The term “Engagement Marketing” is enjoying a second coming of sorts. The concept created quite a buzz about three years ago, which quickly fizzled out. In all likelihood, it fizzled because no one really understood what it meant.
Engagement Marketing has suffered a case of mistaken identity -- in a variety of different directions. It has been confused with Event and Experiential Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Participation Marketing. It has even been confused, in some circumstances, with marketing related to weddings.
But it is wholly different from any of these things. In fact, Engagement Marketing is wholly different from any form of marketing that has ever been.
Think of any non-full-service advertising or marketing agency. The agency in your mind is most likely tethered to -- and largely defined by -- its tactical expertise. For example, a Direct Response Agency will always focus on direct-response tactics; a Digital Agency will always employ an Internet-centric model; etc. But Engagement Marketing lives completely apart from those -- because it is anchored by a philosophy rather than a focus on specific marketing tools.
It’s based on the premise that if marketing is to succeed, it must be client- and audience-centric. An Engagement Marketer starts by listening to what a client has to say and where they want to go, then analyzes which current tactics are working and which are not. Next, they leverage data and analytics to take a pulse check of the marketplace and identify their client’s best prospects and customers -- and finally they proceed with developing a strategic and creative approach that will cut through the white noise and change the conversation.
Historically speaking, agencies of all types have failed to do this. It’s not their fault; it’s just an extension of their tactic-first nature. Years ago, when I was working at a direct-response agency, we engaged a prospective client who -- it was clear after several conversations -- was in desperate need of strong PR. But the agency had no such service to offer. So instead, the brass had us retrofit its off-the-shelf DR “solution” to the prospect’s unique market situation and sell it as the answer they were looking for. Needless to say, we didn’t win that account. (Only in advertising and marketing does this backward logic occur. Would you ever listen to a plumber pitch you on why he should install your light fixtures?)
Again, it starts with listening. Moreover, it begins with empathy: first, for your clients; next, for your target audience.
Think of a salesperson who walks up to you in a store. You tell him thanks, you’re okay -- you’re just looking. But he hovers and looms, finds ways to insert himself into your activity, and is a general annoyance. That’s what typical marketing feels like: intrusive and disruptive. Engagement Marketing is the opposite. It’s a salesperson who hangs back and engages you if/when you need help. Who can sense what you want to do, and help you arrive at that decision. Who will contact you directly with exclusive sales information, if -- and only if -- you request it. (The traditional high-volume, low-percentage communication approach is inherently flawed. The average person doesn’t want “constant contact” from her best friend, let alone a company.)
Engagement Marketing, done well, means connecting with audiences who want to hear from you, in relevant, meaningful, interesting ways. If you can pull that off, everything changes.
It’s a deceptively simple idea. The ability to psychologically connect with an audience -- to move people emotionally and drive action -- has always been paramount to successful advertising and marketing. It’s never been about simple tools or tactics. In one sense, a marketing approach that is based on a philosophy rather than a tactical focus seems radical. (And indeed, it is. Engagement Marketing may result in the industry’s biggest seismic shift since Bill Bernbach ran his first VW ad.) At the same time, the concept seems so obvious, so inevitable, it’s hard to imagine we ever did things any other way.