Engagement is all about connecting brands and customers across channels and over time. The problem is, the very idea of Customer Engagement and relationship building is at odds with our highly converged, ever-changing world in which the physical world is no longer the center of the marketing universe – and a new breed of demanding but distracted consumers are calling the shots.
The fact is, the virtual world is now at the center of all things marketing. And it shows. As a colleague of mine recently pointed out, we now accept as routine a state of affairs that would have looked like poorly organized chaos to the marketing pioneers depicted on “Mad Men.” We’re not only trying to do all the things we used to do, but so many more, just to keep up.
We’re trying to engage with customers on more channels, across more ecosystems, and using more techniques, with more data and information, than ever before. We’re trying to connect our brands across a veritable ecosystem of customers who have their own ideas about what they want from us. And where. And when.
We try to engage them – and build brand value – in the scant time they make available to us.
ENGAGING ON THE CUSTOMER’S TERMS (AND ON THEIR DEVICES).
If we look for major differences between then and now, a key element is control. When Engagement was all about physically connecting with people, then events and shows and other live activities – including conventional retail settings and special ones set up for a specific marketing-driven purpose – could be the keystones of the promotional marketing world. Engagement, in that world, was an attempt to almost literally bring somebody into contact with our brands so we could build a more powerful relationship than the broad but generally shallow bonds that form through ordinary customer experiences.
Significantly, this normally happened based on the brand’s plan, not the customer’s plan. The brand asserted the leadership role. The brand had control. Here’s an example: For years Johnnie Walker, a 150-year-old brand of Scotch whisky now owned and marketed by the worldwide conglomerate Diageo, has supported Engagement with its customers by organizing events in bars. The goal: Attract people to a convivial place in order to get them to try the various labels in its brand family. Similarly, golf manufacturers such as Ping exhibit at golf shows and conduct demos at golf courses to give current and prospective customers a hands-on opportunity to try their products.
Obviously, Engagement can be built on experiences like these, and still is today. But make no mistake: Those are activities the brand plans and tries to control. A couple dozen patrons can’t show up at a bar and hang up their own banner for a Johnny Walker Black tasting, any more than a few foursomes of weekend duffers can decree their own Ping Clinic at a local country club.
Yet, in some ways, building Engagement in the digital world has some of those characteristics: integrating activities often created by, and in many ways controlled by, customers. These days, running marketing where the brand is in control represents only half the battle for Engagement – and probably the easier half at that. The harder half involves tailoring products and innovating services to engage customers on their own terms.
Chase is an example of a company that gets this and is making it work by engaging its banking customers digitally as well as in traditional ways. Through online access, through mobile access, as well as through traditional forms of access, they’ve changed the entire experience of banking. In the process, they’re driving to a deeper level of Engagement with their customers.
Most people don’t think about their banks every day. I do. I do because Chase has given me a choice of ways to configure my relationship with it on a daily basis. For example, every morning, when I wake up, I check my chosen digital device for the daily alerts I’ve set. You had these checks clear, it tells me. You had this money come in. Your current balance is this. You have these five new charges on your credit card, including one from a hotel in Florence.
If my daughter doesn’t call me on her trip during Spring Break trip to let me know she arrived (whether due to her inattention or the time zone I’m currently in), the time-stamp on the credit-card scan at the hotel’s front desk lets me know she got there safely. The information is available in the system immediately, but I can access it when and how I choose to.
That means I’m engaged with my bank – and for more than just my immediate banking needs – at home, at the office, in an airport club, or the back of a cab. Not only has Chase given me the assurance that I know what’s happening with my money, it also is giving me personalized information that has value – to me – that no spreadsheet program will ever be able to calculate.
There’s more. By providing ways for me to experience its brand across a broad spectrum of settings, some physical, some virtual, it’s also connecting me with me on a deeper level than ever before. I’m engaged. Online, on a personal digital device, at an ATM, at a retail terminal, in a walk-in branch, I’m having more interactions with my bank than ever before. But they’re value-added interactions that take place on my terms, at my convenience, subject to requirements and limits I help set.
That’s Engagement. Chase has nailed it. Others have, too: I’m sure you can quickly name half a dozen brands with which you’re engaged on a similar level. But odds are your list isn’t much longer than mine – and nowhere near as long as we would like it to be.
There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the main ones is that the world is still full of brands that haven’t figured out a crucial distinction: the difference between engaging customers and simply entertaining them.
That’s the critical distinction. Engage to grow. Do you?