Engagement - a term used for quite some time in both love and war, but increasingly in marketing. Yet, whether in love or war, engagement is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That means drawing people in and moving them along a path towards loyalty and advocacy. We like to refer to it as "turning audiences into fans".
Arguably, brands have been doing it for a few decades. The difference is that we now have better tools.
Brands have always been evolving their options, from entertaining TV ads to CRM and loyalty programmes, events and, more recently, a host of digital techniques. But the difference today is that consumers who have always been active (don't believe that people were ever passive) now have the ability to voice their opinions very quickly and get involved in campaigns through digital innovation and social tools. We as brand custodians can see demonstrable engagement levels - something both rewarding and challenging in equal measure.
So, while today's marketing director has access to an incredible array of tools, he or she is faced with new challenges associated with this proliferation and fragmentation of media.
Planning and activation
It's harder than ever to make it all join up, but it's no longer optional (if it ever was). Ofcom's recent Communications Market Report has shown that more people are multi-tasking across different media at any given time. Importantly, with this comes the debate on whether people are therefore less engaged in each activity.
What's more important than ever is that your brand has a clear point of view of the world that attracts likeminded people to it. If you build that connection, these people will then find more of them for you. One advocate may bring you many more in the space of a day if they really loved what your brand did for them. That could be some really useful content, a utility or just something that adds fun to an otherwise dull day. The important point is that it's true to the brand and what it stands for and that the engagement is a genuinely rewarding one. It is not about badgering your best customers to sell their friends to you.
Virgin Media has developed a new platform in response to this rise in media multi-tasking - Sofa Stadium. For the ever-increasing number of people in the UK who go online while watching TV, Sofa Stadium brings together live TV and internet through a second screen web application.
The online-community-based software, which runs in parallel to the full 90-minute live match, allows footy fans to be more engaged socially and experientially with the game, with other fans and, ultimately, with the brand than ever before - not just once, but during the entire football season. The end result is that Virgin Media has managed to engage its customers during an experience that has previously been dominated by Sky Sports.
It's not all about creating new platforms, though; it's also about re-evaluating the role of your current channels. In the travel industry, the role of the call centre is changing: its focus is on providing added-value services that complement the web, as opposed to simply being the discreet sales channel that it once was. TUI has just announced the overhaul of its shop fronts, taking out late deals and using them as a means to drive brand engagement. This multi-tasking is also reflected on travel websites. Virgin Holidays includes a Trip Advisor rating on its properties, knowing that the majority of browsers will otherwise flick back and forth to Trip Advisor.
Only by mapping, observing and understanding the different journeys your audience follows do you uncover those moments of truth, the opportunities for engagement in the channels and media at your disposal and how these relate to your brand experience.
Data and how we evaluate it
More opportunities to engage bring a wealth of data at each stage of the journey. The great thing is that this allows for visibility and measurement of engagement in a way that has not previously been possible - everything from recommendation and word of mouth, attitude and response to customer value. But, because there's so much of it, it often sits neglected.
Our job is to determine which data is important at which point in the journey. And while transactional data in monetary terms still remains the end game, it isn't always going to be the end result of every piece of engagement. With the added visibility we now have, we can identify who is browsing and taking interest, who is rating, recommending or returning to the brand, and when. By integrating online and offline data capture and analysis, we can see the true customer journey, from start to finish. Crucially, we can now see our "fans" and have a holistic view of their lifetime value.
Uniqlo's Lucky Counter campaign is a clever marketing programme that involves live Tweeting for a lower product price. Lucky Counter demonstrates Uniqlo's response to its customers' call for an online shop, generates hype and engagement pre-launch, acquires a stronger Twitter following, drives sales and captures more data. It is using feedback data, plus its social media popularity and competitive pricing, to gain more customers.
So, if you're going to take engagement seriously, it's not enough to plug your brand on Twitter or run a one-off event. Engagement needs to be an ongoing commitment to extend the customer relationship beyond a fleeting encounter. An engaged consumer is a valuable consumer, who will review, return, recommend and spend.
On that basis, engagement does represent commercial value. Just as Net Promoter Score created a link between advocacy and overall business performance, so new tools enable us to prove the link between engagement and sales. According to a recent study from Hall & Partners, up to two-thirds of a brand's profits rely on effective consumer engagement. Its Engager model validates the link between a brand's Engager index score and its profitability, highlighting the connection between consumer engagement and long-term sales.
Given all of that, isn't it time to take a new look at the lifetime value equation? Originally, it was based on the length of time that someone transacted with a brand and the amount they spent. Could we add a third element to that equation that includes a measure of engagement? And introduce a new word - engagenomics?
- We have more opportunities for engagement than ever, but engagement is a means to an end, not an end in itself
- We must link points of engagement along every stage of people's journeys with a brand and quantify the commercial value of an engaged audience
- It's time to redefine 'lifetime value'.
Mike Cullis is the managing partner at Elvis
(From Campaign's "Whatd Next in Engagement" supplement, October 2010)