Understanding Customer Engagement

I attended the Forrester Marketing Forum in Los Angeles (April 7-9), where over 850 marketers from many of the world’s best known brands gathered to discuss customer engagement. I know customer engagement is not a new concept. We throw it around the office all the time. But what does it mean? How do you measure it? Better yet, how do you create more of it among your customers? Asking these kinds of questions, then providing guidance on how marketers can answer them for their own business is what Forrester Research does very well.

Brian Haven, Senior Analyst at Forrester, presented a framework entited, Engagement: A New Approach to Understanding Your Customers. He recounted the true story of Jen, who is super passionate about Ikea. She lives in Cincinnati and would travel hundreds of miles to shop at Ikea because there wasn’t one in her city. Jen started a blog four years ago in hopes of getting the Ikea execs to build a store in Cincinnati. Ikea corporate was well aware of Jen and her blog. They eventually decided to build Cincinnati, and when Jen applied for a job, they didn’t even give her a call back. Wait, it gets better (or worse). They also asked her to relinquish her domain (ohikea.com) because when execs searched Google Jen’s site got top billing (another consumer blow to the evil empire). Ikea also made her post a disclaimer on her blog. Why would they do these things? Jen doesn’t write bad things about Ikea or any of their products on her blog. In fact it is quite the opposite, see for yourself.

This is a common reaction among execs of big brands when consumers take control. They just don’t know what to do with these super consumers. There is so much inertia built up around wanting to maintain control, “Our brand must be controlled by us, protect the brand.” What a missed opportunity! Ikea had a fanatically engaged customer spending her own time and money to advocate for the brand, and they wouldn’t even let her work in the store.

Marketers want more customer engagement, but are we ready for it? The web has flattened the world. Are we ready to deal with excessive customers like Jen? They aren’t about to go away, and if we’re not careful, it will be the super customers’ sites that rise to the top of the Google search result page. And since consumers trust consumers more than companies, guess who will get the clicks. So if you’re ready, here’s what Brian has outlined.

A simple 4 i’s framework for thinking about customer engagement. First ut all this on paper.

  • Involvement – The presence of a person at a touchpoint.
  • Interaction- The action a person takes at the touchpoint.
  • Intimacy – The affection a person holds for the brand.
  • Influence – The likelihood of a person to advocate on behalf of the brand.

Everyone wants the magic bullet metric, but there isn’t one. Customer engagement is human engagement, not physics. Brian then laid out three exercises steps to help get started on building an engagement strategy. Next, define all these.

  1. Define engagement – Establish your own benchmarks for engagement. In other words define what is excessive use (Jen) or non use and what is average. Remember to include context (what channel). Establish engagement personas and an engagement hierarchy.
  2. Measure engagement – Pull together your existing measurement sources and data. Get data from all channels. Supplement from outside sources to fill in the gaps. Be sure you can track the excessive use or non use benchmarks.
  3. Encourage engagement – Once you have tied all these points together, it’s time to take action. Provide more content in the appropriate context (touchpoint). Offer more tools to help the customer. Ask for more information from your customers, but be sure to give something in return.

Being the good analyst, he placed the 4 i’s in a quadrant. I couldn’t couldn’t keep up with the slides, so this sketch is a little well, a little sketchy. But I think you get the basic idea. Next, place your specific business metrics inside the appropriate quadrant (from the 1, 2, 3 exercise above) and you get a the beginnings of a roadmap.

Keep these following tips top of mind as you go through the exercise.

  • Think life-cycle, not just point in time. Getting customers to more deeply engage with your brand requires we establish a fundamentally different relationship with customers than we are used to.
  • Think like a media company. The raditional media channels are weakening. Control is in the hands of the consumer. Create content and tools, publish cross channels, unlock your content and information.
  • Put your product devleopment hat back on. Products for the people. Solve a customer problem. Keep it simple. Iterate.

Here are some of my personal experience tips. I’m pretty old and have been around the block a few times.

  • Always validate your numbers with the finance department.
  • Involve your public relations and legal teams. They will be afraid, very afraid, so you have got to reassure them.
  • Be sure you have senior management buy in once you create the framework.
  • Start small, measure, learn and then inch forward.
  • Include all channels in order to have the greatest impact.
  • Once you have begun and people see that the sun still rises they will feel more comfortable.

This was the first presentation of the forum, and Brian did a great job of setting the stage for what was to follow.

3 Responses to “Understanding Customer Engagement”

  1. Hi, this is Jen from the OHIKEA site you mention. Seems like you enjoyed the lecture!

    I just wanted to clarify that IKEA treated me WONDERFULLY. Even when they asked me to stop using the domain they did it very nicely and I fully understood why they were asking (I still get calls from folks thinking my site is somehow for the store! Or did until I removed my phone number a few weeks ago.) I just didn’t have time to deal with it, still don’t but I am working on it now.

    As I told Brian, the entire four years thus far of OHIKEA I was treated as media, I got press releases when the reporters did and even got interviews when I wanted. I had phone number and emails to the main guy for media relations and even I think formed a pleasant friendship. As any blogger will tell you Media AIN’T a bad thing to be regarded as in this time of legal happy corporations out to squash you for making a sneeze that sounds like your brandname. I never got a C&D, I never got even a stern word. They were if nothing else amused by me, always polite and friendly, and treated me as well as they possibly could have. I have NO complaints about them at all, they are fabulous people and always very nice to me when I come shopping. (Many of them even read my site regularly!)

    I’m happy to say Flatpackohio.com will be making its debut soon, and take ohikea will jump to it when it’s done. (Still working on that! Moving blogs ain’t fast)

  2. Man,solid web site you got here. Loads of great reviews as well as similar content!
    !! Do you already have any information involving book stores in ct?

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