Customer Engagement RIP

I’m a strong believer in the concept of customer engagement — as it relates to measuring relationship strength, that is.

But the term is no longer meaningful in today’s business world.

It was inevitable. Back in the early ’90s, the term “reengineering” devolved from a strategic approach to business process redesign to layoffs. Later in the ’90s, knowledge management devolved from an approach to capture and categorize unstructured data to…well, just about any new project that a firm embarked on.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that customer engagement has…well, jumped the shark. (I was trying real hard not to use that term, but it really does fit well).

It was first used a number of years ago, and began to gain some currency in marketing circles, especially among advertisers. Unfortunately, their definition of the term was ludicrous. Then the web analytics folks glommed onto the term, using it to describe how much time people spent on websites.

What convinced me that the term is now completely unusable was the recent issue of 1:1 magazine from Peppers & Rogers.

On page 10 of the magazine is a full page ad for a webinar sponsored by Campaigner, an email marketing firm. The ad’s headline screams “The email imperative: don’t sell — Engage!” (the improper use of capitalization is enough to tick me off).

On the facing page is an article about search engine marketing that contains a graph with the following title: “Search Engines Promote Customer Engagement.” The data contained in the chart describes “the activities of online service seekers after conducting searches for products.” The most frequent responses: Purchased product online, found store location, bought product from store.

Hmmm… so engagement has gone from “turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context” to “time spent on a website” to “alternatives to selling in an email” to “purchasing a product.”

My take: The term is now completely meaningless.

Which is too bad, because I’ve truly believed that firms could adapt the concept to reflect their own strategies and approaches, and use a combination of attitudinal and behavioral (cross-channel) measures to quantify engagement.

I’m not optimistic that this is going to happen. On one hand, no one within marketing can agree on what the term means. And on the other hand, it’s likely that everyone in an organization outside of marketing thinks that it’s a YASMB (yet another stupid marketing buzzword) (prounounced “yazem”).

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