Why engagement is not the same as attention

A few years ago (2011 to be precise) Dave Brennan penned an excellent blog piece discussing the themes of engagement and attention, arguing that they are not the same thing but at the same time, are related to each other.

It's still an ongoing debate, primarily because attention has been pretty easy to measure, but engagement hasn't. In fact, it's been difficult to define engagement full stop, although that hasn't stopped it becoming one of the most overly used and abused words in our industry (I know, I'm guilty).

The debate remains and is even more pressing now than it was in 2011

This is because the average household in Hounslow, the average mum in Manchester and the average teenager on Teesside owns more devices, uses more screens and flip flops from one device to another at an ever expanding rate.

This was one of the clear conclusions from our Living with Future Britain study, a qualitative study of over 200 Britons that we used to observe how people behave with media and technology. In a single one hour period we saw people seamlessly swapping between devices at will.

Yet despite this growth, we are still hampered by a lack of clear definitions, understanding and therefore knowledge of what to measure and how.

It's why we still have charts that show time spent on mobile and money spent on mobile advertising and debate the disparity without thinking about how and why these new and exciting channels work, both in isolation and with other media.

In-home is as big as out-of-home

Television is still big, mobile is growing (as an in-home media as much as out-of-home) and we are using more devices at the same time. This has shifted the equilibrium in the living room, on the commute and in the store. So what does this mean for media planning and strategy?

It places a great emphasis on assessing, and in some cases re-assessing, the role of different media platforms and channels in the media mix.

The great beauty of more omni-channel consumption is the opportunity to create campaigns that are greater than the sum of their parts, but we need to know what the channel is doing and how.

Moving beyond traditional metrics

It also places emphasis on how we measure and evaluate success, way beyond traditional metrics. Clearly, this is dependent on the step above being achieved, but also requires a rethink with regard to established metrics, and an appreciation (and definition) of engagement, and a holistic view that can accurately measure the sum of the parts.

Finally, it forces us to adopt a new mind-set, when it comes to strategy and planning. Given the proliferation of new devices and screens, and with them new consumer behaviours and attitudes, the importance of having robust insight at the heart of every campaign is multiplied.

We need to get beyond the initial lustre of shiny new technology to understanding how and why they are being consumed. And with so many new opportunities a courageous test and learn mentality must be adopted.

Whilst we spend not inconsiderable time trying to define what engagement is, consumer behaviour change is accelerating, and if we don't get to grips with it we risk being left behind.

Chris Worrell is the head of insight at OMD UK

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