The Power of Customer Engagement Is in Your Hands

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. In fact, I believe that customer engagement is the new form of direct marketing, replacing the old paradigm of lists and broadcast messaging with personalized interactions at the individual level.

Increasingly, consumers and business professionals demand offers, outreach, and an overall experience tailored to their particular preferences. They know we have data on them; they know they leave a digital trail of their interests and activities across the Internet. They expect us to use that data responsibly. They expect us to recognize them, to know what products and services they already use. And they expect that their loyalty and celebration of our brand will translate to special treatment. Marketing automation and advanced customer relationship management (CRM) technologies make all this possible and programmatic now – in real time.

How can we adopt this new paradigm and make it more than just a word? We do it by embracing a customer-centric approach to People, Process, and Technology. That means we have:

  1. People: Shared key performance indicators (KPIs) around customer satisfaction and engagement with brand and products.
  2. Process: Commitment to data stewardship and consumer data protection that goes beyond what is legal to what is ethical and best for the customer.
  3. Technology: A centralized (single or otherwise) customer data management and marketing solution that allows smart integration of entry points, effective automation of key campaign elements, and scale to accommodate audience segments as individuals, not groups.

I implore all marketers to do something radical about engagement. 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?

Really?! Life-changing digital marketing?! That feels a little Zen, don’t you think? Will the happiness we generate with our customers and other audiences lead to world peace and a cure for cancer?

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 – not just for our brands, but for all that is right and good in the world. Using a CRM-driven approach with a solid and responsive platform for data management, 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 digital marketing is well intentioned, but not engaging. Look at your own inboxes (in email, Twitter, Facebook, apps, and blogs). Look also at the number of people who haven’t opened, clicked, experienced, 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. Use the data you have – the technology now really does let you! – to make good decisions about when and how to contact people in the channels they prefer. 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. Engagement is not an event, it’s a commitment – a nurturing process across channels. When we start to think about how to create a continuum of experience for our customers, 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 use engagement as a strategic business driver?

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