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December 4, 2013
Unpacking Engagement
Engagement has become a term that means everything and nothing. Too often, it’s used offensively, defensively, or indiscriminately to thrust or parry arguments about strategy, technology, media, or creative.

Engagement is the desired human interaction that results from marketing activity. It’s a feeling, a thought, or possibly an action that a person takes in anticipation of or in response to messaging or functionality.

Engagement planning starts with the desired response in mind and then maps customer attitudes and behaviors to find relevant and appropriate inflection points to begin the conversation. Engagement planning doesn’t start with tactics or channels. It starts with an understanding of what real people are likely to feel, think, or do in response to an artificial stimulus. In order to enter the conversation and frame up an initial message, marketers need to consider these five factors.

Creature Cycles. We are creatures of habit. We do things in predictable ways. Standard behavior patterns include where we go, how we get there, what we expect, what we do, and in what sequence we approach tasks. Most of us prioritize tasks and people in repeatable ways.

Understanding internal drivers and external influences affecting target audiences allows us to find openings for marketing. The goal is to find ways to intersect the lives and life patterns of customers and prospects that synch up with what they do, want, need, or expect. The first step in planning engagement is to figure out how to be relevant and useful.

Standing. Openness to people and ideas is a function of familiarity and standing. If I know and respect you, I’m much more open to you than if you are a complete stranger. Brands are sorted into discrete folders in our brains. You have to know how you are sorted and what standing you have to enter into the conversation. An athletic wear brand can probably speak credibly about exercise and wellness; less so about politics or cultural issues.

Brands have less standing than friends, coworkers, or family members. The level of credibility, awareness, interest, and trust in a brand, basically how brands are sorted, determines the aperture you have for reaching target customers.

Engagement planning has to begin with an assessment of your standing, which might lead to the decision to borrow standing from those with better connections or connotations. (This is the origin of influencer and member-get-member marketing.) High awareness brands have more standing than invisibles or newbies.

Standing defines the angle of attack. A complete stranger approaching customers using personal information or outsized claims prompts immediate revulsion and rejection. Getting good juicy gossip from a trusted friend is the opposite end of the spectrum. Plotting your standing will separate intrusive from invited messages.

Posture. There are many ways to approach customers. Usually the approach is a function of the state of the relationship. In some cases a message delivered by a credible third party has more impact than a direct approach. In the case of brand loyalists, whispering insider or advanced information in their ears builds demand, satisfaction, and loyalty faster. And for those actively shopping, eye-to-eye, direct offers can drive faster conversion. Posture affects the psychology of your positioning and shapes the tone, manner, language, and attitude of creative.

Timing. Timing is everything. Texting a busy Mom at 7 a.m. while she’s trying to get her kids up, dressed, fed, and out the door is a non-starter. Brands need to understand the mindset and the mechanics of customers’ lives. As mobile becomes the ubiquitous on-the-go channel of choice, timing, utility, and relevance become critical success factors. Marketers must get much more intimate with the routes and routines of target audiences.

UXD. Any desired action must be fast, easy to do, intuitive, and simple to understand. Account for distractions, fat fingers, and multi-tasking. Messages must drive to simple desired actions. Labels on buttons and CTAs must be clear and telegraphic. Buttons have to be big and colored. Copy has to be scan-able and snack-able. Increase the font size. Don’t skimp on white space. Pressure test every sequence. Invest heavily in connecting all the data pipes on the back end. If you get everything else right but blow the user experience design, you lose the ballgame.

Engagement is about genuine human connection. Channels, media, content, and technology are facilitators. The ultimate measurement is a thought, a feeling, or an action.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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