Magazine article Marketing

Mitchell on Marketing: The Brand Engag Ement Myth

Magazine article Marketing

Mitchell on Marketing: The Brand Engag Ement Myth

Article excerpt

Engagement is one of the most over-used and misunderstood marketing metrics, writes Alan Mitchell.

When Marketing surveyed senior marketers late last year, we asked what marketing terminology most annoyed them. Brand and customer 'engagement' came in for a real kicking. That's a surprise. Surely every brand wants to engage better with its customers, so why should the 'e' word put marketers' backs up? Is there something happening we need to know about?

On closer inspection, perhaps there is: it's the very ways in which the marketing industry goes about its business.

Six or seven years ago, 'engagement' was largely an issue for traditional advertising. The age of interruption is coming to an end, it was argued, so, to win consumers' attention, we had to engage them by taking advertising to a new level. Thus in 2006 the US-based Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) published its official definition of consumer engagement as 'turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context'.

'The heart of engagement is 'turning on' a mind,' declared ARF chief research officer Joe Plummer. That is more than just delivering a message. It's where consumers add their own associations, symbols and metaphors to 'co-create' meaning. Until this happens, they haven't truly engaged, argued Plummer.

Others linked engagement closely to internal marketing. Successful brands engage the hearts and minds of their employees so that they 'live the brand', thereby engaging customers better to drive sales and loyalty.

That led to experience, another 'e' word with a fuzzy definition. For some, it is all about creating branded experiences through events and happenings. For others, it is the customer's experience of the product, to be enhanced and extended via, for example, extensive sampling. For others still, it's about the experience of using a website or the customer's experience of various touchpoints in their journey from consideration to purchase.

Last year, McKinsey viewed this changing customer journey as important enough to argue that marketing had entered a 'new era of engagement'.

'The problem for many companies is that the very things that make push marketing effective - tight, relatively centralised operational control over a well-defined set of channels and touchpoints - hold it back in the era of engagement,' argued McKinsey partner Tom French and his colleagues. The major barrier to engagement, he concluded, was how to manage the growing number of touchpoints where customers can now interact with companies.

All this without even mentioning social media, which many marketers now see as synonymous with engagement. 'When social media started to snowball, marketers realised that the traditional top-down approach of exposing people to messages was being superseded by another model which is all about conversations,' argues Linus Gregoriadus, UK head of research at Econsultancy. When consumers are actively involved as participants in the process, engagement becomes a sine qua non of marketing - how marketing actually happens.

Wait a moment, though. How can one word describe aspects of traditional advertising and branding, employee/customer interactions, customer journeys, the many touchpoints of a multichannel environment and the use of social media without generating confusion? It's this that's now raising senior marketers' hackles.

'Engagement is one of those buzzwords that's bandied around and doesn't actually mean anything,' complains Paul Fraser, managing director of MH Foods (part of Dairy Crest). 'It's lazy thinking. People think they can sprinkle some magic stardust called 'engagement' as an excuse for not explaining exactly what the marketing is supposed to achieve and how.'

Karl Gregory, UK managing director of, agrees. 'People hide behind engagement to justify campaigns where they can't demonstrate ROI,' he says. …

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