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Big Picture: The Inexorable Growth of Engagement

Change almost always takes time. The transformation expected of the Internet in the 1990s that many thought would take just a few years actually took close to a decade…in fact it’s still underway, as multiple industries continue to try to stave off the disintermediation created by the Internet. The same will be true of Engagement; it will take time for businesses to fully embrace this nascent field.

It wasn’t until the past 10 years or so that businesses had enough research to confirm the linkage between engagement and financial results, or for there to emerge a formal framework for translating engagement theory into practice. Even so, it took the arrival of social networking over the past few years – and the power shift this is causing to customers and employees – for companies to finally fundamentally rethink how they engage with their customers and employees.

Emergence, Transformation

It’s always hard to gauge the progress of a new field, but evidence continues to support the emergence of this discipline. Two completely unrelated organizations – an association and a trade show – have recently changed their names to include the term “engagement.”

The 30-year-old American Teleservices Association (ATA) is now the Professional Association for Customer Engagement (PACE). “As social media and cloud-based technologies radically transform customer expectations, we feel that customer engagement is a much better term to describe the evolution of the communications and business interactions that will support our customers,” Phil Grudzinski, CEO of PACE, said in a recent press release. “The digital transformation that broadband and other internet technologies have provided has forever changed the way we all interact with our customers.”

This is similar to the justification behind the name change of the Customer Engagement Technology Show at CETworld.com, which is an outgrowth of a show founded in the 1990s based on point-of-sale technology. According to Lawrence Dvorchik, General Manager of Customer Engagement Technology World, the show and conference are expanding their scope to include all elements of customer engagement, “including the issues of internal branding and the customer experience.” The show is held twice annually, in New York City in November and Las Vegas in May.

The field was officially recognized in a May 3, 2012 article in the New York Times business section entitled Mixing Marketing With Social Games and Extreme Sports. The reporter referred to the emerging field of consumer engagement to describe a variety of strategies used by marketers to develop one-to-one relationships with customers.

Gary Rhoads,  the Stephen Covey Professor of Marketing and Associate Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Brigham Young University and recently named Academic Advisor to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, put it this way: “As organizations move from mass marketing to building one-to-one relationships, the field of Enterprise Engagement may be to 21st century business what advertising was in the last century.”

Different Tactics

Engagement is in some ways similar to advertising in that it has a formal implementation framework that requires the management of multiple elements. The problem is that engagement combines a very different set of tactics than is common at traditional advertising firms. These tactics include not only all forms of communication, such as engagement portals, print and email newsletters, social networking, videos, meetings, promotional products, etc., but also learning and gamification, collaboration and innovation, and rewards and recognition.

Where are the dollars coming from to support these programs? Ironically, from traditional advertising. According to the above mentioned New York Times article, up to 30% of brand advertising budgets are now going to alternative digital and other engagement strategies. For internal engagement, budgets are coming from traditional recognition programs.

It takes courage to step out in front of a new discipline and bring innovative solutions to clients. The Enterprise Engagement Alliance’s portal at www.enterpriseengagement.org and its curriculum library are specifically designed to help such courageous individuals and organizations take advantage of this new field by providing practical information on how to profit from this emerging industry.

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Spring 2012

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