Blog post

One Easy Way To Tell What You (Or Your Customers) Really Love

By Martin Kihn | June 26, 2014 | 2 Comments


Digital marketers know it can be blisteringly difficult to measure engagement. “Engagement” is that thing customers and prospects do on (for example) your website or mobile app that is not quite an established success metric – like a sale or submitting a lead form – but is much more than a bounce. Either at the user level or in aggregate, tracking this gossamer glimpse into the visitor’s gourd would be grand.

Why? Engagement is a proxy for interest, which tells us that we’ve got our visitor’s attention. This is a good thing, especially in a multiverse where attention is scarcer than rare earth. Marketers use engagement to track interest over time (How is our product catalogue doing this week versus last week? Last year?) and to compare pieces of content to other content or benchmarks.

There’s a problem, though. (You knew this was coming.) Often it’s not exactly clear how to calculate this elusive metric. Here’s a common example. Consider a person who has visited your brand’s Facebook page (#winning) and your question: How engaged was that person? You would want to see what they did – their actions, or events in analytics-speak. For example, they could:

  • Like a post (or many)
  • Leave a comment
  • Share with their friends

Easy enough. Yet we need to quantify these events, and it is not as easy as counting the instances of each. How do we compare the engagement of a person who hit “like” on a mobile device to that of a person who left a comment? Is a “share” more engaged than a Like?

This is just one example from a portfolio, a plethora, which can all be reduced to the frustrating question: How can a marketer tell from a user’s behavior what they really value? Intuitively, it would seem to me that a “like” on a mobile device is almost trivial, since it’s so easy to do. I “like” dozens of things every day – but am I engaged? A comment would seem to be a more freighted token of esteem. But how much more valuable is it? How do I compare these actions?

Here we get to a simple, universal principle that I think is a good guide for marketers:

  • What we love is what we give time to

Think about it. To the extent we have control over our time (which we don’t, always), what we choose to do indicates what we value. Lacking a more rigorous metric, such as a shopping cart value, this principle can unlock a world of insight. To wheel back to our example above, how can we compare a “like” to a comment? Here’s how:

  • Compare how long it takes to hit “like” to how long it took to write the comment

A rule of thumb I’ve used is a comment is worth about 12 “likes” on average. So there. (I talk about this concept in my Gartner for Marketing Leaders report called “How to Build a Digital Marketing Campaign,” which Gartner clients can find here.)

My advice: Get out your stopwatch. Time different actions. Weight them by time burned. Add them all together. That is a good composite estimate of value. You’re welcome.

(It doesn’t even matter if the comment is positive or negative, by the way. There’s a whole body of advertising research that shows any form of reaction – whether positive or negative – will improve product sales. Hear me now and believe me later: a topic for another day.)

Once I heard this idea, which was shared by a New Age guru on public TV years ago, I started applying it everywhere. It’s addictive. I looked around my own life and realized some truths about myself, just by looking at how I spent my time. Don’t worry, I won’t share them.

There a practical applications for this TIME = VALUE equation for marketers. To take an obvious example, suppose you want to know what the average consumer VALUES when using their smartphone. Using our principle, we will just look at how they spend their quality phone time.

Well, the app advertising and analytics firm Flurry released an analysis last year (based on data from themselves, comScore and NetMarketShare). It broke down how U.S. consumers spend the average 2 hours and 38 minutes per day they are staring at their phones. This is what the sorry picture reveals:

 flurry time use picture

So what do we value (at least during these 188 minutes every day)? Poking little dots and birds around and looking at pictures of my cat, Jerry. We’re not loving self-improvement, people. Actions speak louder than words – and actions can be measured.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Comments are closed


  • Mike Corso says:

    I’ll give a positive spin: only 40% is spent on games/entertainment.

  • Martin Kihn says:

    Yes indeed – and full 2% is spent on news!