect illustration of how focusing on the wrong incentives have led us down a path to the wrong outcomes.

So where do we go from here?

It’s a cliché, but ‘back to the fundamentals’ is precisely where we must go. We need to better understand what goes into the customer journey – the steps they take from uncertainty to consideration and then to intent.

We must better align ourselves to deliver – and reward – digital advertising appropriate for each stage of the journey. And in the process, we need to be aware that data can only take you so far.

That last point is hard to admit because I consider myself a “data guy” at Exponential. The problem is, we’ve been so captivated by the promise of ‘big data’ that we have often forgotten that it is just one component in an overwhelmingly complex process.

Even if we had perfect data, campaigns would still be inexact and unpredictable. The real question is, how can we best apply the data in trying to capture and retain a consumer’s active attention? For technology partners, it means we need to be incentivised to target well – and not just the right audience, but the right audience at the right time.

For agencies ‘basics’ means returning a focus on creativity. After all, engagement starts with an invitation to explore. Without creativity, attention will always remain elusive. And for publishers, a priority on engagement means creating better and more compelling content, which benefits everyone in the ecosystem.

Creativity, combined with partners that are incentivised to achieve engagement targets can indeed create Miller’s ‘awesome’ and ‘magnificent’ ROI for brands. But it won’t be ‘indescribable’! True engagement will deliver clear, tangible and measurable results to brands that refocus their digital marketing efforts.

  • Bryan Melmed is the VP of insights for Exponential

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