Ask a room full of marketers for the definition of relationship marketing, and each will likely have a different response. In today’s consumer-centric world, relationship marketing can no longer be defined by CRMs and one-off communications with consumers. We wanted to challenge the status quo of current relationship marketing strategies, so we partnered with Elaine Gamble, relationship marketing expert, to redefine relationship marketing. Check out her first post here.

For the second post in our relationship marketing series, Elaine provides her perspectives on consumer engagement. She shares her wisdom on consumer engagement excellence, supporting you in championing consumer engagement within your organization.

Consumer Engagement is now a term used across industries. The renewed focus on being consumer-centric has resulted in greater interest in customer engagement success. At the same time, it seems organizations define consumer engagement differently.

What does consumer engagement really mean?

Let’s begin with the dictionary definition of the word engage:

Causing someone to become involved in a conversation or discussion; to occupy, attract, or involve.

In building on this foundation, my definition of consumer engagement (in a marketing context) is:

Two- way communication with your consumer, providing information while demonstrating you are listening and driving ongoing, sustained interest in a next interaction.

Although organizations across industries often discuss consumer engagement or perceive this is practiced day-to-day, they may not really be implementing true consumer engagement at all–why is that?

– In practice, industries may confuse consumer engagement with a response. A response alone (e.g. email open, Facebook “like”) is not evidence of sustained interest and true, ongoing engagement

– Most consumer communication is one-way that never actively invites feedback (in a real-time manner). Although a goal in true consumer engagement is a conversation, as marketers, we often do all the talking

– Across industries, organizations believe they’ve delivered on consumer engagement with satisfaction surveys; however, these are meaningless most of the time for consumers. We may have a false sense of consumer-centricity by issuing them

– An organization might measure response rate in bulk (e.g. email response rate) but may not confirm the same group of people (e.g. email responders) is continuing to respond over time

– Organizations may settle for consumer inertia, where the consumer consistently responds, yet their interest in your communication, product, or service is actually quite passive at best and has been for some time. (e.g. email open, Facebook like)

What Consumer Engagement in practice really means….

– Not settling for just response in your definition of success—inspiring interest in ongoing response and a next action assessed to have high engagement value. As part of this, confirming a core group of consumers continues to perceive value in your communication over time

– Being perceived as a trusted advisor to your consumers by acting on their preferences, along with inviting and providing opportunities for them to share feedback in a real-time manner, a true conversation

– Confirming you have a true consumer journey or experience with your audiences. Ideally, consumers should want to interact with you in a variety of ways over time, not just one that is more passive and infrequent (e.g. Facebook “like”)

– Actively requesting and developing customer advocates; this should be much more than providing a link to Facebook or an invitation to “like” your page. Having advocates is a thoughtful process of inviting the highest potential engagers to be advocates, and providing the tools to truly deliver on their role–e.g. suggested areas of focus for their discussion—and through this, supporting consumer engagement

– Being transparent with consumers about your strengths and opportunities (based on what you hear from real consumers); validating your consumer in this manner and appearing authentic will give you more credibility and enhance engagement

– Being relevant in timed and contextual ways with your consumer–not just pushing out communication on a schedule that you define, but being in the moment for when you engage with an audience. Optimal sequencing of communication is also part of this

– Implementing an omnichannel engagement approach – including digital strategies without an over-reliance on digital. Understand the role of each channel for the consumer’s decision (digital and offline), then tailor communication to align with each channel’s “job”.    

Measuring Consumer Engagement – A few Perspectives

Measuring consumer engagement is related to assessing response, but they are not one and the same. To start measuring consumer engagement, confirm you are engaging a core (and high value) group of consumers over time. Ask yourself: “Are we maintaining consumer interest from a core group or are the respondents entirely different in each execution?”

The second part of measuring consumer engagement is to assess what percent of engagement opportunities your loyal customers have taken advantage of overtime. If it is consistently low, this could signal a preference for a certain type of channel, or could it mean the consumer does not perceive value in most of what you present to him/her? (which puts them at risk for defecting). You should complete this assessment even if the total return on investment is positive.

Lastly, measuring consumer engagement is to remember that customer satisfaction is not just a  “nice to do,” but instead is a “must-have.” Have a clear approach or algorithm within your organization for how it is directly correlated with return on investment.

True Consumer Engagement is an exciting opportunity across industries. Its success involves a thoughtful process of understanding your customer, being perceived as a partner, and driving sustained interest to achieve your goals.

Look for my next post in the relationship marketing series: the role of customer experience in relationship marketing and the full Relationship eBook.

Interested in more?

Check out this infographic to understand how online communities can generate successful consumer engagement for your brand.

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Elaine Gamble is a consultant, evangelist, and subject matter expert in relationship marketing and omnichannel strategies. She is also co-chair of the Relationship Marketing Committee at the Association of National Advertisers. Contact Elaine for consulting engagements and exploring these areas further for your organization – [email protected]