It’s All About Engagement in the Next Era of Marketing

Engaging Customers As Individuals

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Posted: February 19, 2015 | Engagement Marketing

When we first started this series on the next era of marketing, we brought you the marketing pundit point of view through conversations with visionaries like Seth Godin and Aditya Joshi, but only recently did I discuss your opinions on the future of marketing. We asked the Economist Intelligence Unit to survey nearly 500 marketers and then shared the results on the many observations about marketing’s future, including organizational change and technology advancement.

But to kick off our deep dive into all of the interesting data from the survey, I want to pause and talk more about one of the key concepts to emerge from the research—engagement.

Every marketing team’s goals are to bring in new customers, grow their lifetime value and convert them into brand advocates who can influence their network to become new customers. But today’s constantly-connected world of digital, social and mobile has changed the way customers behave— and, consequently, how brands need to speak to their customers and prospects. As brands evolve, they’re learning that engagement is the critical next step. If they’ve not already started, brands are starting to shift from an era of mass marketing and advertising—where we talk at people for a single moment in time—to an era of engagement marketing where we begin to take time to learn more about our customers on a personal, individual level and engage with them over a lifetime.

A New Definition of Engagement

An interesting foundational fact that emerged from the survey, was the shifting definition of what it means to “engage” someone as a marketer going forward. Engagement used to be bandied about in terms of the emotional connection or quotient that a brand was creating with customers. How do they feel about you and your company? Did the Super Bowl ad with the puppy make them cry? Were they engaged?

That all seems to be becoming the horse-and-buggy version of marketing (while of course still being incredibly cool). The new definition of engagement marketing seems to be broader, more strategic, and more oriented toward the bottom-line. Amongst marketers in the survey, the term engagement seems to have a decidedly action-oriented focus—asking questions like, “are we driving purchases, renewals, and revenue?”. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • 63% of marketers view engagement as customer renewals, repeat purchases, and retention.
  • 78% of respondents think engagement occurs in the middle or end stages of the marketing funnel.
  • 22% of marketers consider customer engagement to be a brand awareness tool.

Only about 20% of marketers seemed to define engagement as a top of the funnel awareness or emotional brand building tool. The reality, of course, is that if real engagement exists to drive purchases and renewals, there must be an emotional connection at some level. Engagement, it appears, has ascended from an emotional destination at disconnected moments in time to something that happens over a long period of time to drive business outcomes.

The Shift Towards Engagement Marketing

When we asked marketers what their top areas of investment were likely to be over the next 12 months, the #1 answer was “Shift to Digital Marketing and Engagement”. Engagement marketing is more than a series of transactions or click-through rates, it means building a real individual relationship, floor by floor, continuously over time, seamlessly across all of the channels and devices they use. It means paying attention to your customer and observing what they do, learning what they like, learning what they don’t like and guiding a journey that helps them get where they want to go (in a way that is consistent with your own business goals). Your approach and enthusiasm for your relationships with customers should channel the same approach and feelings you have when interacting with a friend in your personal life.

Think about it: would you want to interact with a friend or person that is difficult to get a hold of, or never listens to you, is always talking about themselves, or is always stereotyping you based on just a few facts? Chances are, you wouldn’t want to keep giving business to a company that does those same things. On the other hand, when a company treats me the same way my friends seem to treat me, I can’t wait to give them more business.

For example, emails from Amazon are relevant and helpful to me because they include smart recommendations based on my previous purchases—and because these products are clearly in line with what I’ve liked in the past, I look forward to hearing from Amazon on a regular basis. I get an email that says, “Hey Sanjay, just wanted you to know that those boots you were looking at just went on sale.” And, what do I do? I buy the boots and say “thanks so much for letting me know”!

In a conversation with Seth Godin, he stressed the value of direct interactions with clients. While other departments can also provide insight, nothing is quite as valuable as direct feedback from customers using your products. Brands can now better track these insights and interactions across multiple channels thanks to the growth of marketing technology.

I think, ultimately, this will become the new basis of competition. It used to be that firms competed on price—then, they competed on brand awareness—then, they started competing on experience (think, “my visit to Starbucks today”). But, now as customers increasingly want companies to get to know them and continue to advance the relationship, they will choose brands (and more specifically, people at those brands) that engage with them most effectively. Those companies will win, and the others will lose.

Engagement is Putting Marketing in the Driver’s Seat

The function that owns engagement within organizations is quickly changing. Our survey of marketers revealed that 75% of CMOs and senior marketing executives expect to own end-to-end customer engagement for their companies as the steward of the customer journey in the next three to five years. That’s up from just over a third who say they have that responsibility today! That puts marketing squarely at the center of revenue generation and company strategy.

This is a giant and bold claim, and probably a little controversial too. But, I don’t see how it doesn’t happen if the goal for a company is to build a continuous, ongoing relationship with someone that shows them that we understand the broadest context of our relationship together. As a company, I want the people in functions like sales and service, for instance, to be very transactionally focused on creating a delightful experience for the customer in a single moment. I actually don’t want them spending their time thinking about the broad relationship and the arc of future interactions as that might compromise their ability to deliver right now for the company and the customer. Marketing will be uniquely suited to get above the transactional focus that is necessary in other functions—working in strong coordination with them—but, as the architect of the overall journey.

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer because we get to have a closer relationship with customers and prospects than companies could in the past.

How do YOU define engagement? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’re just joining us, learn what nearly 500 marketers see as the future of marketing, or read thoughts from visionaries like Gavin Heaton, Jim Stengel and John Hagel. Next week, we’ll talk about exactly how to bring the marketing department to the front of the customer engagement process.

Sanjay served as Marketo's CMO for nearly five years, leading the marketing department through its worldwide expansion and IPO. He joined Marketo from Crowd Factory, where as CEO he was responsible for the strategic direction and vision of the company. Sanjay holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA in strategy and marketing from the Kellogg School of Management.

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In the new era of engagement marketing, #marketers are the architects of the customer journey :

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