The Engagement Experience: Now Engineered by Marketers

  |  December 12, 2011   |  Comments

What if we set a goal for ourselves that every email message or social interaction has the potential to change someone's life?

Engagement may be the most overused word in digital marketing. Contested, perhaps, only by "relevance." Engagement is now recommended, and even required, for every contact with a customer. Consider:

  • Social media. Be engaging or be oh, so yesterday.
  • Email marketing. Be engaging or be deleted.
  • Email deliverability. Be engaging or end up in the junk folder (or worse).
  • SMS marketing. Be engaging or be told, "Stop."
  • Mobile apps. Be engaging or be lost in the clutter of dusty icons.
  • SEM. Be engaging or be found way back on page three results.

What if we turn that engagement idea into something radical? What if we set a goal for ourselves that every email message or every social interaction has the potential to literally change someone's life?

Is it so far-fetched? Imagine that a woman searching online for a great book to read finds a recommendation from a local bookstore. Signs up for the email list. Attends an event. Meets a VP at a company in her space while chatting about books and eating cheese. Gets a new job and a promotion. Buys a nice house and a sports car. Still a loyal customer, she hosts a fabulous dinner party to celebrate the grand re-opening of the renovated bookstore; where someone brings a single guest who seems like a pretty nice guy. Marries him, has babies, nice vacations, plenty of time to read novels, and goes on to discover a cure for cancer.

Really?! Life-changing digital marketing?! That feels a little Zen, don't you think?

Yet, I think we are onto something here. Think about the opportunities of using our digital marketing efforts to build what marketers have known for years as "brand advocacy." Embrace the simple concept that engaged consumers will participate in a brand community, be loyal, and become advocates. Using a CRM-driven approach, this brand advocacy can empower engaged customers who, together with others and the marketers themselves, have a sustainable impact on business performance.

As powerful as that concept is, the truth is still that most email and other digital marketing is well-intentioned, but not engaging. Look at your own inboxes (in email, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs). Look also at the number of people who haven't opened, clicked, or "liked" anything from you in a long time. Too much of what we marketers publish is irrelevant, ill-timed, and poorly formatted.

How can we break out of the pile? Engage.

  1. Ask for it. There are plenty of ways to encourage engagement - say thank you, be funny/clever, offer a reward (including monetary or emotional), provide group validation, or connect around shared values. Test and adapt these approaches to your particular brand and audience types. Be sure to ask for engagement - the primary reason most people do not engage is because they feel they were never asked.
  2. Share the podium. The advent of the social Internet (and there is no other) enables a democratization of marketing. Consumers have a vote because they have access to information about brands from sources (mostly other consumers!) who are not employed by the brands. This fundamentally shifts the control of the discovery process from marketer to customer. Many times, consumers engage with brands outside the watchful eye of the marketing department. We must collaborate (not control) and embrace those opportunities - since they happen with or without us.
  3. Serve the customer. The onus is indeed on the email marketer to create engagement and relevancy. We have to work harder to understand the needs and desires of the audience. Today's marketplace is fragmented, multi-channel, and influenced by consumers themselves more than by brands. This increases the complexity of how marketers must actually gather and understand multiple sources of data in order to match subscriber interest to their own products and services. That data is increasingly unstructured and multi-structured (as opposed to structured data that fits neatly into rows and columns). Think social, clickstream, and search/source data.

While this creates a totally new and somewhat fluid marketing environment, personally, I'm very excited by it. I love working with data, always ensure that I can back up my statements, and never want to be in a battle of opinions. However, I'm becoming increasingly comfortable with "mushy ROI" from some of our digital channels. Email marketing is pretty solid in terms of measurements and metrics. Social will not yet offer this same comfortable structure. Digital data like clickstream or session analysis is still hard (and expensive) to capture, associate back to customers, manage, and act upon.

Engagement is not an event, it's a process. When we start to think about how to create a continuum of experience for our subscribers, that guides us toward better decisions on segmentation, frequency, and cadence. It's time that marketers become "engagement engineers" in order to capture higher share. What are you doing to create engagement with your own audiences?


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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association ( Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.

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