The Death of the Impression & Scaling True Engagement

Just as the advent of social media has triggered sea-changes in the media landscape and roiled  public relations, big advertising has also been affected. Generating impressions is a metric that’s fast falling by the wayside. Instead, advertisers are setting the bar higher.  Generating engagement is now an outcome many are building into their plans, but delivering engagement on a larger scale poses a number of challenges.

A recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review site titled “Coca-Cola Marketing Shifts from Impressions to Expressions” awoke me to this trend and got me thinking about what the implications are all communicators – public relations and otherwise.

“Impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience,” stated author Joe Tripodi, CMO and chief commercial officer for a little company in Atlanta called Coca-Cola. “By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we’re striving to achieve. Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level.”

At last week’s Mashable Connect conference, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer drove the engagement point home, stating, “Advertising impressions are dying a painful death. The impression apocalypse is nigh.”


This new emphasis on developing engagement stands traditional campaign timelines on their heads. Earning attention and engagement happens over time – taking longer than budgets last, as Shafer pointed out – and also outlasting traditional measurement cycles.

Coca-Cola, according to Tripodi, is starting to measure “expressions,” which it defines as any level of consumer interaction with Coke content – such as a Like on Facebook, the action of sharing something with friends, or uploading a photo or video showing or mentioning Coke.   Consumers can generate a lot more messages about a brand than the brand itself can, noted Tripodi.

The mechanics of earning interest, attention and engagement are different from traditional media buying, as well.    “The people who buy breadth aren’t good at buying depth,” Schafer noted.  “Tonnage isn’t engagement. You have to earn depth.”

And thus, the real underlying challenge that the social layer presents to all communicators – the fact that brands need engagement to happen in scale – but the consumer needs to be respected.

In the afore mentioned HBR blog post, Tripodi captured this dichotomy nicely, noting, “Now information flows in many directions, consumer touch points have multiplied, and the old, one-size-fits-all approach has given way to precision marketing and one-to-one communications.”

One-to-one communications – that certainly doesn’t sound like scale.  But one-to-one communications are, in fact, the currency of the social layer.  And the platforms that deliver these one-to-one communications work – Schafer highlighted the fact that Facebook offers better engagement rates than standard display.  And there are some efficiencies to be found in the social layer – the platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Zynga et al do gather audience in one place.   And they are building real power.  Case in point: Facebook, according to Schafer, is delivering 1/3 of all display advertising.

Schafer went on to pose a few questions professional communicators are going to be grappling with over the coming year – if they aren’t already, including:

  • Can agencies who trade in reach and frequency also establish engagement and connections?
  •  How will we measure the lifetime value of engagement?
  • And what are engagement parameters? What makes our customers better customers?

Ultimately, Schafer concluded that we need to start thinking about what each dollar spent in an advertising budget (and I’d throw PR and marketing into that mix, too) contributes to the lifetime value of the customer.  Understanding that value point will be necessary in order to deliver scale.

Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik) is PR Newswire’s vp-social media.

4 responses to “The Death of the Impression & Scaling True Engagement

  1. I really like the thinking of expressions. Impressions are good but they really are only showing you your possible potential. I love how you say that, “Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level”. It makes sense. Get your customer base to actually engage and do something is the key. It is the key in any business even if you are running a drug rehab center you must get your customers to actually do their part and actually do something.

  2. This is a very similar concept that is used at many schools. It is trying to actually get the students to get involved with schooling. The more involved you are in a brand/product/idea/movement the more you will feel connected to it and be a true customer.

  3. Pingback: Advertising Shifts from Impressions to Engagement

  4. Pingback: Marketing In The Participation Age: Getting Found + Driving Action

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