Engagement, which means commitment, is usually linked to the vows couples make before getting married. Therefore, seeing this word in most of today’s marketing plans is unsurprising.
Much has been written and spoken about engagement. In most cases, the approach is from a technical point of view or, at best, associated with the old idea of positioning, as discussed in the previous blog. However, the problem lies in understanding the true meaning of the word and all the possible connotations that can be derived from it.
What is engagement?
Engagement comprises a relationship between two parties. On the one hand, a long-term commitment implies deep mutual knowledge. Conversely, sharing a series of values and beliefs makes the relationship flow. As Kevin Roberts anticipates, “Emotional ties to customers have to be the foundation of any good marketing strategy or innovative tactic.”
But to achieve these links, brands will need a broad and complex understanding of today’s people and audiences. Not only to take advantage of a fad that catapults them into the fight for market share or to obtain some competitive advantage but to achieve a fluid and constant dialogue with their customers. Ultimately, this will help them lay the foundation for a long-term relationship; that’s what engagement is all about.
Retail’s new era
Today, we lack values in an increasingly fragmented society. As analyzed, humans are sensitive beings who reason and base most of their decisions on emotional factors. That is why human beings search for new emotional connections, beliefs, and love that give new meaning to their entire environment. Also, to the alienation of commercialized subjects in a globalized world and overcrowded cities in which single-family homes are growing exponentially.
In this context, brands are part of an amalgamated cultural baggage in consumer society. Brands are also part of social life. They interact with people; they have personalities and can influence their behavior, fashion, and trends. They could even touch on their ethical, civic, and social values. Sometimes they establish hierarchies, set limits, show human qualities, and value goods and services. Others provide confidence to the consumer and transmit strength, energy, hope, or sympathy.
A plain white cotton shirt differs from a similar shirt with the Nike logo on the front. In such a case, both shirts are of the same color, quality, size, and cut. Both fulfill the primary function of dressing the person and making them feel comfortable. Both are t-shirts, although they are not the same for certain people. Moreover, they may not even come close to being alike—even knowing they came from the same factory in China. Therefore, what differentiates them is the level of engagement one has for the other.
The new role of brands
The previous example outlines the true power of brands and what they do to people when interacting with them. In this way, they become cultural objects that people place above their attributes and values. Despite this, it is increasingly difficult for brands to connect with their target audience. Even harder is for the new generations to value them.
The problem is that the companies don’t know their audience in-depth. Ergo, they apply the same recipes from the past that positioned them where they are today. These recipes have dehumanized brands, alienating them from the consumer. They made them see their navels and forget to ask customers what they expect, what they feel, and what they love.
How do we achieve engagement?
For Salanova and Schaufeli’s positive psychology, “more than a specific and momentary state, engagement refers to a more persistent affective-cognitive state that is not focused on a particular object, event, or situation.”
Therefore, brands have more to do with relationships and not so much with transactions. The secret to success would be how human they can become; how deep the connection with the consumer is. Here, the important thing is not to measure the emotion they manage to provoke in people but to look at how to establish a dialogue. Then, you add the tone of voice and the understanding of what they are: beings with defects and virtues. The goal is to understand people as well as brands. To achieve that, we must embark on a winding and arduous path: the path of relationship building. That is engagement.
How to win the consumers’ hearts?
In this sense, and to make an analogy, brands must play the role of Romeo trying to seduce his Juliet. To better understand this parallelism, we must establish specific steps to achieve this conquest and develop lasting ties.
Thus, Roberts establishes that the first step in engagement would be to find that ideal partner, whom you are willing to seduce, to open up completely. To do so, the brand will use different channels through which it can communicate and achieve some contacts to establish a dialogue. Approaching Juliet’s balcony is a challenging task. The task requires crossing the river by boat, jumping over the entrance gate, and climbing the 10-meter wall that leads to the room.
The second step of engagement is to get to know the person. Knowing them means knowing what they like, their talents and values, defects, virtues, and hobbies. Flattering these characteristics and using them to your advantage will build an indestructible bridge between the brand and the consumer. This step is the first stage of falling in love. Here, people never see the other’s defects as a detractor or something that causes disgust. They accepted them as human beings, making them feel that Romeo is their complement, their ideal companion.
Therefore, activating the emotional channel is essential for any advertising campaign or strategy. It is an appropriate way of getting in touch with consumers and kick-off to achieve the ultimate goal that every brand and person desires: love. As Cristina Quiñones mentions, you have to aim for brands that win the affection more than the reason of the people. We must create brands capable of reading emotions and not just briefs.
Recipe for Engagement
To reach that, we still require a series of steps to overcome, from which we can learn much more. On the one hand, you must understand that love is a feeling that must travel through a two-way channel. It must arise from an almost intuitive answer. Without reciprocity, there is no love. On the other hand, there is the well-founded idea that love takes time. It is not something that occurs from one moment to the next or that we can attribute to any of the five senses. It is something much deeper, which defines the meaning and essence of people.
Finally, as Roberts says, “Love cannot be imposed or demanded; it is only given.” As mentioned above, achieving consumer recognition, devotion, and affection doesn’t require encouragement, fear, or manipulation. Likewise, we should understand and appreciate it for what it is: shared beliefs and values that unite them with brands and provide them with channels of interaction that generate reciprocal emotions.
The first pillar of engagement
Therefore, lasting relationships between brands and consumers must be founded on certain pillars, like any relationship. The first and foremost is respect. Without it, we could not build a love that lasts over time. Roberts elaborates on this concept and says that respect is based on trust, performance, and brand reputation. From these principles arises a code of conduct that governs the relationship between brands and consumers. Some of the most outstanding points of this code are: complying with what a brand promises, assuming the commitments until the last consequences; seeking constant innovation; taking care of reputation; simplifying; admitting mistakes; taking care of the value of the offer; be true to your ideals and make this world a better place for everyone.
Thus, to achieve people’s love and respect, brands must walk the arduous path of engagement, which takes time. First, you must connect with the consumer on an emotional level that moves him and defines him as a human being. According to Roberts, successful brands that become loved manage to move the audience and know what they need. Also, those who listen and act accordingly, anticipating and proposing innovative things that break with the status quo. These are beloved and respected brands to such an extent customers can feel like protagonists. In other words, those that give their time and effort selflessly to make them grow and endure.
The second pillar of engagement
Secondly, Roberts mentions that you must build well-grounded relationships full of meaning for the audience. It is the part where companies must understand that they cannot sit idly by. They must constantly think about their customers and how to win them over. As a boyfriend thinks of his girlfriend in buying her flowers or inviting her to the theater; getting elegant, taking care of the details; listening, and dedicating time to her; that is how the relationships between brands and consumers should be. What love brands have in common is that they all cultivate the same attributes to touch customers’ emotional fibers. These are mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.
In this regard, the mystery is the magical part of brands. It is the fuel from which brands feed the flames of passion to achieve engagement. We will achieve it by discovering the other person little by little, playing with the anxiety and adrenaline that anticipation causes, controlling the imagination, and producing the ecstasy of surprise. With this magical alchemy, it is possible to think about building brands loved and valued by the audience.
According to Roberts, brands must learn to listen to consumers and take stories from their experiences. Likewise, the channel through which the waters of mystery travel is made of great stories, those with enough force to awaken dreams, create myths, and move and inspire others. For this, it is necessary to have credible characters who speak from emotion and show their feelings in detail. In this way, you can better understand the wishes of consumers and work to make them come true. We will see this in greater depth in future articles.
The other attribute that identifies successful brands is sensuality. Sensuality gives brands that sensitivity that humanizes them and brings them closer to their target audience. In this sense, it is about the sensory world surrounding the brand’s mystique and unites it. In addition, it gives you an emotional language that goes beyond words and can establish deep connections with people. This approach occurs through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In this regard, the brands that manage to connect more deeply with their consumers do so through the sensory use of the message, which appeals directly to emotion and not to reason.
As we will see in subsequent articles, using the senses is crucial in developing a brand. The color palette, the use of textures, a catchy sound, a memorable flavor, and aroma. All these elements help define a brand’s identity and connect with its consumers. These establish the parameters within which the branding plan will unfold.
Finally, to establish what makes brands great, you must understand the concept of privacy. This attribute is the one that directly affects what the consumer thinks and feels. It transcends its entire system of beliefs and values and connects with its aspirational being, which is neither more nor less than the inner reflection of its relationships with the outside world.
Today, due to the incredible amount of noise and vertigo in which human beings are submerged, it is increasingly difficult to achieve moments of intimacy. People’s lives are reported everywhere: in the media, on social networks, and through online games. For this reason, it is not surprising that vendors have become endangered or, at best, mere human order-takers.
Simply put, the intimacy process requires a two-way street, where the client is listened to first and then talked to later. However, is not an easy task to achieve. We need long hours of listening, analysis, reflection, and a deep understanding of the wishes and desires of consumers. To do this, we must achieve certain levels of empathy, commitment, and passion, if we want to speak directly to the heart and not seem like a cold and calculating machine. As Roberts says, “Most brands don’t know how to listen. They have evolved along with the media and have stayed there, talking, talking, and talking non-stop.”
Let’s break this down…
Empathy is the one that generates the emotional space in which brands can hear the consumer. Through it, we can get all the juice of sincerity to know if we are on the right path. Without empathy, there is no intimacy. Nor can there be long-term relationships if there is no commitment, a condition by which people selflessly join brands. It assumes a proactive and almost automatic attitude without questioning and forgiving them when they are wrong.
Without passion, there is no love. Without love, there is no engagement
In summary, brands that achieve engagement are closer to achieving loyalty, which takes them beyond reason. However, so that they can rest in the Olympus of big brands, what we must include is passion. Passion makes it possible for brands to survive the worst storms and achieve their goals. On the contrary, brands that do not feel passion are not credible. They fall into a simplistic discourse, lacking emotion and inspiration.
Therefore, brands must believe in themselves and transmit the same passion to those who believe in them to capture their love. In this way, passion becomes the fire that ignites the relationship between brands and their customers and makes brands shine for a long time.