Defining “Brand Engagement”

A number of years ago a number of organizations met to define “engagement.” Having met, they came away with a number of definitions and, after a number of meetings, with the kind of boundless optimism that earned the Donner party their place in history, announced an initial “definition”.

The problem with this initial definition was, in seeking to make the many parties who had participated in the definition exercise happy, and to appear unconditionally inclusive they ended up with a kind of give-me-ambiguity-or-give-me-something-else definition.

After a while, seeing the first definition was a little out of whack, the group reconvened to see if they could get a definition that was, well, in whack. They corrected the first definition by presenting a second based upon a behavior-centric view of engagement, i.e., something positive actually happening to the brand, and all were reasonably content.

But then organizational memory kicked in. Memory may be a way of holding on to what you love, but for marketers it’s mostly a way of holding on to what they know best. And oftentimes the brand ended up getting lost in the shuffle. Or, more accurately, got lost in the outreach.

Yes, yes, brands need to employ outreach of all kinds – conversations, experiences, advertising – on all touch points and platforms, traditional and digital, possible and imagined. That outreach requires an engagement too, although most of the time that kind of “engagement” involves counting: of time-spent, or awareness, or tweets, or visits. Not useless, but not true measures of engagement with the brand either. Engagement with the method being used to try to get the consumer to engage with the brand, yes. Real brand engagement, not so much.

Why? Because getting attention and even awareness for a brand in no way leads de facto to engagement with the brand to a positive end. Engagement with the brand – real emotional engagement with the brand – should be the ultimate objective, since it’s the point where the consumers “see” the brand as better meeting the expectations they hold for the Ideal in the category where the brand competes. When they do that, they behave positively toward the brand, the real bottom line, because real emotional engagement correlates very, very, very highly with positive consumer behavior, sales, and profitability.

At any rate, it’s a complex paradigm, but a necessary one to apply if success was part of your brand strategy brief. And it’s not unsolvable. If you’d like more insight into this validated approach, we are presenting at the Insight Innovation Exchange NA, in Philadelphia at the Marriott Downtown, on June 18th at the session dealing with “Radical Reinvention: The Bleeding Edge of Insight Generation.” For those of you unable to attend, we invite you to reach out to Leigh Benatar for a copy of our presentation, “The New Brand Relationship,” at leighb@brandkeys.com

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