Generally Speaking, Specificity is Good

“Engagement” is the current darling of our marketing and advertising world. Everything is focused on creating it. The AAAA and the ANA have endorsed it. Agencies build plans around creating it. And an entire new discipline called “Engagement Planning” has developed to wax poetic about it.

Why has this occurred? Well, as Martin Weigel, head of planning at Weiden & Kennedy in Amsterdam says in a great post that throws a Great Lake’s worth of cold water on the thoughtless adoption of the term “engagement”, advertising is, by nature, intoxicated by the new. And, although “engaging” people isn’t new, calling it a goal is. In addition, the rapid adoption of digital communications has given rise to a) consumer control over what they encounter and when they encounter it; b) many opportunities for interactivity with customers; and c) the ability to track, measure and optimize against these efforts. In this context, it’s natural to want to drive a reaction… and to want to define your success by your ability to achieve it.

But what in the world is engagement? Despite the fact that everyone is crowing about it, there’s no real clarity as to what it is – no definition, no real measurement, and no real answer as to how it helps. Asking for a plan for “engagement” is like saying you want a dinner with food.

While naturally there is great benefit that can come with engaging with your consumer, engagement is a weak and insufficient word. It doesn’t mean anything on its own. The types of engagement you ought to drive needs to depend on the category, brand, and situation you are in. That’s why you have to make it specific. So, ask yourself the following questions:

What type of engagement do you specifically want?
As Martin Weigel points out, engagement can be anything from site visits, to reading pages and viewing videos, to bookmarking, liking, +1-ing, subscribing, following, or commenting on content, to recommending, sharing or forwarding a link, to opening e-mails and clicking a link, to completing a lead form or survey, just to name a few options. What behavior or behaviors do you specifically want to elicit? Which actions are most linked with the
business problem you are trying to solve? What experiences will drive consumers further towards purchase or re-purchase?

For example, when developing the Porsche microsite for our Cayenne re-launch a couple years ago, we knew we had one key problem to overcome: people didn’t believe that the Cayenne was equipped with the luxury SUV amenities they demanded from that caliber of car. So we designed our plan in order to prove it to people – and allowed them to “engage” in experiences that brought it to life. They could engage with rich banners that demonstrated the well-appointed cabin and interior, they could click through to a video of the safety features, they  could download specs about the interior room and luggage space.  We knew that discovering this information would generate greater consideration. In fact, we quantified it – we tracked the number of people doing these actions and then searching for a dealer near them, checking inventory, or signing up for a test drive. While we can’t make a case for causality, this activity correlated with the best launch in Porsche’s history.

What real world success measure do you expect this engagement to lead to or be a proxy for?
It’s important to go beyond simply saying we want people engaging in our messaging because it’s a good thing.  Why is it good – in other words, what will it achieve? Many people simply believe that “more engagement = more sales and more loyalty”. That may not necessarily be the case, so spend the time making sure you are clear with how the agreed-upon engagement you develop leads to more commercial success.

For example, in the Porsche example above, we had solid data and understanding that told us what was getting in the way of prospects shopping for the Cayenne. So we developed a plan to “engage” them in a way to un-block that obstacle. And then we measured how much shopping behavior (looking for a dealer, inventory, etc.) our plan elicited. We didn’t just say we wanted more clicks, more time-on-site, more pass-along – we defined what would lead to more sales.

“Engagement”, like any objective, is meaningful and helpful only when it is specific. So take the time, the discipline and rigor to identify why you want it, what you specifically want consumers to engage with, why, and what outcome you want to drive. Without it, you’ll be simply wasting time – your’s and your consumer’s.


  1. While I do agree with you, I think you have missed a key thought. Companies today are not attempting to talk WITH their market, they are talking at them. So engagement is a first step in the entire philosophy. Yes you must get them to do something, but first they have to become involved and vested in you before they will do anything so starting to build that relationship with them is a key. My clients have spent thousands of dollars in energy and skill to design websites, create social dialogue, all to attract customers to them but what next. In your thinking, it is right do get them to do something but to me that is engaging them. Businesses I know measure hits to their site, I am so bored with that.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I agree. However, I was just stating that the newest buzzword everyone using, “engagement”, is not enough. You have to think through what you want people to engage with, and why. You’re right – “what next?”

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