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Big Picture (Fall 2009)

Bruce Bolger

By now most readers of Engagement Strategies Magazine have noticed how much the term “engagement” permeates the business world today. Consumer marketers use it in reference to their marketing efforts, as exemplified in recent remarks in the New York Times by Rick Wilbins, Managing Director of Brand and Advertising at American Airlines, referring to his company’s “strategy of engaging with our..,premium and frequent travelers.” Earlier this year, Gamal Aziz, President of MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, told Business Week that one of his challenges would be to maintain “the remarkable employee engagement” of his company’s employees during this downturn.

In the last few years, new conferences have sprung up covering customer engagement from various standpoints, fueled most recently by social networking companies who believe they’ve found the latest and best ways to engage consumers. Employee engagement is the subject of conferences produced by such organizations as the Conference Board, Human Capital Institute and others.

Engagement is nothing new. Isn’t the purpose of all external and internal marketing and communications efforts to engage people? What has changed is the focus. For decades, we have looked at engagement from a process point-of-view. The discussion focused on the various tactics organizations use to engage their target audiences, such as training, communications, leadership, rewards & recognition, incentive programs, etc., and how to make those tactics work better.

The term “engagement” puts the focus on the desired outcome of our internal and external and marketing effort, rather than the process itself. That outcome almost always is defined by what Don Peppers and Martha Rogers call “proactive involvement.” In a recent blog posting, they wrote: “When a customer is engaged with your brand, they are proactively involved with it. They may help specify the product or service you’re delivering to them. They may refer friends or colleagues to you. They may take an interest in your success or failure.” Similarly, they note that “When an employee is engaged with their work, they are proactively involved with it. They may not wait for orders, but instead take their own initiative to solve problems. They may self-organize, with other workers, to accomplish the company’s goals. They may actively promote and defend the business with friends, colleagues, or even among strangers.”

This emerging focus on the end-result of external and internal marketing, rather than on the processes involved, has significant long-term implications.

Organizations will take a fresh look at their external and internal marketing strategies based more precisely on the outcomes – to what degree are their leadership training, communications, rewards & recognition and other tactics specifically moving the needle? There will be increased accountability related to being able to justify expenditures to show they yield a tangible and meaningful form of engagement.

Practitioners of training, communications (including, Web, face-to-face, or promotional products) will need to better understand how their practices work in conjunction with others to achieve a tangible result in terms of increased engagement.

Companies that sell engagement strategies and services, from Web and social-media companies to traditional meetings and incentive programs, will have to focus more on the outcomes of what they do – i.e., increased engagement – rather than assuming organizations will invest in a social media or incentive strategy as if it were a given.

Engagement introduces a new level of accountability into marketing, whether to consumers and channel partners, or to our employees. Whether you’re someone responsible for engaging an external or internal audience, or you’re a supplier selling traditional products and services to marketing and human resources managers, you can benefit by asking yourself this simple question: How much will any specific program or tactic foster “proactive involvement.”

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Fall 2009

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