- Consumers are skeptical and wary of traditional marketing methods.
- Engagement marketing builds loyalty, trust, and repeat customers.
- Impressions should be measured by more than just brand awareness.
- Not all impressions are created equal.
What is Engagement Marketing?
Engagement marketing can be defined as using strategic content or brand messaging to educate, spark meaningful conversation, and mobilize key audiences. It’s the opposite of interruption marketing and focuses on directly engaging consumers to build brand advocates through trust and meaningful relationship building.
First, let’s take a few steps back. In simplest terms, marketing is all the activities involved with making people aware of a company’s products or services. It sounds simple enough, but in the world of 21st-century marketing, there are nearly limitless ways to create visibility for a brand.
Traditional marketing channels like print and television continue to thrive, but most marketing teams have shifted toward more targeted and sophisticated techniques for creating brand awareness online. This shift is due to consumer attention, and their power to shape who and what they decide to consume. Information is abundant, attention is not.
Digital marketing allows brands to create impressions via social media, banner display advertising, video pre-roll ads, search engine marketing, affiliate blogger campaigns, and content sponsorships. Some savvy startups have found wild success with branded viral content creating millions of impressions.
With so many tools at their disposal, marketers today shouldn’t have any trouble creating impressions or engineering awareness for their products and services. But, is awareness enough?
Why Awareness Is Not Enough
With such an abundance of tools and channels for creating brand awareness comes an increasingly competitive race for the attention of valuable consumers. Is it enough to simply make consumers aware of a brand, or should marketers demand more from the impressions they work so hard (and spend so much) to create?
Are all impressions created equal, or are some types of impressions more valuable than the rest? In a hyper-competitive market that targets an increasingly educated consumer, marketers today need to think beyond awareness and start thinking about influence and engagement when it comes to brand impressions.
How can a marketer compare impressions in order to evaluate their potential influence over a consumer? Let’s start by breaking out three important factors of impressions:
- Purchase intent
A truly impactful impression shouldn’t only create awareness; it should breed consumer trust, positively affect the consumer’s sentiment toward the brand, and ultimately influence the consumer to consider purchasing from the brand in the future.
This may seem like a tall order, but there’s one fast-growing marketing niche that promises to deliver just that powerful of an impression for the brands that are willing to put in the work: engagement marketing.
Engagement marketing involves the initiation of one-to-one dialogue between targeted, relevant influencers or industry experts and brands. This conversation then lays the groundwork for building a mutually valuable relationship that results in natural placements of brand-generated content on the influencer’s web properties or social media profiles. For the brand, this translates into authentic, earned visibility.
These placements create organic brand impressions among that influencer’s dedicated following. In other words, success is achieved when people who have significant influence over large groups of consumers publicly advocate for a brand in a non-sponsored way, creating immensely powerful brand impressions in highly relevant online communities.
Engagement Marketing and Trust
Let’s revisit the first of our qualitative factors: trust. What makes an impression created through engagement marketing more trustworthy than any other type of impression? First and foremost, it is earned, not purchased.
Consumer skepticism toward advertising is a phenomenon that has been studied since as early as the 1960s. Studies have shown that as much as 70% of the population believes that traditional advertising hoodwinks consumers, and those same studies found most consumers believe FTC regulations intended to legitimize ad campaigns do little to affect the credibility of their claims.
In short, consumers are smart, they’re getting smarter, and they simply don’t trust interruptive ads because they believe they’re manipulative and deceptive, which begs the question: what are the impressions from paid channels actually doing for your brand?
The consumer of today is educated and skeptical of advertising messages, and they rely on the word of their trusted networks far more than the information brands pay to put in front of them.
Conversely, a 2012 Nielsen study found that 92% of consumers “trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.” That number represents an increase of 18% since 2007, indicating that consumers are relying more and more on recommendations from those they trust when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
Digital Engagement Marketing
This is nothing new to marketers who have always known that word-of-mouth marketing is the gold standard in creating new customers. The problem with word of mouth is that it’s not scalable and can be difficult to engineer. However, with digital engagement marketing, brands can now bring the concept of word of mouth online to amplify their reach.
Furthermore, recent studies show that consumers now trust the opinions of digital influencers nearly as much as they trust their own friends and family. By building a genuine relationship between a brand and an individual with a strong, influential online presence, marketers can create impressions and deliver brand messages that consumers trust wholeheartedly.
Now, before you go thinking that it would be much easier to simply pay these influencers for their endorsement of your brand, you should know that consumers recognize the difference between sponsored and earned brand placements, and have some strong opinions about the former. The same 2012 Nielsen study found that 67% of consumers felt deceived upon realizing that a piece of content was sponsored by a brand, and 54% of consumers stated outright that they do not trust sponsored content at all.
Engagement Marketing and Sentiment
Let’s dive into the next factor of impression quality: sentiment. Common sense says that consumers will be more likely to buy from a brand they like. Likability is an important factor when it comes to a consumer’s decision to make a purchase.
A psychological study of likability in advertising found that likability as a brand attribute enhances a brand’s credibility and allows consumers to more readily store and recall information about the brand. Another study measuring the effectiveness of online sharing found that sharing content online is “intuitively a net positive action, and it evokes a positive emotional response.”
Essentially, the more people engage with and share a brand’s content or content inclusive of a brand, the more likable that brand will become. The same study found that positive online shares create a 9.5% increase in purchase intent among the consumers of that content.
It’s pretty clear then that sentiment is an important factor in measuring the impact of an impression, but does engagement marketing have a stronger impact on brand sentiment than a traditional advertisement or even sponsored content?
The very effectiveness of engagement marketing relies on a brand’s ability to positively connect with influencers they engage with, to the point where the influencer is compelled to share the brand’s message with their followers organically.
Therefore, each impression created is typically surrounded by positive sentiment toward the brand, which is absorbed by the consumers of that content and often reflected in their own affinity toward that brand going forward.
Engagement Marketing Example
Below are some examples of comments from consumers who read a piece of content published by an influencer featuring a brand placement for a retail home goods store.
Their comments clearly demonstrate a positive affinity toward the featured brand that’s been reinforced and amplified by the influencer’s post. This particular article received 23 comments, was shared on social media 196 times, and resulted in 41K brand impressions.
When these placements are published by authors who are considered “experts” within their online community, their impact on brand affinity is even greater. Another Neilsen study conducted in 2014 found that expert content lifts brand affinity 50% more than branded content (content distributed directly from a brand), and 20% more than supplemental user generated content, e.g. consumer reviews.
Getting Consumers to Click “Buy”
Ultimately, the goal of any marketing campaign is to increase sales. So how do engagement marketing impressions stack up when it comes to their influence on a consumer’s decision to make a purchase? As it turns out, unsponsored endorsements from online influencers are extremely influential on consumer purchasing decisions.
In that same 2014 Nielsen study, 67% of consumers agreed they were more likely to purchase from a brand that was recommended by just such an influencer. 85% of consumers surveyed said they regularly seek out trusted expert content — such as credible, unsponsored third party articles — when considering a purchase. When compared to branded content, third party content was found to lift purchase intent 30% more, and 83% more than user-generated reviews.
This level of influence over consumer purchasing decisions is unprecedented and explains why marketers are making engagement and influencer marketing a growing portion of their holistic marketing strategies.
A poll of marketing professionals conducted by Tomoson found that influencer/engagement marketing is the fastest growing channel, outpacing both organic search and email marketing, and was selected as the most cost-effective method for online customer acquisition. The study found that businesses leveraging engagement marketing are making on average $6.50 for every $1 spent, with the top 13% earning $20 or more. 70% are doubling their investment with at least $2 in ROI.
Why Engagement Marketing Impressions Are Better
Not all impressions are created equal. With thoughtful, engagement marketing strategies, brands can potentially get more value out of a handful of the right impressions than they can out of millions of the traditional ad or PR impressions of the past.
The consumer of today is educated and skeptical of advertising messages, and they rely on the word of their trusted networks far more than the information brands pay to put in front of them. In order to shape the perception of brands in such a hostile marketplace, marketers need to put in the work to win over the influencers who shape public opinion. Engagement marketing campaigns effectively accomplish this.
The internet provides a platform for influencers to share their messages more widely than ever before, and consumers are using that access to become more informed and opinionated than they ever have been when it comes to their purchasing decisions. Businesses who fail to recognize the importance of the opportunity in this purchasing cycle shift, and their relationships with digital influencers will certainly be left in the dust by their savvier competitors.