To engage or not to engage - that is the question:

James H's picture

Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them ...

This slight adaptation of Shakespeare's famous soliloquy seemed fitting in a week when the 'engagement' debate has raged again.

Amongst the various discussions on Twitter, I noticed reference to an article on the Marketing website describing what it called 'The great brand engagement myth'.  To set the tone of the article, it is accompanied by an image of Gone with the Wind character Rhett Butler and the phrase "Frankly marketeer I don't give a damn".

You will need to be registered to read the whole article. If you are not, it isn't the most 'engaging' registration process or 'customer experience' so I hope the publisher's don't mind if I give the article more exposure by quoting some passages from it in order to give you a flavour of the comments from pundits and marketers ...

A comment that stood out to me particularly was from Ben Hammersley, editor of Wired UK magazine:-

'The thing about brand engagement is that it always seems to come from the assumption that your brand is very important to the consumer,'  Yet the notion that consumers want to take time out of their busy lives to watch content or even co-create it with brands is, he says, 'a myth'.

'Nobody ever wanted to do any of this - the vast majority of online measurement is nonsense, people aren't interested,' adds Hammersley. 'People in the business don't understand that people only think of your brand once - when they buy it.'

This statement reminds me of one I made over a year ago when I questioned that ‘if marriage was out of fashion, what about engagement’ in which I said “Regardless of the growth of social media, I still believe that the vast majority of online activity within the greater mass of websites  is goal directed behaviour. When you are focused on a goal, the overtone of ‘engagement’ is that it will take more time and commitment than I am prepared to give. I want the information that satisfies my goal as quickly and easily as possible – if you put any sort of barrier in the way or make me feel I’m being ‘sold to’ or ‘manipulated’ in any way – I’m out of there.”

In the Marketing article, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen expands on this point about goal directed behaviour and how consumers use brands ...

"Consumers 'hire' different brands for different jobs. Most of these - from using deodorant to bank accounts - don't require ever-more 'engagement'. While brands might want more engagement with customers, not every customer wants to engage with every brand. All too often, 'engagement' is about pursuing only the brand's agenda.

So, these points make it very clear that it is as important, if not more so, to understand when 'not to engage' than when to 'engage', otherwise you risk damaging your brand by asking too much of consumers and/or making it harder to complete their goals. Similarly, you risk wasting a lot of your own valuable assets that could be better directed elsewhere. This brings us to the question of metrics where in the Marketing article, Karl Gregory, UK managing director of commented...

'People hide behind engagement to justify campaigns where they can't demonstrate ROI,' he says. 'As soon as I hear someone say "engagement", I ask them to define it - to take it down to metrics, to what measurable results are we looking for? Is it about customers coming to the website, feeling better about the brand, giving positive recommendations or what?'

In a previous post called No Likey, No Lighty I questioned how you measure the value of a 'like' for example and commented that "The terms ‘marketing’ and ‘social acceptability’ appear inextricably linked, so how much weight can you put into someone expressing a ‘like’ – has it been done through peer pressure, a desire to look cool, an affinity with the brand or a definitive expression of further interest? Does the motivation behind the ‘like’ really matter?

In the Marketing article, Will Abbott, marketing and communications director at Freesat emphasises the importance of tracking and measuring the value you are adding for the customer ...

''I get annoyed in two ways with the term 'engaging'. It is either used so broadly that it's meaningless (of course our TV ads should be engaging), or it's turned into a highly specific metric - a "like", a tweet or a retweet - and it's reduced to just another narrow number. That's very different from tracking and measuring the value you are adding for the customer.'

Stepping outside of the Marketing article for a minute, let's have a look at what 'engagement guru' Brian Solis says about the matter ...

...use of social media tools does not guarantee that people will listen. Engagement is shaped by the interpretation of its intentions. In order for social media to mutually benefit you and your customers, you must engage them in meaningful and advantageous conversations, empowering them as true participants in your marketing and service efforts.

There are thousands of customers waiting to hear from you about your business and vision. It’s the minimum ante to create a vibrant and loyal online community. When you engage, you will build an authoritative social network that increases your visibility, relevance, influence, and profitability. It’s time to Engage!

Hmm, following Mr Solis on Twitter recently it has been interesting to see that he regurgitates the same examples of 'engagement' success repeatedly and it reminds me of business gurus in the past who come up with 'thought leadership concepts' that sound great and then scrabble around afterwards looking for examples that fit what they say - regardless of whether they have given the first thought to such a concept.

Ultimately, I agree 100% with the conclusion of the Marketing article which is that "The only way to measure engagement effectively, however you define it, is to link cause and effect" and as Linus Gregoriadus, UK head of research at Econsultancy is quoted as saying ...

'We need to know things like, if we engage with customers across more channels, will they buy more?'

So, going forward I think it is in all our interests when people start talking about 'engagement' and 'experience' is to ask them for quantifiable examples of cause and effect - anything other than that is just 'bullshit'...