Customer Engagement RIP

I’m a strong believer in the concept of customer engagement — as it relates to measuring relationship strength, that is.

But the term is no longer meaningful in today’s business world.

It was inevitable. Back in the early ’90s, the term “reengineering” devolved from a strategic approach to business process redesign to layoffs. Later in the ’90s, knowledge management devolved from an approach to capture and categorize unstructured data to…well, just about any new project that a firm embarked on.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that customer engagement has…well, jumped the shark. (I was trying real hard not to use that term, but it really does fit well).

It was first used a number of years ago, and began to gain some currency in marketing circles, especially among advertisers. Unfortunately, their definition of the term was ludicrous. Then the web analytics folks glommed onto the term, using it to describe how much time people spent on websites.

What convinced me that the term is now completely unusable was the recent issue of 1:1 magazine from Peppers & Rogers.

On page 10 of the magazine is a full page ad for a webinar sponsored by Campaigner, an email marketing firm. The ad’s headline screams “The email imperative: don’t sell — Engage!” (the improper use of capitalization is enough to tick me off).

On the facing page is an article about search engine marketing that contains a graph with the following title: “Search Engines Promote Customer Engagement.” The data contained in the chart describes “the activities of online service seekers after conducting searches for products.” The most frequent responses: Purchased product online, found store location, bought product from store.

Hmmm… so engagement has gone from “turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context” to “time spent on a website” to “alternatives to selling in an email” to “purchasing a product.”

My take: The term is now completely meaningless.

Which is too bad, because I’ve truly believed that firms could adapt the concept to reflect their own strategies and approaches, and use a combination of attitudinal and behavioral (cross-channel) measures to quantify engagement.

I’m not optimistic that this is going to happen. On one hand, no one within marketing can agree on what the term means. And on the other hand, it’s likely that everyone in an organization outside of marketing thinks that it’s a YASMB (yet another stupid marketing buzzword) (prounounced “yazem”).

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5 thoughts on “Customer Engagement RIP

  1. I couldn’t agree more that the term “customer engagement” has been used up now. The original ARF definition was a total joke, in Martha’s and my opinion. Any definition of “customer engagement” surely must be based on some kind of input, interaction or involvement on the part of the customer himself or herself. While we think brands are certainly important, the brand itself is only a platform for engagement, because a brand does not interact. Brand messages are entirely outbound, at least by most uses of the term.

    “Customer engagement” means that the CUSTOMER has to do something, because it is the CUSTOMER who becomes “engaged” with me, the marketer. That means the customer must be INVOLVED with me in a task, a mission, a conversation, a purpose – some activity to which the customer CONTRIBUTES. Otherwise the customer isn’t engaged, no matter how much the owner of the brand or advertising may wish differently.

  2. In the first years of the web, everyone was a design expert. I don’t like that button design, why can’t we have a button to do this … , etc etc.

    In the last 5 years everyone has become a marketing expert. Just because Google became successful with an advertising model, the internet is only about advertsing [to many]. Even Microsoft fell into that trap.

    I agree with your post, but I think you are [correctly] writing off “Campaigner”, and not the concept.

  3. @Colin: I’m lamenting the “fact” that a concept I believe in has been hijacked by other factions, and — as a result — practically rendered useless. I may be writing off Campaigner’s advertising, but I’m certainly not writing off the firm.

    @Don: Thanks for commenting. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I interpret what you’re saying as engagement = behavior. And if that’s correct, then I couldn’t agree more. But while some marketers’ view of engagement is behavioral, my complaint with their approach is that it’s too narrowly focused. Measuring engagement by how long I spend on a web site + the number of pages I click on may not be measuring how engaged I am, but simply reflect that the site is poorly designed and I can’t find what I’m looking for. And if I never return to the site again, am I really engaged? No. My proposal was to measure engagement over time, across channels, and spanning both sales and non-sales interactions and transactions. But because this isn’t simple and easy, it’s convenient for firms to ignore doing it.

  4. I think your lament is lamentable (though perfectly understandable). Like many new areas of technology-enabled change, confusion will reign as models proliferate and disagreements happen. This is the course of new endeavors, particularly when standards aren’t absolutely needed across organizations, when people have competing interests, and when it’s hard to say with any certainty whose compass points to true north.

    That doesn’t mean we should give up on the concept of engagement from a perspective of producing useful, actionable measurement. You may be right, though, that the name has become so hopelessly tarnished that, like the Patagonian Toothfish which could only succeed once renamed as the Chilean Seabass, a new standard is needed.

    Anyway, I highly recommend three pieces of reading:

    1) a Forrester research note on the subject from June of this year with a practical framework for organizing thoughts about measuring engagement metrics

    2) Avinash Kaushik has posted several times on this topic, a few times in support of your point that discussions around engagement often get in their own way, so you’ve got to quickly push from talking about engagement to specific metrics… and if those underlying metrics are useless, throw them out

    Avinash favors talking about “microconversions” instead of engagement – a great read on this here.


  5. @Mark: Thanks for your comment. Good call on Brian Haven’s report — there’s some good stuff there. Too bad he hasn’t used some of Forrester’s market research data to help prove out his points.

    Which, by the way, is what I did, as a Forrester client when I was with Epsilon. I used the data to show that consumers who are more engaged (by my definition and constructs) are more likely to have deeper relationships, and more importantly, much more likely to do more business with their banks in the near future.

    The blog post that I published some of the findings in was in response to Avinash’s post on why he thought engagement wasn’t measurable.

    My lament stems from my recent experiences of talking to people about the term/concept and getting blank stares. The 1:1 magazine juxtaposition was the icing on the cake.

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