When it comes to brands and their consumers, the rules of engagement are the same.
OK, so brands tend to be polyamorous, rather than monogamous, but those meaningful connections are just as important. Once upon a time, it was all so much easier. Like standing on a soapbox and yelling your world-view into the faces of passers-by. In those days, it was the guy who shouted the longest who ended up winning the bulk of the audience’s attention.
At the time, that approach made sense.
Let’s stick with the relationship analogy for a moment. Imagine you’ve gone to a speed dating event, you’ve downed a couple of drinks to ease you into the evening, and now you’re facing a steady stream of potential dates, lining up to give you the best five minutes of your life. How would you feel about the guy who sits at your table and shouts about himself for the full 300 seconds? Because that’s the way brands used to operate.
These days, successful brands have to put in a little more work. It’s not enough to just pretend to listen. They have to be actively engaged. Committed. And genuine.
Here’s the problem - most marketers get the fact that engagement is the key to success. But they don’t always have the resources or skills necessary to make it happen. In a recent Forbes Insights survey, 97% of respondents agreed that engagement was ‘very important’ but only a quarter of them had any kind of strategy in place. That’s like hoping to improvise a memorable silver wedding anniversary.
A I said in the previous post, the toughest thing for most brands, is learning to shut up and listen. It’s amazing what you can learn about your audience if you’re willing to put a sock in it, every once in a while. It’s really no different than the way you are with your friends. We tend to give a wide berth to the ones who only ever want to talk about themselves. Of course, it’s fine to be a broadcaster when it comes to imparting information. But if you want audiences to stick around, you’ve got to show a willingness to involve them. To listen.
Engagement isn’t just about clicking on ads and responding to sales promotions. It’s about creating authentic and meaningful interactions between people and the products and services with whom they choose to spend their valuable time.
One way to achieve that, is to evolve our thinking away from the traditional ‘marketing funnel’ model. Instead, let’s think about McKinsey & Co’s customer decision journey. Stretched out over a period of time, this process offers up countless opportunities to engage, inspire and motivate along the path form consideration to purchase, and from purchase to loyalty.
Of course, there are still those who might think that the live experience is the soft option. But to do so is to miss the bigger picture. It’s only we visit a live event that we start to understand what a brand feels like, and how it behaves. Every touchpoint or element has been designed to represent the brand, allowing for rich and powerful engagement from start to finish. And it all begins with an understanding of the consumer’s world.
Take sponsorship, for example. Not too long ago, a sponsorship strategy might be led by the CEO’s favourite sport. Buy a platform, invest in some PR and hope that the fans will notice the difference. Now, we’re listening to what our consumers are interested in. We’re getting involved as participants, rather than investors. And that way, we’re able to strike up a much more naturalistic and believable dialogue. Rather than telling audiences that we’re interested in the same things they are, we’re proving it.
Last year, Barneys department store proved how effective this technique can be, by working with Lady Gaga to create Gaga’s Workshop. Interactive, exclusive and utterly unique, it was an experiential space designed and created in collaboration with the music star. And the stories they told accentuated all the ways in which Gaga and Barneys were the ideal match – from a mutual love of fashion to their enthusiasm for New York itself.
Ultimately, there’s nothing revolutionary or revelatory about this brave new world. And although these might sound like lofty ideals, the principles of engagement are as old as time.
Of course, advances in technology and social media make this even more achievable, since audiences have already embraced the democratised media of blogs, social networks, message boards and product ratings.
We all know the statistics. By rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck into this digitised world, brands can offer a new level of transparency to their company and products. More importantly, they’re opening up their doors to the entire world.
In return, audiences will respond by taking control of the interaction – making it more authentic, participatory and valuable. As relationship experts have been advising since the dawn of time; if you want it to last, you’ve got to open your heart and mind.