Richard Meyer has a typically thought-provoking post about customer engagement on his New Media and Marketing Blog. In the post he tees off on a research report that uses ‘likes” on Facebook as the sole metric of customer engagement. Richard has a big problem with this: “Who the hell cares who ‘likes’ your posts?”
Richard goes on to say that engagement “doesn’t mean a damn thing”. I completely agree that clicking the “like” or “follow” button doesn’t mean that customers are engaged, but I think there is such a thing as engagement. I also think that marketers can and should take steps to encourage engagement, but that ultimately they can’t control it. I also think that we are a long way from effective engagement metrics.I would define an engaged customer as one who acts as if he/she has a stake in the marketer’s business that extends beyond the specific transaction. These are the customers who can provide valuable insights and information both to the marketer and to other consumers. Under this definition, “liking” or “following” is about the weakest possible form of engagement imaginable.
Even in the absence of marketer involvement engaged customers can have a significant impact on sales. Because they may know more than the typical consumer and be more willing to share, they can be effective advocates for the marketer’s brand and products. Even if they point out product flaws or own up to having made a mistake in purchasing the marketer’s product (although Richard disagrees, Yelp and Trip Advisor contain plenty of reviews in which customers take at least some of the responsibility for their negative experience).
If the marketer does involve itself with its cadre of engaged customers it can do more than increase short-term sales. It can increase long-term sales by optimizing its business in areas such as product features, merchandise mix and customer service. By bringing them inside the tent the marketer may make these customers even more engaged and even more vigorous advocates for the brand and its products.
Customers don’t have to become unpaid product testers or spokespeople to be engaged. Engagement can include attending marketer-sponsored events or participating in marketer-endorsed charitable activities. By concretely affiliating oneself with the marketer and — critically — by sharing about it, engaged customers can drive the marketer’s message and build the marketer’s brand. Whether these activities result directly in sales depends in part on how they are structured and how the sales cycle normally works (cars and colas aren’t purchased the same way).
How vital is the marketer’s involvement to customer engagement? The short, if obvious, answer is that it can’t hurt. Perhaps surprisingly, however, some marketers with highly engaged customers have little if any involvement with them. One example, admittedly atypical in terms of both product and customers, is Ferrari. The Italian sports car maker has a passionately engaged base that includes not just current owners but past owners, hope-to-be owners and probably-never-will-be owners. This high level of engagement takes place with virtually no involvement from Ferrari, which pays attention only to the very top tier of its customer base (even for Ferrari, all customers are not created equal).
In the absence of marketer involvement, the Ferrari faithful have turned to enthusiast sites such as Ferrari Chat as well as marque clubs such as the Ferrari Club of America and Ferrari Owners Club (which hear from the marketer mainly when it believes its trademarks are being infringed). They have returned Ferrari’s lack of involvement by creating their own communities, whose benefit to the marketer goes unrecognized and unrewarded, but probably not unnoticed.
If it’s clear that marketers shouldn’t use likes and follows to measure engagement, what are some appropriate metrics? That will be the subject of Part 2 of this post.
The Zavee takeaway:
- Customer engagement exists, but “likes” and “follows” are its most trivial form.
- Engaged customers can help marketers improve their business, and not just by purchasing more.
- Marketers can ignore, monitor or facilitate customer engagement, but it isn’t always clear which strategy will have the highest ROI.