Engagement: Not as Easy as You Think


If you have been involved with marketing in any capacity in the last 3-5 years, you have likely heard the term “customer engagement” uttered many times. It has become the holy grail of marketing, in some respects more elusive than making sales. After all, transaction marketing can occur in the absence of buyers forming a significant bond or relationship with the seller. However, establishing relationships with customers cannot be achieved without meaningful engagement taking place.

The term engagement is thrown around a lot in marketing circles, so I ask students early on to tell me what they think engagement means. Examples of answers I have heard include “extensive interaction,” “two-way communication,” “committed relationship,” and “ongoing interaction.” Like the concept of engagement applied to personal relationships, customer engagement reflects a situation in which two parties feel they benefit from their interaction/communication/relationship with each other.

Two Types of Engagement

Engagement is not only a hot topic in terms of the quest to achieve it; marketers are also challenged to figure out how to make engagement happen as well as how to measure it. A recent blog post by Tracey Parsons of SME: Digital about social media engagement made an interesting observation: Engagement is not a single-dimension construct. Rather than thinking about engagement, we should consider what type of engagement we want and are achieving. Parsons identifies two types of engagement: 1) passive and 2) active. Passive engagement refers to behaviors such as Likes on Facebook or following on Twitter. It is a metric many brands used to evaluate the impact of their social media efforts. Active engagement reflects a deeper interaction between audience and brand- sharing and commenting being two ways in which active engagement occurs.

Engagement is not Easy

The call to break out engagement into differing levels of interaction is spot on. And, marketers must be careful not to limit their concept of engagement to passive metrics. Passive engagement could also be called easy engagement. Why? It is relatively easy to achieve. But, are we after easy or after creating impact? Here are three concerns related to a focus on easy engagement:

  1. Easy Engagement ≠ Meaningful Engagement – Passive engagement metrics such as audience reach (followers/likes) and likes are of interest to many businesses because they are easy to understand, interpret, and even get. Think about it- How much effort is required for someone to like a business or brand on Facebook? One click will do it.
  2. Easy Engagement ≠ Earned Engagement – Some of the audience reach you build comes with minimal buy in from your community. Heck, you can get “engagement” if we inadvertently click a Like button while going through our feed. That is not engagement; that is an accident! Similarly, engagement can be bought for the price of redeeming a coupon or other offered given in exchange for engaging via a like or follow.
  3. Easy Engagement ≠ Ongoing Engagement – When customer engagement efforts are reduced to transactions (you like me and I will give you something) or outright begging (please like us on Facebook- only 10 away from 1,000), they are short-term tactics that will not achieve long-term goals. Pursuing engagement via easy engagement is like the insecure guy who buys a round of drinks for patrons at a bar. He wins over friends, at least until they get to the bottom of the glass. Then what? The “friendship” is likely over.

Engagement will continue to be a topic for which marketers will have differing views of what it means, how to achieve it, and how to measure it. I am not dismissing the need to achieve easy engagement- you have to start somewhere in relationship building. But, just as becoming aware of a brand after viewing a TV commercial usually does not translate into making sales, achieving passive or easy engagement with your audience will not lead them to remain engaged with you.



Focus on Telling, not Selling in 2014


The new year is a time when many people and organizations establish goals. What accomplishments or improvements do you want to realize in the next twelve months? Some goals are very specific, often accompanied by a quantitatively measurable target and time period (e.g., lose 10 pounds by May 1). Other goals are less refined but provide needed direction. It is the latter type of goal that comes into play when considering how to frame your marketing efforts. I read a very timely article by Daniel Newman, author of The Millennial CEO, titled “2014: The Year of the Brand Influencer.” Newman’s article offers two useful takeaways as we venture in 2014:

1. Influence the Influencers

2. Tell, don’t sell

Market for Influence

Newman laments that traditional mass media communication is largely ineffective for creating desired results (i.e., sales and increased brand equity), yet many firms continue to throw their money at these channels. The attraction of mass media historically has been extensive reach. However, Newman points out that a majority of consumers believe that a smaller, more engaged community is better for creating influence than a larger, less engaged one. In other words, think quality of interactions rather than quantity of exposure when it comes to marketing. An example of a tool that can be used to foster quality interaction is a blog. It is designed for two-way communication, and it is largely free of the restrictions of time and space imposed on paid media placement. Yet, too often we complain that “I don’t have time to blog.” When we say that we are in effect saying “I don’t have time to reach out to customers and leads.” That mindset does not bode well for the long-term health of a business. View interactive channels like blogging and social media as an opportunity to allow others to spread influence on your behalf, not another task on your To Do list.

It’s not about You…

Or at least it is not about your product or company. If your marketing is still focused on features and benefits of your products or how great your company is, resolve that 2014 will be a time to shift focus outward. Use your content marketing and social media tactics to tell customers’ stories. Who are they? What are their problems? Celebrate their victories. Tell their stories. Oh, and if your products play a part in all of these pieces, that will come out. But, we are deflecting attention from us to those we serve. Similarly, tell the stories of your employees, the people who make your organization what it is. Employees that blog, tweet, or otherwise communicate on your behalf put a face on your organization with which customers can identify.

Commit to Influence

Resolve that 2014 be the year your brand becomes more influential. The secret is simple: Be useful. Being influential will come as people recognize the utility and value you offer. In turn, they will advocate on your behalf. But, you will need to commit to investing time and resources to building trust via your communications (esp. using content and social media channels).

May 2014 be your most prosperous year yet.

Build Trust to Build a Following

I see many similarities in social media marketing of 2012 with Internet marketing circa 2000. At the heart of the similarities is a notion among many businesses that they need to have a presence because that is where their customers are. Another similarity I have observed is that many marketers do not have a clue what to do once they get there. “Let’s set up a Facebook page” may be a great idea, but why should anyone other than employees and relatives follow your business? To build a following, you must first build trust with people so that they believe your brand is worth following and justifies their implied endorsement.

A study conducted earlier this year by About.com found that consumers expect transparency from businesses on social media. People want access to user reviews and comments, including ones that do not reflect positively on the company or product. In terms of content, social media marketing should reduce emphasis on sales-oriented messaging. People are not interested in social networking sites becoming one more place where they are bombarded with “buy now” messages. “Like” trumps buy as the desired audience response.

Among findings in the About.com survey concerning liked content:

  • 33% said seeing a like or recommendation from a friend built their trust in a brand
  • 25% said the number of likes a piece of content received influenced brand trust

 Use social media content to build trust, and the sales will follow. The verbs of social media marketing are:

  • Listening
  • Sharing
  • Telling
  • Selling

Manage your social media sites as a place for customers and others to gather around your brand, not as an alternative to paid mass media for delivering sales messages. Do not ignore selling opportunities presented by social media, but those opportunities have to be earned by gaining the trust of your following.

eMarketer – “To Build Trust, Reviews are the Key”

Foursquare Local Updates: Checking In for Checking Out

Businesses find it more challenging than ever these days to get the attention of customers. And, if they are able to get their attention, they are further challenged to create relevant content that is valuable and maintains people’s interest. Location-based social networking site Foursquare has developed an innovation to its service that helps businesses in this regard. It is simple, but the simplicity of the feature is the characteristic that makes it so appealing.

Foursquare has introduced local updates, a feature that lets businesses on Foursquare communicate information to people checking in at stores, restaurants, and other locations on Foursquare. Tips and other information posted by users that have been the core of Foursquare’s concept are being complemented with marketer-delivered information. Examples of how local updates might be used include a restaurant that has new menu items or specials can list them as an update. Or, a minor league baseball team running a discounted ticket promotion for Tuesday night games can communicate it using local updates.

The value of local updates on Foursquare for businesses and users is simplicity. Information is not being communicated through costly advertising – no loud music, celebrity endorsers, or other trappings of media advertising messages are needed. A restaurant analogy used to describe the local updates feature is that it can be used like a sandwich board displaying daily specials. If engaging customers has become the holy grail of marketing, Foursquare’s local updates is a small step toward achieving that quest.

Even if a business is not using Foursquare, it can apply the idea behind local updates, considering whether other channels exist to communicate with customers in a simple, low cost way. Consumers value information; it helps them make more informed decisions. Meet customers where they are, whether it is on Foursquare, other online channels, or offline, by being an information resource for them.

Prediction as the Future of Customer Engagement

Engagement with customers is the Holy Grail pursued by marketers today. Awareness is not enough- quality interactions have gained favor over exposure and repetition as goals of marketing communications. Understanding this trend is easy; how to make customer engagement happen is much more elusive. How can people be persuaded to invest time and interest in your brand?

One solution to the engagement challenge is prediction. No, not marketers predicting buyer behavior using sophisticated modeling techniques. I mean consumers predicting future outcomes, doing it in the form of games. An example of the harnessing the power of prediction as an engagement tool can be found in a game being tested by The Tennessean, a Gannett newspaper. Nashville-based Consensus Point developed Football Futures, a stock market-style game in which players predict outcomes of future events and buy units (with points, not money) based on their level of confidence that the event will occur as predicted.

The goal of Football Futures is to amass points to maximize net worth with the potential to win prizes. Whether it is whether LSU or Alabama will win the BCS Championship Game, Norv Turner will be fired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, or Tim Tebow will win more games as a starting QB than Cam Newton, Football Futures enables players to express their views and potentially parlay their opinions into prizes.

If there is one thing for which there is no shortage where sports are concerned, it is opinions about what should or will happen. Football Futures gives players an outlet to have a voice in the discussions that surround sporting events and stories. More importantly for The Tennessean, it draws people to its website and encourages them to spend time engaged with the site. The possibilities for using prediction-style games to engage consumers seem limitless. Politics, popular culture, and other sports are obvious prospects for themes for other games like Football Futures down the road.

Engagement does not occur because a marketer wishes it; people must be willing to commit to interaction. What better way to invite engagement than to ask the simple question “What do you think?” As we move toward the fresh start of a new year, it is a timely reminder that marketing relationships must be customer-centered. The voice of the customer must be heard, and it is up to marketers to provide platforms for making it possible.