Why Engagement Matters

A column entitled “Engagement, Why Do We Care?” would seem like a good idea…until you read “Liminal: The Razorfish 2011 Customer Engagement Report.”

I found this report, its data, and its conclusions to be profoundly interesting. The reason I’d been pondering that controversial headline is that I hear a lot of discussion of the importance and value of engagement. Yet it seems that on a day-to-day basis, when it gets right down to it, engagement goes out of the window in favor of “hit as many of them as possible as often and hard as you can get away with.”

This report therefore came at just the right time to alter my thinking on the subject and make me reconsider what engagement is and why it’s important. It starts by arguing that marketers have been looking at engagement backwards. That was a good start for me considering my mindset, but what really interested me were the conclusions about what consumers are looking for in brand relationships and what those relationships mean to them.

I won’t go into all the details, for that you should download and read it yourself, but I do want to highlight something that I think is directly relevant for marketers today. In today’s world, we are struggling with the changing role e-mail will play in the marketing landscape; how it works with (or against) social networking; what its place is for continually connected mobile users; and whether teens will adopt it as they get older or stick with SMS and Facebook.

From my very first involvement in digital marketing in 1993, I have felt that “digital” changes the dynamics of the consumer-brand relationship. It shifts control towards the consumer and away from the marketer. Yet what this report indicates is that while consumers have gained control, that is not really what they’re looking for in their brand relationships.

“The six most important needs consumers have when they reach out to a brand: feeling Valued, Trust, Efficiency, Consistency, Relevance and Control.”

The report goes on to explain that the top three are predominant and that it didn’t matter how the data was sliced and diced (by gender, age, or preferred channel), the top three remained the same: feeling valued, efficiency, and trust.

As I pondered these “engagement elements,” as the report’s authors call them, a lot started to make sense.

It’s easy to understand that, as with any relationship, it’s important to feel valued as a person. No one wants to be in a one-sided relationship where they feel used, especially not for their money. Similarly, trust is essential. People will give all kinds of personal information to websites and companies they trust. Conversely, they’ll be mad as all get out if that trust is undermined. Control is a proxy to make up for a lack of trust. When a company undermines users’ trust, users start to demand more control.

Efficiency, though, was a bit of a puzzle to me. Why efficiency? I suspect that efficiency is a reflection of the non-personal nature of most brand relationships. People aren’t looking for fulfillment from a brand, they’re looking to get things accomplished and so efficiency is important. I suspect also that efficiency is a sign of respect. A brand that wastes our time is a brand that isn’t respecting us and is a brand we can do without.

This led me to considering campaigns that I’ve seen succeed and those I’ve seen fail. All too often I’ve seen marketers look at campaigns in terms of behaviors and best practices. Asking whether it’s OK to perform a particular activity, be that frequency of mailing, re-engagement strategies, or list purchase, rather than considering them in terms of how those campaigns will impact the recipients. The results were fairly predictable. On the flip-side I’ve seen campaigns that, with hindsight, engendered feeling valued, built trust, and were efficient with recipients’ time. Often such campaigns were highly successful despite doing things that were not on the best practices list.

This report had a number of other interesting takeaways, especially in regards to channels and their adoption. For the moment though, my biggest takeaway is to ask these three questions of campaigns:

  1. How does this campaign make the recipient feel valued?
  2. Is it efficient and respectful of the recipients’ time?
  3. What does it do to build or maintain trust in the brand?

To quote from the report, this is “a bottom-up, customer-centric way of looking at consumers’ engagement needs and how to optimize them,” and I for one am in favor of turning our view of engagement on its head in this way.

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