Customer engagement – what does it really mean?

Marketing in a nutshell“Engagement” is a word that gets bandied around a lot, not always meaningfully: one reason that business owners’ experience of using social media can fall short of expectations. Understanding the forms that customer engagement can take as well as the value that you expect your audience to concede in engaging ensures your content marketing serves a strategic purpose. A deeper understanding of your audience’s motives will help you prompt them to feel, think and act in ways that connect with your brand.

With the rise of social media has come increased use of the expression “customer engagement”. But has this been accompanied by an increased understanding of what that really means and what it should be doing for your business? Is someone re-tweeting your tweet really enough to show that someone is “engaged”? And how do you improve the value that customer engagement brings to your business.

Bear in mind that engaging content doesn’t have to be purely a web-based thing. One very successful Clarity Marketing client has a printed book that is instrumental in converting prospects to clients and runs real-world seminars that see a high turnout of clients keen to learn. Even a sales meeting should be engaging.

The first thing is to understand that every type of engagement will have a form (what we want that person to do) and a value (what that person will have to give up to do it – money, time and/or attention). Your efforts to encourage customer engagement need to make the action you want them to take worth the cost to them.

Customer engagement


First a note about types of customer engagement…

Types of engagement

Different types of customer engagement become relevant at different points in your customer journey and different methods of creating that engagement come into play for each.

Immersive engagement occurs when people are absorbed in an interaction. Perhaps they are reading an article on your website, watching a video, or listening as you speak. It is not a passive activity, rather it is a state of being receptive. This type of engagement is important when people are seeking information and understanding to help them make a purchase decision.

Interactive engagement is what happens when they start to communicate with you. It’s what you’re aiming for if you use social media to ask questions, when you actively encourage blog comments (feel free below!), conduct surveys, or generate marketing content aimed at stimulating a direct response back to you.

Intra-active engagement happens when your audience talks amongst themselves. You start to lose control of the conversation as your audience takes the reins but you can maintain your influence by active participation. Social media is the obvious platform for this but there is no reason why you can’t use the same principles in, say, your networking strategy, at a trade exhibition, or elsewhere.

Understanding which type of engagement is relevant to your audience at what time can help you to make more informed choices about the promotional tools you deploy and how you use them most effectively.

Forms of engagement

Here. We’re talking about the form of response you want your audience to take. The different forms might be connected but, again, it is useful to understand what you are aiming for and to plan accordingly. Think about what you want your audience to feel, think and do.

Emotional responses are important to any brand and are an immediate reaction. However rational we like to think we are most purchase decisions are made from an emotional basis (and maybe post-justified with the relevant facts and figures). Whether your audience is looking for excitement or reassurance, hope for the future or security in the here and now, adventure or a sense of relief, you need to trigger the right emotional response to get the right kind of engagement.

Intellectual responses kick in when your audience starts to rationalise their thinking either to themselves or in discussion with others. Maybe different audience members will argue the toss over whether the benefits you present are as valuable to them as you’d like to think. Some might be swayed in your direction, others not. You know which you’d prefer.

Physical responses are closely connected to emotional responses: picking up a phone or sending an email enquiry straight away or wearing branded products with pride would be good examples. If you’ve got the right sort of business, an impulse buy would be too.

Value of engagement

So you want someone to take time out of their day to engage with your business… you don’t have a right to expect that, you have to appreciate that there is a cost involved to them so the trade-off has to suit them too.

Economic value is the monetary cost. Making a purchase is one type of engagement and clearly the price of your product or service has monetary value. Less directly, though, so does personal data which you might ask people to share in return for access to a piece of marketing content or a free trial. Social media platforms build their whole business models on this principle but in a smaller way you could be asking your audience to give up economic value.

Attention value is something that every business asks for in any type of promotional activity and the more engagement you are wanting the higher the value of the attention you seek. Our brains are simply not able to cope with the sheer volume of information that demands our attention each day so we naturally filter out anything that is not relevant and getting our share of that attention is no small task.

Time value is finite – and time, in business, is money (as well as being closely related to attention). How much time are you asking your audience to commit to engaging with you? What would they be doing with that time otherwise and how is your request more valuable to them? Making it easier to do so makes it more likely that the time commitment will seems reasonable.

What does this mean for your marketing activities? It certainly means a shift from an ad hoc approach to using the latest fads and to a more planned approach. It also means taking a deeper understanding of what motivates your customers, of what will make them feel and think about your business the way you want them to, what will prompt them to engage and interact, and what will nudge them to make that all-important purchase.

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