I have always liked to see my facebook profile in spatial terms. Sort of like a living room cause that’s the room in ones’ house where his guests spend most of their time. It’s a controlled semi-public space. Ok so it’s sort of like your living room with a door to the street. That door may be transparent for by passers that want to take a peek or fully closed to them and open (to varying degrees) to your acquaintances. Now advertisers want to enter this space and hang next to the personal photos you have up your wall, a painting you love or the video you want your friends to see a big-ass advertising banner.

Now let’s think under what circumstances people may actually want to have this done to their living room. Personally I want no big-ass advertising banner in my living room because I can’t think of a single brand, person or message that has such that much significance in my life. In some cases however we do feel this way about some brands be it Obama prior to election, Madonna, a photo of their car or whatever other item they feel plays such a big role in their life.

There should be some sort of space on the profile page that allows the profile owner to personally choose what sort of advertising they want on it. For example I like Madonna. Give me a selection of 100 cool images of her and let me choose which one I want to be displayed in my profile (plz allow me to download and keep some afterwards). Now give me the option to display underneath that picture a personal message e.g. ‘Theo+Madonna=L.F.E’, when her next concert near me will be, and whether I will be attending or not. Similar thing with my new Ford Kuga. A picture of myself with the car that is hyperlinked to my album of pictures/ videos I have shot with my car. Etc. For the aforementioned reason it would also be important to let the user choose the size.

I imagine that this might also be possible in terms of branded tagging by the user him\herself. For example I put up a picture of me holding my baby, I could tag the clothes it is wearing with the brand ‘e.g. Diesel kids’ which in turn could be hyperlinked to the page of the Diesel online catalogue where that product might be found or I could also state its price, rating, review, place of purchase and why someone should visit that particular store. If I a have a photo taking a stroll with my child in a pram I could tag the pram’s brand.  Of course tagging is work and work often requires payment. It is a big question how much such work should be paid or in what way but one thing is certain: that it must be paid according to how influential that person is. For example a highschool’s gang of cool kids is very influential as they act as role models for a lot of their schoolmates. The cool gang always has the coolest accessory, device, clothes first. Indeed they also make it the coolest.

It doesn’t always need to be paid however. I might love the brand, its products or parallel causes they try to advance (e.g. environmentalism) so much that I might actually want to show my sympathy by promoting them myself. How it is possible to love a marketed thing so much is another story however.

It might be interesting to think how it is possible to expand the information about oneself in Facebook with content such as: who is your dentist, what car do you drive, favourite brand of clothes, favourite restaurant etc

So what do you think? Do practices such as the above stand a chance?

I would like to discuss the claim according to which marketing creates (artificial) needs for the sole purpose of profit making.

The distinction between real and artificial human needs relies on the distinction between a good’s use value and symbolic value:

  • Real needs are satisfied by a good’s use-value.
  • Artificial needs are satisfied by a good’s symbolic value.

But what does it mean for goods to have a use-value only?

Lets take clothes, a basic-needs good, as an example. If clothes are to serve the sole purpose of protecting the human body from several environmental conditions, then we really only need one type of t-shirt, two types of trousers (one short, one long), no skirts (as their utility is lower than that of trousers), one jumper and one coat, for all human beings irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, class, or other cultural bases of differentiation.

Since what was described as ‘real’ needs is not necessarily identical to ‘basic’ needs let’s also take a different example: cars. If you’re a bachelor you get a 3-door car, if you have a family of four a 5-door, if you have more children a mini-van, if your job requires a truck of some sort. The same thing goes for pretty much all other products such as your home, its furniture, appliances and interior decoration.

In short, the only bases of differentiation in such a society are objective and scientific: occupation, life-stage, number of children, gender (only in certain cases) and a few others. I believe that this notion of real needs is based on an unrealistic understanding of the nature of human needs – in that it is asocial and therefore not human – due to the degree of cultural uniformity that it demands.

Now let’s look at the way in which what is called customer needs, but is in fact nothing more than human needs, are created in a human society.

Women in the west have not escaped their long history of bodily objectification and perhaps never will. With their newly won power however, they have managed to

  1. escape their possession by men, be that husbands or fathers, and
  2. objectify men in their turn

It is at this point that the balance of the equilibrium of sexual power changed and men started to look at their own butts in the mirror when buying a pair of jeans, which is to say that men are now looking at their own body through the eyes of some abstract female subject who is their object of desire, and who they want to satisfy by offering her what they think she wants.

  • It was not a capitalist marketer that started bodily objectification however. It has existed across cultures since time immemorial. Greek marble statues are a case in point.
  • Most importantly, it was not a capitalist marketer that brought about the emancipation of women for the purpose of bringing about the objectification of the male body in order to sell skin care products and fashion items to men. By means of acquiring certain rights for themselves – political (the right of women’s suffrage), economic (equal contract and property rights), reproductive (the right to control one’s reproductive functions), personhood (right to own their own person rather than be owned by their fathers or husbands along with their children – abolition of chattel marriage) – women had the freedom, and hence power, to choose their sexual partner. One of the results was that women acquired a gaze that had the power to objectify men and their body parts in an explicit manner.
  • Finally there is nothing contradictory to manhood in a man’s utterance of a sentence like “I have an oily T-zone”.

It seems plain that the growing needs for products such as cosmetics, diets and fashion items that men have cannot be attributed to marketing need creation for the purpose of profit making but is the direct result of the emancipation of women. The ‘new men’ or ‘metrosexuals’ are precisely such a creation.

At the same time it would be interesting to think whether real needs are in fact only basic needs. Is a human’s need for music for example a real need? It certain that something that can be defined as music can be found in all human societies (although it would be hard to define music in a universal way). But I dont think its basic. I mean it would certainly not be an issue of survival if music ceased to exist in some way or other.

Most accounts of engagement suggest ways of encouraging or promoting a customer’s engagement with the brand/website. In a handful of cases however (e.g. Jim Novo and Erwin Ephron) one reads about preventing and reversing customer disengagement instead.

But is there a meaningful and valuable distinction between the two? Are the marketing techniques used to encourage our customers’ engagement with the brand/website different to those that are required in order to reverse their disengagement? Have most accounts of customer engagement overemphasized the former in the detriment of the later?

Is there a distinction?

It seems to me that the techniques involved in preventing disengagement must be different from those of encouraging engagement since the attitudes and behaviour of a customer that is disengaging are entirely different from those of someone who is already engaged. Disengagement, as Jim Novo warns, however is often masked by new customer acquisition.

Defining the disengaged

In order to be able to prevent disengagement it is necessary to be able to identify a customer who is disengaging from the brand/website.

We can identify a customer’s disengagement, when we witness a shift in his or her degree of engagement on the following scale:


Given that the process of disengagement can begin no matter what a customer’s degree of engagement, it is important to look at both:

  1. Where a customer is in the Engagement lifecycle
  2. What the pattern of a customer’s movement along the continuum of Engagement is. Were they less engaged in the past couple of months?

Preventing disengagement therefore refers to the process of identifying a customer’s disengagement with the brand and attempting to reverse it.

Before we look at the types of disengaged customers it is important to distinguish them from former customers (i.e. non-customers). To do this one needs to define defection, and not count dead customers as ‘retained, but disengaged customers’. As Jim suggests although there is no reason you can’t use “24 month active” or “36 month active” or “5 year active”, it is imperative to define what retention is for your particular business and stick with it.

There are two kinds of disengaged customers.

  1. Customers whose engagement is above average but on a downward (right-ward) spiral. What Jim Novo refers to as High current value, Low potential value customers.
  2. Customers whose engagement has fallen below average and is now either stable or continues to decrease. (Jim’s low current – low potential value customers)

Both of these customers, that is, irrespective of their current value, are apathetic towards the brand. They continue to provide their custom due to lack of competitors, convenience of location, low prices but are nevertheless ready to defect.

The value of paying attention to disengagement

The customer insights that are gained by means of identifying disengagement can be used in the following ways:

  • Segmenting marketing communications. Although two customers may have the same degree of engagement, their degree of engagement may be growing or decreasing. Your communications should therefore not be identical to both.
  • Improving customer retention. By means of tracking the disengagement process and preventing or reversing it.
  • Marketing budget allocation. Should you spend money at the 2nd kind of disengaged customers? At what point should you stop? Read further on how the concept of disengagement can help in evaluating…

The threat of economic instability and even recession, the like of which has not been experienced for many years, poses some very serious questions. Do we carry on as before with unchanged business practices? Do we tighten our belts? Do we try to reach out to new markets and customers, recognising that the best form of defence is attack? The reality of course is that we are likely to want to do a bit of each-indeed, in many cases, we will have to. But how do we decide which, when and how?

It is our contention that by embracing customer engagement and adopting the use of digital media as the spine of your customer interactions, no matter what market you are in, you stand a far better chance of not just emerging from a downturn unscathed, but of emerging as a winner.

If you are interested in this topic take a look at a report (can you call it a report if its 90 pages long?) we have published which you can download for free (can you call it free if registration is needed?) here.

Take a look at a taster:

To find out more about the report click here

To find out more about the authors

Richard Sedley

Martyn Perks

Having looked at the revolutionary characteristics all digital media share in ‘The social role of the internet Part I: the origins of web 2.0 and social media‘, the next couple of posts will focus on each digital medium’s unique characteristics. But first let’s make a couple of distinctions.

Two types of digital media

Before I begin talking about specific internet media, I would like to make a distinction between …

  • Mass media whose message is accessible by a pre-selected target audience only. The content on these media can only be accessed by the people the broadcaster has pre-selected. Email and Instant Messaging (IM) are the prime examples here.
  • Mass media whose message is publicly available/accessible. This category includes blogs, social network profiles, video or photo sharing accounts, and posts on a forum belong to this category. The message of digital media in this category can reach people in unexpected ways.

Who are you? Publisher, author, content, or all of the above?

Aside being the publisher, you might be the author or even the content of your publication.

  • Publisher: you publish someone else’s content.
  • Publisher and author: you publish your own content.
  • Publisher, author and content: you publish, content you have authored, content whose subject matter is yourself.

Of course any combination of the above roles is possible.

Blog: the layman’s personal mass medium

A blog is a one-to-many mass medium with multimedia capabilities.

barriers.jpgFor the first time in the history of mass media, that is, at least since Gutenberg’s press, everyday people can become owners of a powerful mass medium. This is due to the very low-barriers of owning and operating a blog.

Unlike traditional mass media and despite being a one-to-many medium, the blog is interactive. Allowing comments and trackbacks it encourages the interaction between publisher\author and audience.

idea-box.jpgThe fact that the comments of previous readers are visible to every other reader of a blog post however means that a blog’s audience unlike the isolated members of traditional media audiences (and unlike most one-way media) is a self-conscious community whose members (and their activity) is visible to one another. Although by activity, it is common to think of comments, there is an increasingly popular type of widget for blogs which renders visible every visitor/reader of the blog. This can lead to a proper and sometimes extensive dialogue between the readers. As a result a blog sometimes becomes a many-to-many mass medium, sort of like a forum.

I’ve aggregated what I think are the most valuable links\resources on Customer Engagement, and categorised them as follows:

Definitions of customer engagement

An overview of the various definitions of customer engagement segmented by type of author:

  • Companies
    Critical commentary on these definitions is provided wherever possible

    • Gallup
    • Forrester
    • WebTrends
    • Future Now
    • Comscore
    • Nielsen \\ NetRatings
    • Compete
  • Individuals – leading thinkers
    • Jim Novo
    • Eric Peterson
    • Ron Shevlin
    • Steve Jackson
    • Jeremiah Owyang

Research on customer engagement

Quantitative research on customer engagement – focus on what their respondents have to say about their experiences of the benefits CE offers, the barriers to implementation, the behavioural characteristics of engaged customers and the techniques they use to engage their target customers and to measure their engagement.

  • cScape
  • Economist Intelligence Unit

Scepticism about customer engagement

An overview of debates on the value, limits and possible pitfalls of customer engagement segmented by argument:

  • On the value of customer engagement
  • On customer engagement as a metric

If you have the time take a look at a post I ve written on measuring customer engagement, published in Avinash Kaushik’s ‘Occam’s Razor’ blog: