The Truth about Engagement

This post was originally published on Visionary Excellence, and reposted on InsideFMM.

online engagement UX joseph carrabisIn digital marketing, “engagement” is the golden goose that all brands are seeking. Marketers want to catch and hold the attention of a target demographic and nourish it until individuals are transformed from mildly interested consumers to brand evangelists.

The discipline of neuromarketing takes analytics to whole new level. By pairing analytics data with a scientific analysis of consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive and affective functions, marketers can determine their level of emotional engagement with a website. Traditional neuromarketing uses MRI, EEG and SST to measure a consumer’s biometric response to certain subject matter. Next Stage Evolution, a New Hampshire-based company, has recently expanded their patented method of analyzing user behavior using measurable, easily-collected data from a website. They measure extremely subtle behaviors, such as the speed with which users click away from pages and the length of time a cursor hovers over a word. This cutting edge, remotely-measureable technology has the potential to take personalized marketing to an entirely new level.

Joseph Carrabis, chief research officer at The Next Stage Evolution, talked with Visionary Excellence about the nature of engagement, the future of analytics and how to develop a knowledge base about customers that includes not only clicks and bounce rate, but also passion, fear, disgust and love.

VE: How do scientists measure online engagement?

JC: Engagement is the focusing of attention. Some people are extremely arachnophobic. When they see a small spider, they are engaged—all of their neural resources are active, sometimes so active that they will go into shock. That’s s an extreme example of engagement. Then you have the young man who sees an attractive woman and wants to talk to her. That person is also extremely engaged, but in a positive way.

online engagement UX joseph carrabis

The act of engagement—neurophysical response—can be measured. We can tell when someone is in a flight response because they click away from a page very quickly. But are they clicking away because they are offended or because they are drawn toward the product? We can tell when someone is engaged—the finesse is identifying whether or not the engagement is positive or negative. If we recognize that someone is engaged and they purchase, that’s positive engagement. If we see that someone is strongly engaged and they bounce very quickly, then we can say they are negatively engaged.

Right now as we are talking, I am engaged, and I am listening to the sounds you are making–when you are typing and when you stop, the way you are breathing, etc. and the sounds tell me how engaged you are. Cicadic movement—how the eye moves when it is reading can also tell us when someone is engaged.

A constant state of engagement is exhausting. The brain gets depleted fairly rapidly. We’ve done lots of research on game playing. Gamers are not physically active, but have to stop because they get mentally tired. When brain fatigues, engagement stops. Yet even though engagement stops at one moment, processing about the experience goes deeper into the brain into long term memory. If I remember what engaged me, do I remember why I was engaged? If I remember what happened, if I have a positive memory, I will re-engage in the future. For example, when my wife and I traveled in Scotland, we ate in a fantastic inn, The Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye, Scotland. The experience of eating there was so pleasant, that it has been stored deep in our long-term memories, and if we ever have the chance to re-engage, we will.

VE: How do you measure online engagement remotely?

JC: Currently, we’re trying to define what it means when someone “loves” something online–what are the psychological markers, and how can we evaluate them in real time. This will enable people who own online properties to recognize when someone begins to lose interest, and then, ideally, adjust the user experience to re-engage on that website.

online engagement ux joseph carrabisWhen The Next Stage evaluates user experience on we website, we simply put tags on the bottom of all site pages, Then information is gathered and sent back to our servers. Calculations are done on Next Stage servers, then the information goes back to the client, who makes a decision based on the data. Over the 10+ years we’ve been doing this, we can just look at a site and tell you what works and what doesn’t for UX. A lot of it comes down to the audience. Things that work well for older demographic won’t work well for a younger demographic, including color, design and functionality.

The tag that we place on the page collects mouse activity. It can tell page you are on, knows how you are navigating. We’ve known about this since the late 1990s, and the equation is very a+b=c. What does the site page have? What is person’s activity? What happens on that page? We answer these questions using data that we collect on their websits, and even emotional engagement becomes a very specific mathematical equations – how will a person behave on a site. How emotional? What parts of amygdala are activated? How the person on the page is navigating?

If the result is not what you want, then you have to make the decision. Do you redesign site? If we know who someone’s audience is—say 19-20 year old males and females–we know that certain languages work well, certain layouts and can make suggestions before we even insert the tags and collect the data.

VE: Do you see a difference between what people say they think and how they behave? 

JC: All the time. We have a tool that we designed years back for a client. Before onine surveys, a client did their own corporate research. The responses they were getting were not in keeping with their sales. We wanted to find out if people were fabricating responses when they were online. We developed something that we called the “Veritas Gague,” which helps us determine whether or not visitors responding truthfully. Are they threatened on the site? The first company that we designed the tool for was an insurance company. Amazed at the number of people who embellish. A lot of people are generous with their information, they make themselves taller, healthier, double their annual incomes.

VE: What do you see as the future of online marketing?

JC: Online experiences are getting more and more personal. If you want to go out for dinner and you go online for recommendations for new restaurants, you read comments section because you want to hear what real people say. A few years ago, you never saw product reviews from individuals on big websites. I believe the key to engagement is one-on-one, active community managers and personal interactions. When you’re looking at the user reviews, you’re looking for a human element.

There are three levels of intimacy for the human connections that people have online. The first circle of intimacy represents actual human friends; the second level is people you know; and the third level represents people you have met but you don’t know who they are. How does this play psychoemotively? It’s important because the only people who can hurt us are the people in our first circle, because they are the ones we make ourselves vulnerable to. We can only be emotional distressed or pleased by these intimate contacts, not by peripheral contacts.

This is one of the reasons that social shopping is such a compelling way to engage customers. In 2005, we had a geny e-tailer as a client. We said, “Why don’t you create a social shopping cart?” Most Gen Y shoppers go shopping together, so sharing what they purchase online with their inner circle of friends has an emotional benefit–they care more about purchases when they are able to share them with friends.

What do you believe is the best method for measuring emotional engagement online? How do you feel about website collecting this type of data about you?

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