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?

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:

degree-of-engagement.jpg

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

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:

 http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2008/01/measuring-online-engagement-what-role-does-web-analytics-play.html

(This post first appeared in the 2nd Online Customer Engagement Survey Report by cScape and E-consultancy which you can download for free, registration needed, here.)

“We need to engage with our customers to improve our conversion, loyalty and retention metrics”, says a keen young marketing consultant in an annual departmental brain-storming session. “Well, yes, I’ve heard that results in good ROI”, says the budget-manager. “So what technologies shall we invest in? Blogs, RSS, wiki, social networking or viral?”

The company launches a project scoping exercise, brings in an agency, builds a business case, tests and refines it. The marketing department soon delivers a marvel of customer engagement widgets, which the CEO delights in mentioning to journalists as evidence of his innovative cojones … until one sceptic visits the cutting-edge community only to discover he is its first and only customer.

The plan went wrong with the budget manager’s first question.  Because the hidden assumption was that customer engagement is merely a bolt-on, technical solution for meeting the big, hairy performance target of the year. Engagement strategies can undoubtedly realise such aims – but not if they’re your starting point. This is likely to deliver a platform about as authentic and alluring as a nightclub chat-up line.

It only gets worse when the solution is scoped out as a technical device, even an IT resource, rather than as an organisational commitment to forging more valuable relationships with your customer. That fetishism for projects and deliverables is precisely the corporate nightmare we all recoil at when experiencing it from the outside, as customers. It doesn’t require too keen a sense of irony to appreciate why a customer engagement plan developed in isolation from customers might run into trouble. Connect first, then develop.

Start from the customer

Any customer engagement strategy that starts from a channel marketing perspective tends to fail because it treats engagement as an add-on to the existing marketing suite rather than as an operational necessity. In fact, engagement is a priority for your customer.

Valuable customer relationships only form around organisations that demonstrate a rich understanding of its audience members, in ways that touch those members so persuasively that they are keen to experience the relationships again.

Effective engagements are internalised by us as customers, becoming tradable tokens of our identity, symbols we actively desire to share with our peers to confirm the sensibilities we have in common.

To attain that level of engagement, the organisation must first profoundly understand what needs its customers have; then decide which of those needs it makes sense for it to attempt to answer, as a brand; and last but not least, assess those options in light of the capacity available to mobilise departments around consistent delivery of that answer. The web 2.0 vehicle, whatever form it takes, is merely the “front end” for a much deeper organisational alignment around the customer.

Meaningful relationships

Few of us consider ourselves to be part of a determinate community, political or social group, with settled values and predictable discretionary tastes. Instead we participate, with varying degrees of engagement, and for varying periods, in a range of possibly overlapping social groups – only partially identifying with most of the people we get to know there.

This forces us to engage in conscious search behaviour, to construct the networks that were once handed to us by our un-chosen communities. Web technologies fit that need perfectly. New parents far from their immediate families for instance can go online to find others who are in a similar position. Online, I can search, find and meet a cycling buddy from my neighbourhood within minutes. Conversely, consider approaching random cyclists on the street and hoping to get along – it just can’t happen offline.

Another consequence is that we come to “know” many more people than was typical in the past. Online social networking allows us to link up with multiple others – those links will be of varying strengths, but there is always a chance that even a weak connection could suddenly prove decisive.

Strength in many weak ties

Indeed, weak ties arguably offer the greatest opportunities to receive the kind of information that might lead to a job offer or a rewarding personal relationship: their low maintenance requirements allow us to plug in to a mass of sources. Just consider typical Facebook activities where we join multiple online groups and exchange brief messages with a range of people.  The expectations of these interactions are lower, but can lead to many more opportunities for making new connections. By contrast, our relatively small network of close ties is much more high maintenance – and more predictable.

Realising the power of weak ties encourages us to extend our networks yet further. Social networking technology helps as it involves onward referrals and searches along multiple dimensions (the book you’re currently reading, your life stage, your physical location), while easing the psychological anxieties associated with offline introductions.

The shopfront of Me

B.J. Fogg, of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, has observed that groups on Facebook are not especially group-like – we simply use membership for badging ourselves, as a prop to express our identity, a passing solidarity or just sharing a joke. Such devices help us construct and enrich a highly controlled, even narcissistic, performance of ourselves – a profile – at once satisfying and infinitely, insatiably open to modification.

Even when we are not online our profile is interacting: It’s telling visitors what we think is great, asking them what they think of us, if they are interested in us, if they think we are hot … but above all, it is always on. While you sleep, work, or loaf, someone may encounter your online self, from any of a million different directions – and offer you a job, a date or their friendship.

Starting with the customer

The first questions for would be customer-engagers should not be “what technology should we deploy?”, nor “how can we engage our audience?”, but instead:
“What is it that our customers are currently doing, where are they doing it and what do they want to achieve.” And guess what –  the best person to ask is … your customer.

‘Engagement’ is a word with many meanings (vow, betrothal, involvement etc). In its use within marketing it can be boiled down to a single concept: one-way relation. If x is engaged with y, x is related to y, which is not to say that y is also related to x.

The concept of customer engagement furthermore deals with a particular kind of one-way relation. The kind of relation customer engagement refers to is delimited by the following:

  • Subject of engagement: The subject of engagement should not be limited to customers. Although ‘visitor engagement’ is better in that it takes into account non-customer visitors to your website/store, its focus on measuring people’s engagement with your brand on your own premises is too restrictive. It is important to measure the engagement of customers, prospective customers and detractors with our brand, in every space they choose to engage with it in.
  • Object of engagement: The subject’s relationship with a brand/company/ product/consumption topic.

Now that we have defined what kind of relationships customer engagement deals with let’s look at the criteria with which we can differentiate and classify the ways in which customers engage:

  • Kind: Positive or negative. Customers can be positively or negatively engaged with a company/product.
  • Degree: The degree of positive/negative engagement lies on a continuum that ranges from low involvement, namely, the psychological state of apathy, to high. An engaged person is someone with an above average involvement with his or her object of relatedness.
  Customer non-Customer
Positively Engaged

A1

B1

Non-engaged –Apathy

A2

B2

Negatively Engaged

A3

B3

A1 customers refer to what has been termed after McConnell and Huba as customer evangelists. These are your most valuable customers (not simply because of the recency/frequency of their custom but because they offer value that translates to revenue by means of a range of other behaviours such as advocacy).

A2 customers constitute the majority of most companies’ customers. These customers are not loyal to you – for whatever reason they are not really interested in your company/brand/product. They will defect if a competitor manages to interest them in their offering.

A3 customers are ready to defect. But that is not what is most troubling about them. They are keen to badmouth you whenever they get the chance.

The Chevy Tahoe viral ad spin-offs were a case of B3 engagement. All these people, creators and viewers alike, where passionately engaged with their fight against SUV’s.

Positively engaged non-customers involve all those people who for whatever reason cannot buy your product, be that a teenager love for a Lamborghini, or a 25 year old bachelor’s fondness of Mothercare products.

Apathetic non-customers are people who are aware of your brand but couldn’t really care less. Just imagine how many brands you know you are neither a customer of nor really have any feelings/thoughts towards.

Please tell me what you think.