Rules of Engagement

An exciting new age in marketing has arrived in which interacting and building relationships with customers is the key to delivering unprecedented ROI.

By Will Schnabel, vice president and general manager of international markets, Silverpop – www.silverpop.com

You’re unwinding after a long day of work, watching your favourite TV show, surfing various websites or listening to your much loved radio station. Just as you’re settling into a state of relaxation, you’re interrupted by a marketing message that’s thrust upon you. You’re mildly annoyed, but since you’re used to being bombarded by messages through every avenue imaginable, you quickly just tune out the distraction.

This scenario plays out millions of times a day around the world as businesses remain rooted in the same advertising tactics they’ve employed for the last 50 years. But with the rise of the Internet, is shouting messages as loudly as possible to as many people as possible the best strategy for reaching consumers?

The reality is that a new age in marketing has arrived, one in which consumers are more informed than ever and are increasingly taking brands into their own hands, seeking out relationships – knowledge-based, product-based and community-based – with the companies they choose to do business with. The Internet’s increasing influence has set off this inexorable shift in our society, transforming how we live, how we learn, how we communicate and how we buy. And as such, it’s imperative that companies change the way they market.

Introducing Engagement Marketing

Despite the seismic shift in consumer purchasing behaviour, businesses have struggled to adjust to the new paradigm in the marketplace. Although interruptive advertising will be with us for a long time to come – and can be a critical first element in the complex relationships companies forge with their customers – it will no longer enjoy its privileged position as the primary influencer of consumer and business preferences and buying decisions. The rise of Web 2.0 has ushered in a new age of marketing that respects the power of the informed customer and catapults marketing to a whole new level of effectiveness and influence.

Welcome to the age of engagement marketing.

The concepts of engagement marketing have been in place for many years, but only recently have marketers begun to realise – and grow concerned about – the true, fundamental shift in the marketplace. Marketing has always been about relevance and relationships, but engagement marketing takes this one giant step further into a world where customers assert more control over the brand and fully expect companies to participate in dialogues with them.

The new age of engagement marketing recognises that consumers are now in control and brands can no longer be built on 30-second advertising slots. Instead, powerful brands are built by the buyers themselves through innumerable conversations – online and off – with people who they trust. Buying decisions can no longer be influenced by repeated exposure to the same content. Instead, they are built on information, education and influential communities.

Engagement marketing listens as often as it speaks. It understands individuals–not just audiences–and it works to achieve anticipation instead of interruption. Interruptive marketing talks at customers; engagement marketing talks with them. In the new age of engagement, marketers will no longer be the sole voice in building brands but instead will become the ambassadors to consumer and business communities that build brands alongside them.

Benefits of a Two-Way Dialogue

Engagement marketing is collaborative marketing that requires businesses to listen as much – if not more – than they speak. And in today’s world, initiating a two-way dialogue with customers means communicating with them through every channel and touch point that exists. Ultimately, the goal of engagement marketing is to create relationships that benefit customers as much or more than the marketers themselves.

To do so, you’ll need to seek out consumer feedback. By giving audiences the chance to respond to and interact with your company, you’ll build brand loyalty and empower your organisation to monitor and be a part of the thousands of brand conversations taking place online.

With the wealth of today’s user-generated content, buyers can find out everything they want to know about a brand and the company behind it, and they don’t necessarily need your website or product brochure to get the information they need. As such, they will be indifferent to the businesses and brands that are indifferent to them. And that’s why developing a communications dashboard for a wide variety of engagement marketing touch points is critical for today’s businesses.

Marketing databases used for email can also be used to personalise messages through a variety of channels to customers and prospects. Additionally, information can flow into these databases from other applications, yielding truly engaging messages that drive brand influence and revenue in new and powerful ways. Using this strong customer engagement to complement traditional advertising adds up to an exciting world of marketing with the potential to deliver never-before-seen levels of return on investment (ROI).

The Future of Marketing

In the new age of engagement marketing, creative content will be as important as ever, but that alone will no longer be enough. Businesses will need to be able to effortlessly reach into and participate with a rapidly emerging set of channels and mediums. With the permission of their customers, marketers must absorb a nearly infinite array of data points on preferences, behaviours, purchases, postings and dialogues. Most daunting of all, marketers will need to analyse and act on all this data with a sophistication and scale that has no precedent in marketing or any other business endeavour before it.

So in some ways, engagement marketing will be harder than traditional, interruptive marketing, since dialoguing with individuals requires a lot more effort than shouting at audiences. However, true engagement marketing will no longer be the sole responsibility of the marketing manager. Across the business, and far more importantly, across the community of customers, marketers can recruit hundreds and thousands of additional voices to help tell their stories, build their brands and improve the success of their products in the marketplace.

As the new world of marketing evolves, you can’t afford to risk customers tuning out your messages by sending them to the bulk folder, skipping over your commercials on their digital recorders, and using Internet browser settings to block pop-ups and cookies. By nurturing an interactive relationship in which customers and prospects expect and look forward to receiving messages from you, you can avoid having to interrupt the activities they enjoy, helping ensure that they stay engaged–and tuned in–to your messages.