5 Tips for Improving the Ad Engagement Cycle

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Sid Bhatt, CEO, Aarki Inc.
Sid Bhatt, CEO, Aarki Inc.

Advertisers and marketers often use engagement as a method of measuring the effectiveness of an interactive ad, and yet no one has defined what engagement really means. Is it click-through rates or time spent on your ad? How does an advertiser know that his ad is truly capturing viewer interest? And what does it even look like when a consumer interacts with content across multiple screens throughout the day?

In today's multichannel and multiscreen world, it's clear that defining engagement is a complicated endeavor. That's because engagement needs definition by channel, device, and for the holistic needs of each campaign. For an interactive mini-game within a mobile ad, engagement may be defined by how much time a person spent playing the game, their score, and social shares; for an interactive video ad, engagement may be defined by segmenting views by quartiles, starts, stops, and replays. By looking through the lens of an engagement-focused advertising funnel that focuses on the viewer's path, there are five ways advertisers and marketers can help define and improve the ad engagement cycle. This ensures that publishers and brands can create better advertisements for consumers and increase advertising ROI.

Remove barriers to ad entry

The advertising industry has experimented with different features based on interactivity as part of mobile platforms (e.g., swipes and shakes) to get people to enter an ad experience. The best thing marketers can do is lower the barrier to entry; make the entry point of an ad tappable or clickable. Also, a more straightforward point of entry renders better results than a more complicated version.

Focus on relevant creative enticement

Getting a user to want to interact with an ad is the real challenge. Achieving this requires a strong focus on creative enticement; going beyond the typical display or even animated banner and taking advantage of everything interactive media has to offer when it comes to animations, depth-of-view creative like parallax visuals, and other attention-grabbing experiences.

One word of caution: Ads shouldn't annoy, disrupt, or badger the user like they did in the days of desktop flash ads with “throw the pie at the clown” gimmicks. Creative enticement needs to provide relevancy, intrigue, and beauty. Creative types understand this. Visuals need not literally leap from the screen, but they should be relevant to the product or service being advertised.

For example, let's look to cosmetics company Lancôme. It often uses enthralling images to highlight the benefits of using one of its products, whether that's showing a pair of radiant blue eyes or a smooth-skinned and blemish-free face—its creative matches the theme of each of its products.

Tell stories

Studies about visual interest show that once a user is interested in an ad you have about three to five seconds to capture her attention. Once captured, this is where engagement-focused creative—in other words, storytelling—comes in handy. By focusing on telling a story and making entry point creative lead naturally to the next part of an ad, advertisers give viewers a sense of resolution to an ad experience. One area we've seen as being the most successful with engagement-focused creative is with mini-game ads. Our internal data shows that mini-games achieve up to 22.5 times better performance over traditional banner ads because ultimately a game is a mini-story—user faces a problem, is given the opportunity to overcome it, and receives resolution at the end.

Another angle is to make the content more native and integrated within a publisher's content—whether that's part of the overall mechanics of the property or blended within existing content. Companies like Zynga do this well with games like Words With Friends, where its gives users the same game experience within a branded ad unit, so to the user it feels just like playing the actual game. The biggest factor to consider is that about 40% of users, according to a study by Prestige Marketing, actually enter an ad experience because it either intrigues them or it shows them something they were already interested in, which is where the engagement lifecycle truly begins.

Agree on when engagement begins and ends

Mini-games also offer a great example and metaphor for understanding engagement. Clicking through to the game experience is like hitting the start button on the controller. It merely starts the experience but it certainly doesn't define it.

It's the systematic use of the ad experience that does. Playing a mini-game ad to a certain point and then exiting is part of that equation, but so is finishing the game, replaying it to get a better score, and sharing your score on social networks. That means advertisers need to agree on when engagement begins and ends based on the needs of the campaign and understand the optimal creative path throughout the ad experience to achieve higher quality engagement.

Quantify the level of engagement

This is why defining and measuring user interactions is critical, and why any interactive advertisement needs to have built-in tracking and connection points that provide a key to understanding the difference between minimal engagement, moderate engagement, and complete engagement. We recommend that advertisers evaluate engagement metrics like actual time spent, interactions, and related connection points within the ad unit across all screens to uncover areas of user frustration or drop off, and improve the experience in real-time if it's discovered that users aren't converting at the desired rate.

Our experience shows us that engagement goes beyond time spent, click-through rates, and conversion rates; engagement is a quality score—a multilayered and complex. It's not a one-size-fits-all measurement. Engagement is an approach to understanding user behavior in the ever-changing, ever-evolving interactive, multichannel, multiscreen, smartly personalized world. And it's time for the advertising world to find solutions that help creative marketers build digital ads that allow for engaging experiences with ease and that provide deep and meaningful measurement to increase advertising ROI, whether that's on a mobile device, tablet, desktop, or connected TV.

Sid Bhatt is CEO for Aarki Inc.

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