Why Engagement Matters

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I shouldn’t have to write this post. But apparently, I do.

Recently, I logged into a webcast titled Retail Banking: Customer Engagement in the Digital Age. According to an Adobe blog post about the webcast:

The discussion ranged across many topics related to customer engagement including the importance of the customer experience; establishing a point of differentiation in banking; service delivery in banking compared to other sectors; and whether innovation really exists in financial services today.”

Interestingly, if I hadn’t asked  “What is engagement? How do you define it?” those questions might have never been addressed. And honestly, no offense to the panelists, but I don’t don’t think they offered adequate answers to these questions (@aden_76 and @lizzieboo77 can either support or refute me here).

So, for me, the rest of the conversation about customer experience, consumer empowerment, transparency was nice….but had no connection to engagement.

And it supported my suspicion that the term “customer engagement” has become some empty buzzword used to lure people to log in to webcasts.

That’s too bad, because customer engagement — at least how I define it — is really important, and understanding the reason why doesn’t require a PhD in rocket science, yet many marketers (especially advertising people) still don’t seem to grasp this: Without engagement, there is no relationship.

This  is true whether we’re talking about a business to consumer relationship, or a relationship between two people.

There are two aspects to engagement: Quantity and quality. How often you engage, and how meaningful those engagements are. Duration of contact, however, means nothing.

Ever notice how people who serve in the military — in battle — develop close relationships in a short period of time, and how those relationships often persist after their tour of duty is over? That’s because, even though the duration of their engagement is short, the quality of the engagement — the highly emotional situations they’re involved in — is high.

Conversely, imagine that every morning before you go to work, you stop off at a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee. Over time, the folks at the coffee shop begin to know who you are, and as soon as they see you getting out of your car, they’ve already started to make your favorite latte, and it’s ready and waiting as soon as you get in. Just how you like it. Short duration, not a particularly high emotional content, but repeated, satisfying interactions help to build engagement.

From what I can tell reading the advertising/branding/marketing press, marketers are by and large completely clueless to this. Instead, they obsess over how long people spend looking at their ad, or how long they spend on a site.

There’s a quote I like to use in presentations to help illustrate why quality of engagement is more important than duration, and even quantity. In comes from a guy named John Gottman, and he’s the Executive Director of the Relationship Institute. John said:

“Good relationships aren’t about clear communication — they’re about small moments of attachment and intimacy.”

Again, this is true whether we’re talking about personal relationships or business to customer relationships. And again, many marketers are completely clueless to this, worrying more about what their “story” is, and getting their “story” across to customers and prospects.

This is too bad, because a marketer’s story isn’t worth diddly squat. The only “story” that matters is the customer’s story, and that story doesn’t come from advertising, it comes from being engaged with a firm, brand, or product.

Trying to impose or enforce definitions of commonly used buzzwords is a tricky sport, and I’m loathe to do it, but here it is. Engagement isn’t how long someone spends on your site, or looking at your ad, and it isn’t channel specific, and it can’t be boiled down to a single, behavioral measure (although I’d argue that you can develop a composite metric based on a variety of behaviors and attitudes). Engagement is:

“A series of interactions that strengthen a customer’s emotional connection to the product or firm.”

I really hate being repetitive and redundant, but I’m going to keep pushing this until the ad folks get their heads on straight.

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