Engagement is one of those words. Go to any media conference and someone will be speaking with unshakeable confidence about just how important it is in modern media.

We’ve certainly moved beyond the time when a click was the defining action of advertising, when as a Time article from last year says,  we confused what people clicked on for what they read and mistook sharing for reading. But ask someone how to define engagement, or better still measure it, and the conversation quickly becomes a little less assured.

“Our commercial model depends on connecting brands to our audiences,” says Piers North, Strategy Director at Trinity Mirror Solutions. “The question we challenge ourselves with every day, is how we do that best for the 17 million people who visit us across desktop and mobile. The reality is, engagement for brands comes in many forms, from engagement through creativity in our content marketing efforts through to a performance metric on a programmatic basis.”

Prash Naidu, Co-Founder & CEO of ad-tech firm Rezonence, agrees. “Users can engage in many ways. This makes it really hard to define.” The lack of definition and metrics led Rezonence to focus on attributable customer interactions as a clear measure for engagement in its FreeWall® ad-creation and distribution system.

“If I’m giving a presentation and I ask the audience to put their hands up if they agree engagement is the future, there will be a spectrum of responses. Some people will put their hands up; some who agree won’t bother; some just simply won’t have been paying attention. Only those that put their hands up offer proven engagement,” explains Naidu.

This is the principle that underpins the FreeWall® system, designed to deliver evidence that an ad has been deployed, seen, understood and remembered. The FreeWall® technology rests on a deceptively simple Q&A technique, granting readers access to premium content in return for answering questions that build a meaningful, and measurable, brand experience.

The ask-and-answer approach sets an attributable point of action, with the marketing message no longer buried in an unread banner ad, but becoming something rewarding, requiring a degree of involvement and focus. Rezonence Co-Founder Rowly Bourne, says this has long been a problem in advertising. “Marketers commonly state that they know half their budget worked, they just don’t know which half.  FreeWall® provides evidence that is lacking elsewhere.”

The Q&A technique has the additional benefit of increasing audience recall. Naidu says the key components of advertising are reach plus education and FreeWall® brings a system of active recall to advertising. “Cognitive science says active recall is the best way to learn, it’s the basis of our education system, learning through repetition, through doing. I can’t effectively learn tennis by watching people play tennis, but I can learn it by actively playing.”

Rezonence has gradually grown its publisher network and now covers 55 percent of the UK through companies including The Telegraph, Haymarket, Johnston Press and City AM.

The business looks at media owners as strategic clients. “Our publishers are selling FreeWall® as part of their offering. We work with them to optimise engagement,” says Naidu. “Use FreeWall® and you’ll make money; use it in a particular way and you’ll make more money.”

Naidu believes this is a crucial growth strategy for publishers. Traditional commercial strategy relies on audience size and inventory, but the number of people in the audience and the time they spend with media is broadly fixed. People and page views are finite and although traffic can be grown, gaining market share in a competitive field can be expensive and is ultimately finite.

“It costs money to grow an audience, it’s cheaper to increase the engagement of your existing audience and the ROI to the advertiser,” says Naidu. “With FreeWall®, engagement is the key sales metric, not the size of the real estate. We can easily increase engagement from 20 percent to 30 percent through general optimisation, but at the article level, this can go to 80 percent.”

In an internal test conducted by Unilever, FreeWall® ads showed greatly increased recall over more traditional web display. “Very often, digital media simply becomes wallpaper that isn’t noticed,” says Joe Comiskey, eCommerce Innovation and Strategy Manager at Unilever. “Rezonence has found a way to deliver the content in a manner which drives engagement. This means that we can be sure of both awareness and, critically, recall.”

The improvement to advertiser ROI is all about eliminating ad blindness. Naidu talks about a 10-fold increase in effectiveness and although growth of 1,000 percent sounds too good to be true, with CTRs at 0.1 percent, you only need to get up to 1 percent to achieve the increase. “We’re seeing better than that across all campaigns,” says Naidu. “It’s very hard to ignore an ad presented through FreeWall®.”