Why You Haven’t Heard Much About Engagement Marketing Before Now
The term “Engagement Marketing” has been used for nearly 10 years. Why then do so few have a grasp of what it is?
Well, for good reason actually.
It was a notion that had no legs. It sounded good on paper, conceptually speaking that is, but the concept was so abstract at the time that the idea couldn’t support itself. It was an idea ahead of its time.
Engagement Marketing is possible today because three necessary ingredients have reached sufficient maturity. Think of it as a three-legged stool. It requires all three legs to have stability to support itself—conceptually and functionally. Without any one leg and the stool can’t function as intended.
Salespeople who understood the value of establishing relationships with prospects and leads were on the right track. Meanwhile, marketers got so wrapped up in creating volumes of benefit- and value-focused content for a slew of media channels under the auspices of Content Strategy that they lost sight of it.
Now, after years of flailing trying to bring value to brands using content, we’ve come full circle. The triad that makes up the three legs needed for the engagement marketing stool to stand on its own have matured and a few smart companies are connecting the dots.
In this first posts in this series, I’ll describe why engagement marketing has re-emerged and is now a viable strategy.
Let’s have a look.
The First Leg: Sophisticated Content
Content continues to improve in quality.
Indeed, there is still deafening marketing noise as businesses attempt to reach audiences. And while content gibberish is abundant, the overall level of content sophistication has increased substantially over the past decade.
It’s no longer a matter of building your field of dreams, that is putting good content on the web, optimizing your SEO and praying that your prospects find and consume your content. Nor do businesses expect that if they can get prospects to consume a few pieces of content that it will lead to a sale.
Businesses have been resistant to learning this lesson, but are nevertheless. Marketers are taking a page from the sales playbook that drives home the need for reaching out to prospects with content offerings many times before they will reach back. More and more, businesses are looking outside the company for trained professional copywriters to offer higher quality materials.
In addition to more high-quality content, businesses are also harnessing a variety of media channels to reach broader audiences and to reach their prime audiences in multiple ways. Initially, this was a muddled mess, but it continues improve. This leg of the stool continues to strengthen.
The Second Leg: Self-educated Buyers
The Internet has forever changed consumer behavior. Prospects are conducting more and more consumer research online. In today’s digital age, buyers are empowered to educate themselves with more information at their fingertips than ever before.
Buyers can access product and service information, company information, and customer reviews about the product or service as well as about the company’s performance.
Buyers are more guarded than ever and choose to remain anonymous for as long as possible. With so much information at their disposal, buyers have essentially gone “underground.” They conduct self-directed product research online in private. Businesses have fueled this behavior by giving them more content in a weak and misdirected attempt at establishing a relationship. Buyers now complete more than half of their buying journey (and maybe as much as 90% according to Lori Wizdo at Forrester Research) before ever reaching out to vendors.
The internet provides instant information gratification when buyers locate the information they seek and it answers their questions about how a vendor’s offering will address their problem.
Prospective buyers may visit your website multiple times—at least you hope so. They consume at least ten pieces of content before deciding to purchase. They will consume even more content if the product they are seeking is relatively pricey. These “considered purchases” are not spontaneous buys and require careful consideration to justify the cost.
Through this process, buyers are getting educated, not just with the information vendors provide, but with what other customers provide as well … all before they choose to reach out to a vendor.
With silent, self-directed buyers performing online comparative analysis becoming the norm, vendors need to raise the bar way above that of their competitors. They need to keep their prospects coming back to fulfil their insatiable thirst to be educated. They need a new, relevant strategy that allows buyers to define their own journey through a specific vendor’s content. Vendors are looking for creative ways to build relationships with virtual prospects. Failing this, and a vendor will be abandoned. Adios! Vamoose.
Enter Engagement Marketing—using interactive content to keep prospects engaged and their brand top-of-mind. These interactive exchanges must be meaningful to our evolved buyer because, remember, it must happen as many as five, seven, maybe nine times before your prospects will come forward.
Before we can talk about the third leg of the stool, I should shed some clarity on Engagement Marketing.
What is Meant by Engagement?
By one definition, engagement means to obtain a commitment. Although a vendor would love to have a buyer’s commitment, that’s not what we are talking about here.
By the simplest marketing definition, it means to get someone’s attention. In today’s world where we are bombarded with messages daily in staggering numbers, getting someone’s attention is no small feat. However, to get your audience to act immediately upon getting their attention is a much greater feat.
Consumers of online information are hypersensitive to getting baited. They are guarded with their defenses on high alert. This raises the stakes for marketers to cut through the cacophony of marketing noise and offer something meaningful.
Engagement is no longer about provoking a single action with a piece of content and leaving follow-up action hanging on hope and a prayer.
Your goal is to turn awkward standoffish interaction into a dance.
You’ve got to be relevant…while you are empathetic, compassionate and show gratitude.
Engagement happens in the context of a relationship between a company’s content and its audience. It’s about creating meaningful interaction. This is a two-way exchange. Content is part of the conversation that nurtures the relationship. It’s showing buyers that you are useful.
Engagement Marketing is a re-emerging strategy that builds relationships with your audience through interaction. It’s not about getting in your audience’s face with a catchy phrase or hyped video that provokes action. It’s the reverse. It’s about earning your audience’s attention after drawing them toward you.
Engagement Marketing is about developing a relationship with buyers based on their content consumption behavior that allows them to reach their educational goals. In this way, it is a customer-facing, experiential buying journey driven by the choices the buyer makes interacting with a brand.
This is quite different from thinking of consumers as passive receivers of messages. Instead, of talking at people, the focus is on engaging with people.
To enable this kind of interaction with prospects in the absence of any sort of verbal communication requires…you guessed it…technology. We’re not talking AI or artificial intelligence, but we’re getting close.
The Third Leg: Enabling Technology
Technology is changing the way we think about engagement. It is the enabling third leg of our stool.
Quickly, think of a way that technology helps you with relationships…
Did you say telephone? Not bad.
Maybe you said FaceTime. Even better.
What about today’s sophisticated video games? Today’s video games are very sophisticated. You can hook up with different players via the internet and proceed on an adventure, working cooperatively or in opposition with other participants, real or virtual. For every action you take, the “game” and other players perform counter-moves. They are unpredictable but consistent within the “rule” framework of the game.
This is interaction. It is personal and unique to every individual. No two gaming sessions are the same. The gaming “experience” is enabled by technology—machines that quickly process your moves and present an ever-changing virtual environment complete with characters, fairies and monsters.
In much the same way that gamers are on a quest, technology is taking engagement to new heights.
Engagement Marketing is all about creating meaningful interactions with prospects and customers based on their quest for information and education about products and services.
An interaction is meaningful to a prospect if they can remain sufficiently stimulated and intrigued to consume a vendor’s content and follow self-directed paths to discover real solutions to their problems.
The magic lies in how content is offered up to prospects based on their continued engagement and quest for information.
This type of engagement requires a platform, which is the software that runs behind your content. It’s got the smarts to learn how each prospect is consuming initial content offerings and how they are interacting with it. It will then suggest additional content consistent with the prospects educational goals as perceived by the platform.
By tracking a prospect’s movements on their website, vendors can increase the depth of their interaction, strengthen and personalize the relationship it is building with each prospect and provide direction to their journey.
The sum process can greatly shorten the buying journey. It can also avert buyer frustration and disengagement due to a clunky administration of web content. Instead, vendors can achieve focused education for informed decision making all while building its credibility and trust.
And the benefits for the vendor? Beyond retaining prospects and shortening the sales cycle, as you can imagine, by tracking every prospect’s navigation through your website you can acquire lots of metrics and opportunities for optimizing the process. But that’s a topic for another day.
Putting It All Together
Until recently, you heard little about Engagement Marketing because the three legs of the stool were too immature to support implementation of a strategy much less a platform. As a result, the notion went dormant. This is no longer true and several businesses are offering solutions.
The shift in the buyer’s journey away from dialogues with salespeople to more self-service research and evaluation in digital channels now puts the onus on marketing to provide more useful, multidimensional interactions.
Businesses need to assume a greater role as stewards of the buying journey. They need to up their game with focus on building relationships through interaction, not just accumulated touch points. Rather than pushing content at prospective buyers, businesses need a more agile approach that enables buyers to define their own journey through layers of content.
In my next installment in this series, I’ll address how Engagement Marketing changes the nature of relationships between vendors and customers in the overall buyer experience.
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