I wrote this piece about engagement for the very nice people at Hall&Partners, for their new magazine.
[Have a look if you get a chance, it has excellent contributions from Lawrence Green, Mark Earls, John Hegarty, and Sarah Morning among others.]
You can get the PDF here to peruse later, or read it below.
But, if you'll forgive the auto-exegesis, I wanted to add a little something.
My hope was to explore the nature of engagement, as approach and objective and measurement, as currently used term in the industry.
The metaphors we use subtly change how we think.
[In fact, metaphors are part of how we think. Thinking is a recombinant act.]
The relationship metaphor is increasingly prominent in a social age of networked relationships being made visible.
However, I think it's important to understand that the nature of relationships between human beings and brands is of a qualatitively different nature than one between human beings.
Let's use Immanual Kant to help explain.
In his Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals, where he looks to establish a morality free from the idea of God, he says:
Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
Human beings in real relationships treat the relationships itself, and the people, as ENDS, not simply MEANS.
Relationships with brands DO NOT have this quality.
For a brand, a relationship with a consumer is a mechanism to make money in various ways.
This is obvious, since the reason companies exist is to make money, not to make friends.
The 'relationship' is a MEANS.
I thought it worth pointing out that the converse is also true - people want relationships with brands only if they derive value from them beyond the value of the relationship itself.
This may not be monetary, of course, but the relationship itself is not sufficient.
The relationship is inherently a MEANS, not an END.
[People may want to argue that certain passion brands are different in this regard.
Let's discuss it but my sense is that actually even if you tattoo the brand on your arm [or forehead] you are using the semiotics of that sign for your own purposes, to establish, reinforce, communicate, your own identity.]
So, if we want people to engage with our brands, we need to give them compelling reasons to do so.
Are you Engaged?
“Engagement's the thing wherein I'll catch the attention of the consumer!
So goes the current thinking.
Forget all that push stuff we can't break through. There's too much clutter, too many channels, too many brands, and 30-second spots don't work anymore anyway.
Everyone either gets up for snacks during commercials or screens them out with TiVo. I'll use the Web instead, and then consumers will seek me out and bathe in my brand to their hearts' content.
But with more than 80 million Web sites out there and a new blog created every second, the Web has become more cluttered and fragmented than any other medium.
It's no longer enough for a brand to use digital communications merely as a platform to deliver a message or create an experience.
Now smart brands take it a giant step further: They strive to make their communication channels provide a service value, too.”
Or so I co-wrote for an article in Media Magazine that was published on September 1st 2006, 25 days before Facebook was opened to people outside of academic institutions with an email address and 3 months before the iPhone was announced.
We were hinting at what became known as ‘branded utility’ – but could perhaps be put under a bigger concept: earning attention – using pieces of brand-created software as the primary examples [we called them ‘advertools’ but the term branded applications is much better].
Now, of course, branded apps are commonplaces – but earning attention is increasingly difficult and so we have begun to trade an obsession with awareness for an obsession with engagement.
We live in an oft-heralded age of engagement but we should remind ourselves that brands don’t want engagement, or awareness, or relationships, except as a means.
As Clay Shirky says, “behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity” – and technology has changed the opportunity space dramatically.
But the motivation remains the same –
to create markets, to stimulate demand, to maintain price inelasticity of demand so that people are happy to pay a premium for products that operate at functional parity.
Engagement simply indicates, perhaps, that those ever-fickle consumers were in fact paying attention to our efforts: the greatest fear of advertising was that in the face of infinite ‘clutter’ [the charming term we use for everyone else’s advertising] was simply that we would be ignored.
Engagement covers a lot if different ideas – as evinced by the various facets of the Engager methodology - but online it most often measured by looking at not how many people had the opportunity to consume our brand in some form, but rather what impact that had on their immediate behavior
[time spent with a site or story or application, comments and approval, RTs and so on]
which is definitely a marked improvement – looking at behavioral intermediate effects in a world where everyone can both consume and produce content seems sensible.
If a piece of branded anything falls in the woods and no one Tweets about it - did it have any effect?
Speaking of Facebook, engagement there is crucial because of Edgerank – the algorithm that determines what surfaces in your newsfeed, which, in part, is a function of how often you have engaged with the brand page, tabs and content.
Thus, if you want your brand content to accrue socially generated impressions via Facebook, you have to learn how to engage followers on an ongoing basis, a cadence that is very different to the campaign deployments of old.
Whilst considering how to better engage, despite the fact that consumers are inherently participatory online, this open letter to advertisers [reposted below for convenience] serves well to remind us that many people do not want to engage with us in the creation of branded content unless we provide them reasons to do so.
The onus, as ever, is on us to find compelling ways to earn the attention of the consumer.