Define Points Of Engagement

June 18, 2007

Last year I clipped a Stuart Elliott article from The New York Times that, in a way,
Dan Belmont
I never stopped reading. The story quoted two top retail execs: Wal-Mart CMO Stephen Quinn and Cammie Dunaway, CMO of Yahoo! Here, respectively, is what they said:

"Today, the customer is in charge, and whoever is best at putting the customer in charge makes all the money." And: "Allow consumers to help you shape the brand experience. . . . Content is no longer something you push out. Content is an invitation to engage."

And there it was—that word. Engagement. By now, we've all heard it bandied about quite a bit. And here were two more high-ranking company officials trying to get their arms around it. It's funny; we definitely know what engagement isn't; it's not just getting a customer's attention. No, engagement is something on another level entirely. According to the Advertising Research Foundation in New York, engagement is what all marketing should strive to create.

Important stuff, that. So why can it often feel like nobody's really nailed it yet? What is engagement, really? At some point, every marketer will have to answer this question in a way that he or she can understand and practice. For my part, I think I've done it, but only by exploring "engagement" for myself. Here's what I've come up with.

According to Webster's, "engagement" involves "choosing to involve oneself in something." It means "to participate in" or "to commit oneself to something." So let's use these abbreviated definitions in the context of "engaging the customer." Engagement, then, must be about active involvement between customers and your brand.

So far so good. But how are you supposed to get customers "involved" with your brand? How can you really get them to participate?

Actually, it takes three things to do it:

content, experience, and dialogue.

As consumers and people, we're naturally interested in content that's relevant to us; things that affect our lives, the world in which we live and what we like to do. Leveraging content that resonates with consumers and their ideas is how we get engaged in a brand's message. Next, ask how you can make your brand part of the consumer's experience with this content or this message. How can you create a unique experience that will build upon this model that the brand and the consumer have co-created? And finally, give people a way to interact. Your message must talk with them, not at them.

Look at some of the most inventive marketing initiatives of late, and you will see all three forces—content, experience and dialogue—at work.

Here's an example: Nike partnered with Google during last year's World Cup to create Joga Bonito, an "online self-governing community." It focused on one topic—soccer—and it did so in 14 languages. The content was both authentic and useful, but most important, the Nike brand was not intrusive. According to Nike's vp for global brand management, "Our job is to . . . make sure we stay in their world, stay connected, stay relevant, and, more importantly, we allow them to do what they want. It's their world, their lives. We give them the tools."

That's a much different brand-building philosophy than we've seen in the past. That's engagement.

We've only got one problem: We still haven't really defined engagement, not in a short and easy sentence, anyway. But should we? Perhaps a concept as complex as engagement can't be confined by a neat little sentence. It can, however, be examined and understood. Consider the Nike scenario and others and you'll see certain marketing concepts appear again and again. Ponder them in the aggregate, string them together and the notion of engagement becomes clearer still: Involvement, participation, connection, experience, co-creation, community, sharing, interaction, authenticity, customization, relevance.

None of these things are new to us as marketers. But they remind us that marketing is more than simply delivering messages to passive receivers. Our consumers are people with lives and interests that lie beyond our products and services. To persuade them, we must try to engage them, no matter how we choose to define it.

Dan Belmont is CMO at The Marketing Arm in

Dallas. He can be reached at (214) 259-3200 or



Copyright © 2008 Davie Brown Entertainment

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