The misunderstanding of “engagement marketing”

Since the advent of social media, there’s a lot of talk about engagement marketing. I like the term “engagement marketing”, as it describes the interaction with customers on an adult to adult level as well as the realisation that the customer is part of the brand. But – besides the fact that marketing was always about customer centricity – remember the move from the 4Ps (Promotion, Place, Price, Product) to the 4Cs (Communication, Convenience, Cost, Customer Solution) – a lot of companies misunderstand the meaning of engagement marketing.

Many companies are currently going into social media with the aim to engage with the customer. So they broadcast their content, follow seemingly randomly and strike conversations. That’s not what was meant with engagement marketing, I’d call this annoyance marketing. It just isn’t customer centric.

Engagement marketing starts with the customer and his desire to engage with the brand. So the engagement starts when the customer seeks the engagement and the engagement stops when the customer has had enough or had his/her problem solved.

The difference that social media has brought (besides the fact that you can now directly deal with customers of different cultures, which presents another completely new set of complexity) is that a brand can engage even when they haven’t been directly approached but when they are talked about.

For example, when I send a tweet about my unhappiness  with the service of let’s say BT, Audi or my letting agent, or if I engage in a conversation about it, the brand in question can pick it up and get in touch with me. Now the social media savy ones, such as BT, do that.

Social Media therefore enables proactive customer service and that is the real benefit for a brand.  In a way the moaning tweet is nothing else as a silent cry for help and with the expectation that somebody comes to me instead of me having to go to a website where I most likely only find some FAQ and an email form, instead I can share it with thousands instead of just the automated system (are you listening, Amazon?)

Now this proactive customer service can also go a step further. For example, I hear somebody talking about an issue (could be a problem but also a wish – just something that requires a solution) my brand can solve – for example, I am talking about the quality of coffee at my workplace and a coffee shop nearby picks it up and send me an invite to taste their coffee. As a result a conversation can turn into a commercial arrangement between brand and individual. Be aware though, this is a slow burn and has to be done with a lot of care.

The main point to remember: the engagement level is defined by the individual (customer), not by the brand. If not, it can be a bit like somebody stepping into your private sphere and being to in your face and not realising how it annoys you, or like the drunk guy who goes on and on about the same thing, not realising that you are bored and want to move on. Think and behave like a normal human being, not like a brand, a desperate sales person, or a stalker. Don’t hog the conversation, let the customer define it. And with all the flack BT gets, I have to say, they hold the right distance.

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  • James Ainsworth

    Nice post, I like your thinking on annoyance marketing.

    I think that the framework for engagement should mirror that of conversational speech as you would have with a friend, engagement at its most natural with a cycle of – Listen, Learn, Understand, Speak – this is how conversation works best and works for both parties.

  • Felix Wetzel

    Thanks for your comment, James. I think you are spot on. Just keeping your advice in mind will make every engagement so much more rewarding and natural.

  • Paul Keers

    The champions of engagement as the key to successful marketing have always been publishing agencies – because editorial content could prove a breadth and longevity of customer engagement other media could not equal. Social media offers a different kind of engagement, but does not begin to challenge those characteristics. (25 minutes with a customer magazine?) Indeed, some publishing agencies have begun to rebrand themselves as customer engagement agencies. It will be interesting to see whether social media agencies will be able to wrest the engagement title from them.

  • Felix Wetzel

    Thanks for your comment, James. I think your advice is spot on and would make for a more authentic and real experience.

  • Felix Wetzel

    Paul, thanks for your comment. I do agree with you content is important, but with social media engaging the engagement can be more dynamic and is certainly context dependent. I believe you need both – great content delivered in the right context and proactive engagement with customers when they request this engagement.

  • Ian Schafer

    We’ve been doing business this way for quite some time. Check out our Engagement Agency Manifesto:

  • @DaveChaffey

    Thanks for this coverage of customer engagement Felix. Agree it’s where social media strategy should start, not with the tools and platforms, sexy though they are.

    You focus on service here, but challenging aspects of online engagement are keeping customers engaged through the combination of email, website, social outposts and mobile – finding the right balance of inbound and outbound as you allude to.

    It’s all about building long-term engagement as our interview with Richard Sedley shows – he defines engagement as:

    “Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand”.


  • Felix Wetzel

    Dave, thanks for your comment. You are right, Social Media is only one aspect of engagment. For the first time, it gives the individual a distinct position, but most brands still just use it for “advertising” and “broadcasting”. I agree with Richard Sedley’s quote – and indeed his opionions in the entire interview. Have a also a look at Total Access by Regis McKenna – he says: “The value of a brand is now defined as the numbers of repeat interactions with the active participants in a brand’s network”.

  • Mary Hardy

    Nice post. I like your annoyance marketing thought.

    SM can be fantastic as a customer service channel as my own recent experiences with KLM showed me (they listen and engage appropriately).

    Although I agree with your point that it has to be in te ‘control’ of the consumer at the end of the day, the ‘rules’ aren’t really any different to real life. We are all human. And humans like to have conversations. As Chris, one of our senior planners recently blogged, ( brands would do well to start treating social media more in this light. Not many of them are getting it right. Yet.

  • Felix Wetzel

    Mary, thanks for your comment and completely agree – thinking and behaving like human beings is the key. I think social media rules are slightly differnt to real life as the individual can reach many more people in the world much quicker. It is therefore a potent multiplier.

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  • Matt Hardy

    (Thanks to my iPhone for auto-correcting ‘Matt’ to ‘Mary’ in my previous reply!)

  • Servena

    Deep thought! Thanks for cnortbituing.

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